Northland Missionaries Embrace Political Unrest in Catalonia, Spain

Olivia Blase

Derek and Mary Lynn Parnell serve in Girona, Spain, the capital of the region of Catalonia. They have lived there since 2012 pursuing church planting and business as mission. Left to right: Elyse, Derek, Eliana, Isabel, Mary Lynn and Emmanuel

The sounds of clanging pots and pans could be heard through a video call I was on with Derek and Mary Lynn Parnell, Northland’s missionaries living in the region of Catalonia, Spain. It was late at night there, yet just outside the Parnell’s door the entire city of Girona was loudly protesting recent political developments.

“This is a revolution unlike any I’ve ever heard about,” Mary Lynn said. She and Derek, along with their young children, moved to the region of Catalonia in 2012 to pursue church planting and business as mission, yet little did they know then that they would soon be in the middle of Spain’s worst political crisis in decades.

Derek and Mary Lynn met at a Northland Bible study in 2001. Derek had given his life to the Lord and been baptized in The Rink in 2001, and he first felt the draw to cross-cultural ministry on a missions trip to Costa Rica. After he and Mary Lynn married, they chose to live in Orlando’s Holden Heights area to pursue inner-city ministry up until they moved to Spain.

In 2012, they went with Greater Europe Mission to the region of Catalonia. With 1% of Spain’s population professed Evangelical Christians, the Parnells have spent the last five years building relationships with the Catalan people, employing business as mission and starting a church plant for those interested to learn more about faith. They hope to raise funds this holiday season to rent a space that will serve as a shared workspace during the weekdays, an event center in the evenings for things like open mic nights or a Daddy Daughter dance, and a weekly worship space for their church.

The obstacles of ministering in Europe have required patience and consistency from the Parnells. Yet they have seen God working, despite cultural taboos or distrust. For example, visiting friends’ homes is not common in Catalonian culture, yet several families and young adults attend the church plant that is currently meeting in the Parnell’s home.

In addition, Catalan people often distrust religious pursuits, as Catholicism was employed for political gain by the Spanish government during the 1930’s Spanish revolution. But some of the liturgical practices that the Parnells have employed, such as Advent services and baptisms, have helped their friends find points of connection as well as new expressions of faith.

Now, in the midst of political unrest, the Parnells are ready for whatever challenges or opportunities it might bring. “This is an amazing time for the gospel to take root,” they say. “When governments and a sense of security fail, people wonder what the world has to offer.”

Since October 1, no sense of security has been present for Catalonians as they voted in a referendum declaring independence from Spain. The Catalonian struggle for Independence stems back to the 18th century when the Spanish forces captured the region. The first major push the region made for independence was in the 1930’s, sparking the Spanish Civil War.

Catalonia makes up one-fifth of Spain’s economy (equal to Portugal’s) and has led the way in Spain’s development in the last century. Yet tensions between Spain and Catalonia became evident in the first week in October as Spanish police forces tried to prevent voters from casting ballots – the elderly with their walkers and children alike were present during much of the unrest. Spain is likely to impose direct rule over the region, crushing any hopes for the Catalan people that they might independently govern themselves.

I asked Derek and Mary Lynn if they were afraid to be there. “No, we’re not afraid. Since we know where our citizenship lies, we follow the call and persevere.” And they are praying the same for their friends and neighbors in Catalan.


To read more about the Catalan struggle for Independence, check out these articles from the NY Times, Al Jazeera, and BBC.


If you would like to learn more, send a note of encouragement, or support their ministry work, you can email Derek and Mary Lynn at derek.parnell@gemission.org.