Katee Pederson
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Updates, personal work, and behind the scenes by photographer Katee Pederson.

Oasis Madrid

 Just before leaving Spain, I was asked to make a painting that represented what Oasis means to me.  This is a copy of the painting I created.

I was 18 years old and I had arrived in Madrid less than a week prior.  I didn’t speak the language, I didn’t know anyone other that the family I was living with (which I had only met via Skype before moving to the country), and I had no idea what God had in store for me over the next 14 months.

I had done my research.  This English Speaking, International Church was above the McDonalds in Puerto Del Sol – the City Centre of Madrid.  On this particular Saturday evening its congregation would be gathering to have a seminar on a topic I no longer recall, and afterwards they would likely go to a nearby bar or restaurant for drinks, tapas, and fellowship.

I arrived early, like I always did before living in Spain and learning better.  I buzzed up and entered a room with 3 men inside – Warren, a Brit, and two fellow Canadians, though all had been living in Madrid for some time.  We made small talk as they asked me what I was doing in Spain and how I had found out about Oasis while slowly more people began to arrive.

Cassie and Mikki, two best friends from Michigan, were there that night.  After the seminar I suggested that we go for drinks and Jordan, a seasoned Madrileño (though actually from Baltimore), showed a group of us newcomers the way to Cien Montaditos.    

That night changed my life.  Not only because I ate tiny sandwiches and drank tinto de verano for the first time.  But because those names I mentioned, along with a couple dozen more, became a community unlike any I have ever experienced.       

Oasis was, and still is, made up of people from all walks of life and faith.  Some have grown up in devout Christian households in the heart of the American Bible Belt, while others were newer to the idea of having a relationship with Jesus.  While I was there, most of Oasis’ attendees were in Madrid for a short period of time, studying abroad or teaching English, yet some were true immigrants.  Extremely few, if any, were actually born and raised in Spain.  In general, it was a younger crowd with English as it’s first (or close second) language.  There were some who found home in traditional religious roots from across Europe and others were used to spending their Sunday mornings at mega churches in Australia or the US.  There were denominations and practices I had never heard of or experienced, yet one thing we all had in common - Christ.

Unity in the essentials, grace in the non-essentials.

This is the golden rule at Oasis and it is put into practice daily.

We all believe in God the Father, Almighty, maker of heaven and earth.  And in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord, who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried. We agree He descended into hell and on the third day He rose again before ascending into heaven and sitting at the right hand of the Father.  We believe He will come again to judge the living and the dead. We agree in the holy church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and in life everlasting.

When things came up that we didn’t agree on or believe in unison, we trusted that grace had it covered.  That though important in our own journey and discovery of God, debating individual traditions and practices without an outpouring of grace for each perspective would only lead to hurt and separation.  We didn’t need to articulate and agree completely on every detail of what it means to be a Christian, but rather trust that when Christ said, “it is finished” He meant it.  Maybe I’m wrong in the little stuff.  Maybe the person sitting on the white chair next to me was.  But we have been made clean in what Jesus did on the cross, and we can do nothing but extend the grace our Lord offers us to each person we encounter.

This idea transformed my heart throughout my time in Spain.  To this day, when I disagree with someone on an unsubstantial matter, I think to myself, “unity in the essentials, grace in the non.”  Because no matter what, the church can always find unity in Christ.  We are His bride, after all.

It was this practice that made the existence of a truly beautiful and preciously unique community possible.  A community in which no matter where you came from or what traditions you held sacred you were valued and supported and loved.    

This community was crucial in forming mine and so many others experience living in Madrid.  Being in a new place we were searching for connection and we found it in a renovated office space above the McDonalds in Sol.  And on that field with the fewest trees in Retiro.  We experienced love while sharing bocadillos with homeless in our neighbourhood and building a communal garden in Malasaña.  We found community on the bus to Valencia for the puente and salsa dancing on Sunday nights.  We built relationships while sharing meals in homes and churros on street corners at 4am.  We experienced the power of friendship as we hugged tearful goodbyes followed by WhatsApp chats, Skype calls, and long anticipated reunions around the world.

Thank you is what I really need to say.  To all of the people who dedicated years of their lives to making Oasis Madrid a reality, thank you.  To all of the people I am able to call friends because of our encounters through Oasis Madrid, thank you.  I can't imagine what my time in Madrid would have been like without you and I am so grateful for our friendship.   

As Oasis Madrid celebrates its 10th anniversary and prepares to close the doors of the local for the final time, I find comfort in knowing that the community that often took place in that room was so much more than a congregation in a building.  We are the church, and we aren’t closing.  We will continue to take those life-changing experiential lessons on what community looks, feels, and acts like and model them wherever we find ourselves.  We will search for unity and extend grace. 

We will be an oasis.