Editor’s note: Joel Barkman grew up as a missionary kid. Kara had never considered missions. After they married, they felt God calling them to reach Spaniards through art and music. They signed on with SEND, raised support, went through training — and now they’re gone. But they’re taking us with them. For the next year, Joel and Kara will share here about their experiences as first-term missionaries in Spain. Click here to read about how they felt before they said goodbye. 

By Joel and Kara Barkman in Spain — One of our first goals after landing in Spain was finding a home. We had a little over one month to find a place and get settled before language school started.

As we looked at places, we had a list of things that we would like to have, but none of them were non-negotiable. When we saw this apartment, it met every “desire” on our list and then some. Since we are on the ground floor, we have a small patio with a garden — a rare find in a Spanish apartment. God saved this place for us; at least eight people viewed it before us, and several were interested, but each one fell through!


Eight people viewed this lovely apartment, but God saved it for the Barkmans.

We have had a wide mix of emotions as we settle and continue to make our new place feel like home. With how well everything has gone up to this point, we have caught ourselves being suspicious, thinking, “What bad thing is about to happen?” and “Why are things going this well?” 

Is God sitting there, grinning and rubbing His hands together, just waiting for us to get settled so that He can rip the rug out from underneath us again, throwing everything out of order, while He watches, laughing? No. Is He going to unsettle us again? That is up to Him. Will He do it merely for His own fun? No. He loves us, and wants us to grow. Yes, that involves discipline, but it also includes good gifts from a perfect Father. (James 1:16, Proverbs 3:12)  

What attitude are we supposed to have through this? We desire to settle, but at the same time, are we really ever settled? We’ve already moved six times together, and we know that we likely will not live in this apartment for longer than the two years we plan to study Spanish. And yet that will still be longer than any place we have lived since getting married three years ago. 

We are so thankful for this beautiful place. Our prayer is that we can maintain thankful hearts, enjoying the good things God has given us, knowing that they are for His purpose and His Kingdom, not ours. We seek to hold them with open hands, full of gratitude, but also fighting against entitlement and expectations that things will remain this way. 

Starting our studies

We catch a bus each day from our quiet neighborhood on the outskirts of Alcalá de Henares to language school.

Even though we both had some Spanish language study before we moved, it has been six or more years, and the Spanish we learned was Latin American Spanish, not Castilian. We have some Guatemalan teammates that we’ve been talking to about the differences, and the list is quite lengthy!


Joel and Kara enjoy a café con leche break during the second day of language school.

The teaching style is different here — the teachers attempt to “guilt” you into studying hard rather than encourage you. They aren’t afraid to compare and point out who is the best in the class and who is the worst. We’ve managed to stay on the teacher’s good side, and we are thankful for that!

There are 12 students in our class. Besides the two of us (the only Americans), there is one German, one Japanese, and the rest are Chinese! That was a surprise to us. We had no idea how many Chinese there would be in Spain.

We know that language learning is going to have its extremely frustrating moments, but we keep on praying that through this God continues to teach us dependence on Him.


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