The missionary journey begins long before you step on a plane. Joel and Kara Barkman heard God’s call and responded. 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.
Joel grew up as a SEND missionary kid in Japan. He felt God calling him to missions while he was studying music composition at Moody Bible Institute and joined SEND right after graduating in 2011.
Kara studied art and Spanish at Kansas State University. Serving as a missionary wasn’t on Kara’s radar before she met Joel at a Bible study in Kansas. She’d been on one short-term trip in high school, but cross-cultural ministry wasn’t common in her community.
Kara and Joel discovered that they shared an interest in Spain as well as the desire to minister to people through the arts. Together, they felt the Lord’s calling on their lives to reach Spaniards through music and art ministry.
Before we dive with them into transition and language study and culture and whatever else Spanish life brings, let’s get to know the Barkmans. They were deep into packing for their move and saying their goodbyes when they answered these questions.
What have you done to prepare to move? How long has the process been?
We feel like our whole married life has been one grand move. Our move to Spain will be our sixth move in just over three years of marriage! In that sense, the process of preparation has been going on for a long time, but the past month has definitely intensified, and our house has grown increasingly messy as we have piles of “To Go,” “To Store Here,” and “To Give or Throw Away.”
What have been some struggles as you’ve prepared?
We have gone back and forth a lot on what we should take or leave. Some days we will feel one way about a particular item, and then the next day we feel the opposite. It wouldn’t be a big deal if we had to figure out what we wanted to do with one or two things, but a whole household is a different story! It has been overwhelming at many points, but the closer we get, the more drive we have to just get there, whatever it takes.
On this side of moving, one of the difficulties has been all the goodbyes — not just to people we love, but to places, conveniences, things, tastes, smells, etc. We will soon be overwhelmed with all the hellos we will be saying, but for now it is just the goodbyes, and that easily builds up to be overwhelming.
What have been some joys in this stage of the journey?
We have gotten SO much quality time with people from church and the neighborhood. It’s kind of sad that it takes us leaving the country for us to focus on spending so much quality time with the amazing people around us. There have been many evenings spent with people — supporters as well as non-supporters — that we have walked away from wondering why we didn’t begin to get to know them three years ago rather than right now, when we are about to fly out!
Can you each share a few words for how you’re feeling about moving?
Joel: Anticipation, adventure
Kara: Sadness, hesitancy, hope
What do you anticipate will be difficult about adjusting to Spain?
Joel: I think it’s the little things that I don’t expect. Some of the differences we can anticipate and brace ourselves for. Others are going to hit us with no warning at all, and I think those might be the most difficult, even if they might not be as big of a deal as some of the others. I also think there will be plenty of frustrated times surrounding the language learning process.
Kara: I think it will be difficult to live without a real body of believers surrounding us physically (besides the missionaries) and we will have to know how to feed ourselves in the Word. This can be difficult when getting distracted by daily tasks or the process of adjusting to culture. Not having a real body of believers will be difficult because of the amount of time it takes to build relationships in Spain. We have to earn a Spaniard’s trust before we can have a deep relationship with them. This can take anywhere from several months to years.
What do you expect will be easy?
Joel: I am very much looking forward to the food. I don’t think there will be too much difficulty for me in adjusting to the food they eat and when they eat it — breakfast at 8 a.m. or 9 a.m., lunch at 2 p.m., and supper at 9 p.m. or 10 p.m.
Kara: I am looking forward to the landscape — the ocean, mountains, fields of flowers, and castles!!
Why are you willing to make this move?
Joel: This is where God is calling us; I have no doubt about that. I know we have it much simpler than some who are called to other places — we will be right next to a world-class city that has so much to offer, good health care, modern amenities. I know there are difficulties ahead, and I know that there will be times when we will go back to the call that we felt from God and wonder if it really was from Him, but I also know that He is faithful and will sustain us through even the most difficult circumstances.
Kara: It has been very evident multiple times by God’s hand that He wants us in Spain. Even in the beginning of our marriage when I was resisting it and wanting to avoid it, God put me in my place and made it very clear this is where He wants us to be. I had to surrender it all and say, “Okay.”
If you had a totally free day and unlimited resources, what would you do?
Joel: I’m guessing my answer and Kara’s are pretty different! I would go to the coast of Spain, buy a small trawler boat, and go around visiting the different port cities — tasting the food that they all specialize in, hearing stories and learning the cultural differences between the different areas. There are also so many other wonderful countries to be explored within boating distance of Spain.
Kara: I would love to go to the coast and mountains (they have both!!) and stay in a beautifully renovated castle and also buy a lot of Spanish pottery.
What’s your favorite food, movie and Bible verse?
Joel: I’m a sucker for a good roast ham with brown sugar and honey glaze. I’m looking forward to jamón iberico (salty cured Iberian ham) very much. Movie: I don’t know how to narrow this down, but “Pan’s Labyrinth” is up there. I actually loved it before I even had any interest in Spain. It is a difficult movie to watch, but the two main plots converge at the end in a perfectly beautiful way. (I’ll leave it at that.) Bible verse: I love Colossians 1:15-20.
Kara: I have come to enjoy many different types of food, but favorites will always be Mexican food, pasta, and mashed potatoes and gravy. Movie: The only ones that come to mind right now are “The Emperor’s New Groove” and “Despicable Me.” When I need a good laugh, I know I can depend on those. Bible verse: Ephesians 3:20-21 and Psalm 139.
More from the First Year on the Field
- At home — for now: The Barkmans find the perfect apartment in Spain, but after six moves in three years, it’s hard to feel settled.
- Of furniture and frustration: ‘It wasn’t a big deal, really — it was the buildup of small events leading up to the moment when I felt entirely overwhelmed.’
- Of art and a sometimes-sorrowful heart: ‘What if my nieces and nephews don’t remember me? Will they have bitterness toward me for never being around?’
- 1 team, 8 cultures: A challenge worth overcoming: ‘I believe that being a part of an intercultural team is a huge testimony to nonbelievers, as long as we are working well together.’
- Slammed by The Slump: Kara Barkman knew culture stress was on its way, but a little surprise made it that much harder to handle.
- Explore how you can be involved in cross-cultural missions. SEND offers hundreds of opportunities — long term. mid term and short term — to engage the unreached.
- Contact a missions coach.