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A Conversation with Juan Monroy

It seems historically appropriate that, in 1985, Juan Monroy became the first church of Christ missionary to enter Cuba since the rise of Fidel Castro. Born to a French father and Spanish mother in Rabat, Morocco, Monroy was converted in 1950 by Rubén Lores, a Cuban missionary.

He quickly built a reputation as a passionate speaker, refined scholar and bold evangelist. Serving in Francisco Franco’s army in Spain, he was imprisoned several times “because he was always talking to people about the gospel and the Christian faith,” according to his biography.

A respected evangelist in Spain, he traveled to New York City for the 1964 World’s Fair, where he spoke about his book, “The Bible in Don Quixote.” There he encountered the churches of Christ and spent the next several months visiting congregations in the United States. Church members were impressed by Monroy, who had independently come to a faith very close to their own.

Monroy was equally impressed by the churches. In June, 1965, he resigned from his pulpit in Morocco and moved to Madrid as a missionary. He founded the Teruel Street church, and, along with other Spanish ministers, launched congregations throughout the country.

He hosted the first radio program in Spain sponsored by Abilene, Texas-based Herald of Truth in 1967. He continues to work for the ministry, launching the first Herald of Truth program for Cuba in 1995. In 2003 he hosted the sixth annual Cuban Youth Congress, a youth ministry event.

Monroy and his wife, Mercedes, live in Madrid. They have four daughters — Yolanda, Loida, Mónica and Zoraida — all married and living in Spain. The Monroys have 10 grandchildren.
Where did you first hear the gospel message? How did you respond?

My father and I were both militant atheists. I lived in Tanger, Morocco, in North Africa. I was 21 years old when I first went to a gospel meeting.
It was a Friday. I went back Saturday, and Sunday morning I was baptized in a swimming pool for the remission of my sins. On Sunday evening I went out through the city streets to testify of my conversion. Fifty-three years have elapsed since then, and I continue preaching.

In 1964 the Highland church in Abilene decided to support me as a missionary in Spain. I continue to work with that church.

Why did the gospel appeal to you?

When I was 21 I had read much about love — like most people at that age. But in the New Testament, I discovered a superior love, God’s love manifested in Christ.

I responded immediately. On Friday I was a convicted atheist and on Sunday I was a much more convicted Christian.

You have ministered in Spain and many Spanish-speaking countries in America. How are the churches in these locales different?

The churches of Christ in Spain are different from churches in Latin America in the same way that they are different from churches in the United States (different cultures influencing each country’s population, geographic differences, etc.). But they are similar in language, doctrine and worship.

Is it harder to spread the gospel in Europe than the Americas?

Yes, it is much more difficult. I’ll give you an example: Last year I baptized 227 people during gospel campaigns in Latin America. In that same year, only 11 people were baptized in Spain as a result of my preaching.

Compared to Spain, it is easier to evangelize in Latin America — especially Mexico, Central America and the Caribbean.

It is more difficult in South America, especially in Argentina, Uruguay, Paraguay, Bolivia … In Peru and Ecuador the church is growing.

Why is it harder to win souls in Spain? Many people say Europe is ‘post-Christian.’ Does that play a role?

That’s correct. Europe is “post-Christian,” even though it is home to three large religious groups — Catholicism, Protestantism and the Orthodox Church.

In Protestant countries, including Germany, Great Britain and Scandinavia, people tend to practice religion very little. In Germany and Sweden they are selling Protestant church buildings. It is very difficult to preach the gospel because people do not want to know anything about God.

But in Catholic countries, such as France, Spain, Italy and Portugal, the situation is very much the same. People live in the style of the old Greek hedonism. They only want to eat, drink and be amused. They are not even atheist. They just do not think about the “problem” of God. They are completely indifferent as to whether or not God exists.

So agnosticism is a problem in Spain?

Yes. In Spain — a country that’s supposed to be Catholic — just 5 percent of Spaniards attend Catholic mass on Sundays. The rest are “social Catholics.” This means that they make appearances in Catholic churches only a few times during their lives — when they’re baptized as infants, when they’re married, when they baptize their children and when they attend funerals (or when the funeral is for them).

Aside from the Spanish language, what do church members in North America need to know before they work in Spanish-speaking countries?

The most important thing is to have a general idea of the history of the country. Learn about its people — young and old. Know well the customs and traditions of the country and respect them.

Know how the church of Christ began in the country — how many congregations exist. Who are the churches’ leaders? How can they be helped? Study the cities that do not have a church, or find cities with small churches that need help.

Be aware that, if you’re going to go to a country as a missionary, you should go as a brother willing to collaborate — not as a business chief.

Go to the country to preach the salvation message, not to impose customs, rules, traditions or laws from the United States. The missionary should know that he is an ambassador for Christ, not an ambassador for the United States of America.

How does a missionary gain this level of cultural understanding?

To understand the culture of Spanish-language countries, it’s not enough to study at one of the preacher training schools or universities. It is necessary to immerse yourself in the culture of these countries with an open heart — to love it even if your mind can’t understand it.

The culture of a nation is the heart and soul of the people. It cannot be assimilated in a short time. A missionary must walk through it little by little.

Is it better for churches to send missionaries to Spanish-speaking countries, or should they instead send financial support to a local minister?

I think it is a matter of logic and mathematics. A native person knows the language, knows the history, knows the people. He knows how to communicate with his people.

With the salary that is necessary to pay a North American missionary, several Latin American preachers can be paid.

But I want to make it clear that it really shouldn’t be about logic nor mathematics, but about people.

A North American missionary who has not felt the divine calling to go to a Latin country will be better off if he stays at home. And a native preacher who merely sees his ministry as a job will fail.

I know preachers in the United States whom I would love to see preaching in Spain, because they are very good. And I know native preachers who would do better leaving the ministry and building roads.

In some countries, American missionaries are criticized, but thanks to the churches in the United States that have sent these missionaries, there are churches of Christ present today in almost the entire world.

Briefly describe your work in Cuba.

My first missionary field is Spain. My second is Cuba. In 1984 I met President Fidel Castro in Nicaragua. In 1985 I went to Cuba. God wanted me to be the first foreign missionary of the church of Christ to enter.

At that time there were in Cuba about 150 members of the church and no full-time preachers. Now there are 100 churches — most of them small, meeting in houses. There are about 3,000 members and more than 60 full-time preachers supported by churches in the United States.

I am going to Cuba three or four times a year. But I am not saying that I have done the work by myself. It has been done by the Christians and Cuban preachers and the missionaries from the United States who continuously go to the island.

Filed under: Dialogue

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