The light flows through Seth Graves’ Seville, Spain apartment as he settles in for a FaceTime call. It’s where he’s spent most of his time the last 12 months — Spain is still in a stricter lockdown — and life halfway around the world is tough. The lockdown has also forced him and his team to refocus their ministry in a place where there is no evangelical presence, and where you have to think strategically around restrictions.
Seth works with a church in Seville — a completely unchurched area. The church was started by the International Mission Board and seeks to engage a part of the city with no evangelical presence. They’ve offered English chats, and a men’s and women’s Bible study on the narrative of Scripture, both of which meet in local restaurants under social distancing guidelines. Those two pandemic initiatives have garnered so much interest that they continue today, and Seth now leads the youth ministry at the church plant.
A road trip that took a few exits off the highway led Seth to Seville. In 2011, as a college student at Shades, he went on a mission trip to Seville. He was studying Spanish at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, had been on mission trips in high school, and was interested in going to Spain. Seth spent his spring break serving in the southern Spanish city and went again in 2012. “That’s what piqued my interest in Spain,” Seth says over a FaceTime call in mid-February. “When I graduated in 2013, I moved back [to Spain] to teach English.” Seth’s first stint living in Seville lasted nine months, but it was his first introduction in 2011 that made him long to return.
Seth first felt a call to international missions in high school. At a Student Life Camp one summer, the Holy Spirit worked in a way that he still recalls with a sense of wonder. “The speaker said, ‘I think there are people in here who are called to international missions. If you feel like that’s you, I want you to raise your hand,’” Seth remembers. “I had never really thought about it. I had been on a couple mission trips with my youth group. I raised my hand, and I knew with a certainty that this was something God was calling me to.” From that moment, he looked for opportunities to go on short-term trips overseas.
A new missions pastor came to Seth’s home church as a senior in high school, and the two began a season of discipleship. “That very much sparked in me an interest and a realization of the importance of discipleship,” Seth says. It was this interest that got him connected to Shades.
“I was working in the [Community Life Center] full-time, and I had finished grad school. I knew that I’d been called to overseas missions and had been exploring,” Seth says. “GIC 2017 had a big emphasis on the Great Commission, and on the last night, I remember being in the sanctuary and the Spirit very clearly saying, ‘Go. You’ve been called; quit waiting around for it to happen. You need to go.’ That was when I started seriously exploring opportunities.” Seth transitioned off the CLC staff and moved to South Korea to teach.
Picking up and moving across the globe, it seemed Seth was following a new vision. But when he arrived in South Korea, the Lord began to refocus his heart. This refocusing had more to do with the state of his heart than the actions of his life. “When I moved in 2017, part of the reason was to try and pay off my student loans. I was like, ‘I’m totally ready for the mission field, and I’m going to go and be a super missionary in South Korea and do things for the Lord,’” Seth says. “I got there, and it was hard. The job wasn’t very fun, the bosses were not nice, and I didn’t have a good community of believers there.
“The Lord revealed to me that the past two or three years before that, I had made serving God my god,” Seth recalls, confessing that he had let his personal relationship with God decline. “And I got to South Korea, and that was when all of the external things had been taken away. God really showed me my heart wasn’t in the right place. That was the moment God said, ‘I want you to love Me, not just love serving Me.’ God used that to show me my own brokenness but also reorient me towards holiness and a relationship with Him.”
"When we're in God's will following Him in obedience, it's the best place we can be."