Cascadas, Spain: The small community with a big calling to help anybody encounter God

The Cascadas (‘Waterfalls’) Retreat Centre sits high up in a picturesque mountain region an hour from Madrid. It’s a welcome stop for visitors and volunteers from around the world, offering a space to marvel at God’s creation and spend time with a unique community of believers.

Cascadas Retreat Centre, Spain

Everyone is welcome here - from gap-year students to refugees. Jill Spink, a Latin Link member, was one of the pioneers who planted Cascadas over 20 years ago, and she’s been there to watch it grow ever since.

Jill explains: “The original vision was to offer a place for reflection, somewhere that displayed the beauty of nature. Being only an hour outside of the capital, we’re accessible, but when you come up here into the valley, it’s like you’re in another world.

We believe God cares about all areas of our lives

“But as well as providing a physical place for people to retreat, we wanted to allow space for study and reflection together, particularly on issues that the church doesn’t always talk about. If we believe in the God of the Bible, we must believe he cares about all areas of our lives; education, social issues, the environment - everything.”

Two decades later, the centre is seeing this vision come to life in new ways.

Studying Together

Cascadas has been focusing on ‘creation care’ in recent years in response to the climate crisis. “In many of our teaching workshops, we look at what the Christian perspective is on creation,” says Jill. “As Cascadas sits on the edge of a national park, there are lots of opportunities to enjoy God’s handiwork. After a group has spent time talking, creating artwork or learning from the Bible, we take them out into nature to reflect or do something practical. That might be helping in our organic garden, with planting or composting – we had even planned an activity week over the summer that included a river clean-up!” (This was cancelled by Covid-19 restrictions.)

“As Christians, we know how important this topic is,” Jill continues. “Creation care isn’t just about having a more beautiful planet, it’s a social (and theological) issue. As our environment suffers, it’s the poorest populations who suffer first as climate refugees, and disproportionately so.”

Bringing Outsiders In

Cascadas has always placed an emphasis on serving its neighbours. In recent years, God’s thrown a few surprises their way…

When the hotel next door was rented by a Christian project, it became a home for around 20 refugees, most of whom are Latin American.

“Because we’re right next door, we’ve been able to get involved with them a little, and even offer living space for some of their workers,” says Jill. “Last year, we hosted Bible studies and talks, and it was fantastic to welcome some of the refugees and staff (most of whom aren’t Christians) to take part and be included. We’re gradually building bridges with them.”

Another unexpected chance to welcome people in, came through a Cascadas team member. She works at a rehabilitation centre in the city for people with psychiatric disorders.

“To start with, people from the centre would come for the day and we were creating a space for them to be out of the city and interacting with people,” Jill explains. “This developed into occasional weekends and some longer holiday weeks.

“They heard about our different activities and workshops and wanted to join in. It’s been really good to have them with us.

“Many of these individuals only really have contact with social workers and mental health professionals. When they come here, they get to mix with all kinds of people from the Cascadas community, as well as more people in the village - it’s great for their social interaction and rehabilitation.” God’s generous welcome can bring anybody into community.

Jill Spink hosting a retreat at Cascadas centre in Spain

Community is Key

Cascadas’ emphasis on community is transformative for many people. Paola* is a good example.

“Paola had a difficult personal situation,” says Jill. “She wasn’t getting much support from church, she was having a crisis of faith and was emotionally wrecked. A Christian friend connected her to us, so she came along. And she has stuck around as a volunteer.

It was the community that kept bringing her back

“It was the community that kept bringing her back. She found a space where she could discuss anything without feeling judged. She encountered people here who would talk and present the faith through a different lens - she found it encouraging to meet Christians from different cultures, with a reasoned approach to faith. She brought her own friends out here, and she gradually grew in her faith again.”

One local couple – professing agnostics – who originally came for an English language week, keep on finding themselves drawn back into this community too, without always knowing why.

“They’ve come along to workshops on social justice, which they love,” says Jill.

“They’ve even helped us support those from the rehabilitation centres. It’s been very encouraging to see them receive God’s welcome and, in turn, share it with others.”

On their little plot in the Spanish countryside, Jill and the Cascadas team are reflecting Latin Link’s big mission: to be a community with a calling to love and serve God and our neighbours.

*Paola’s name has been changed

Be part of our community

If you’d love to be part of a community with a calling, we could find a place for you in Spain or Latin America through our Stride programme. Find out more below:
Stride Placements