Friday, July 1, 2011

Final Thoughts

It's hard to believe that a week ago today I was concluding my time in Spain with Bishop Carlos. Being at home is still a little overwhelming, but nonetheless it is good. Now the work continues as I go forward to finish my final year of undergraduate studies, find the right seminary, but most of all pray for Leon and the pilgrims who pass through (or start) there. There is still much to do.
The people I met and experiences I had only confirmed my belief that the Camino desperately needs evangelists. No matter what reason pilgrims gives for their walking, it is clear to me that the Holy Spirit leads them to come to Spain for a transformative and perhaps healing experience. Some may claim they are only doing it because they can, or because they are retired, or because a relative died, or because they need to think about work, or because they like the "energy," but it is not man who plants the desire to come to a place like the Camino de Santiago in anyone's heart. The Holy Spirit brings people to the Camino and touches them throughout their journey. Jesus reveals himself in myriad ways through experiences, people, nature, and perhaps even thoughts and visions. What the Camino needs are people who will not only help pilgrims understand their experiences in the light of the Gospel, but live as Christ lived before their very eyes.
I spoke to several VBS children on Thursday about the Camino and explained it very simply: "A pilgrim is someone who goes on a journey to look for God." Since you readers aren't as focused on cookies and lemonade, I'm going to add a bit to that statement. A pilgrim is someone who goes on a journey to look for God or to see him reveal himself more. There are people from every continent, every race, and every religion looking to the Camino as a way to God, but what many of them don't know is that he is already walking alongside them.
What I hope and pray to see in my lifetime is a new class of hospitaleros and pilgrims. The current owners of most of the albergues are (with notable exceptions) just trying to make a living or a profit and may or may not be gifted in hospitality. The Camino needs people who will welcome pilgrims in and wash their feet and serve them to bring the Kingdom of God near to all who pass through. That can be a life-long or short-term mission. Language does not matter (at least not for Americans), for almost everyone speaks English. Almost all pilgrims set out, ultimately, to be blessed. The Camino needs people who will walk with their fellow pilgrims in order not only to be blessed but to be a blessing and a light to all they meet on the road to Santiago. Then, Lord willing, when the seeds are planted and watered and perhaps even harvested, the Gospel will bear fruit in every continent, race, and religion and all will worship the one true God of Israel, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ!
Thank you all for praying for me and keeping up with this blog. I hope you will continue to pray for the pilgrims and even consider what else you might do to bring the Kingdom of God to them. It may be only a word, but the Holy Spirit can use anything we say to plant a seed of the Gospel in someone's heart when we let him lead the conversation. If Spain doesn't tickle your fancy, perhaps you could try it today where you are.
It's been a pleasure writing this blog, and I hope it's been a pleasure and a blessing to read it. God bless!

Wednesday, June 29, 2011


Okay, folks, I've written a lot, but a picture is worth a thousand words, so here you go. I'll caption them as well as I can so you can put them into the timeline of the trip.
This is the albergue in Azofra, where I first met my German friend (I imagine that's why she sent me this picture) and soaked my feet for a while.

This was when I got to live the dream in Hospital de Orbigo during the festival.

This is the long stairway up into Portmarin after crossing a river.

This is me, my German friend, my Nebraskan friend, and my Quebecan friend in front of the cathedral.

German friend, New Jersey, and me.

Clockwise from bottom left: German friend, Italian daughter, New York, Quebec, Australia, Birmingham's boyfriend, Birmingham, Ireland, me, Italian mother (whose birthday we celebrated here at Finisterre).

Shots from Finisterre.


Well, all of my Camino clothes are in the washer and I'm in fresh clothes from home typing on a computer that doesn't cost a Euro for every half hour. Let me bring you up to speed on the last couple of days and then I'll close with a few thoughts.
After my last entry I went to a place with falafel and then returned to the pension to wash my sandals one last time and try to reduce the stink for the sake of my fellow passengers the next day. Once I was pretty much finished packing I laid on the bed for a while channel surfing and then decided to go to sleep early. I slept well and took a shower and put deodorant on both my armpits and my feet (again, for the sake of the other passengers) and took the metro to the airport.
I checked my bag quite easily and got through security disturbingly fast and then set about spending the last of my Euros (about 7 by this time) on food. While I was on my way to the gate I got lucky enough to nab one of the random security checks which meant a second scan of my bag and shoes and also a very close pat-down. They were really polite, though, and the guy checking my passport joked with me about my beard versus the clean-shaven 16-year-old in my passport picture.
The plane ride was long but as comfortable as it could be. They fed us and watered us regularly and the movies were on-demand rather than on rotation so I didn't have to worry about timing anything. Once I got off the plane I joined two others who had connected from Barcelona in waiting for my bag and then being informed that our luggage was still in Madrid. D'oh! After I filled out the proper forms to get my bag sent to Orange Park my brother-in-law picked me up and we headed home for a good home-cooked dinner with my sister and nephew and then a birthday cake and good conversation.
The next morning I played with my nephew and his assortment of cars and animals before going on a long walk (or run for him because he sprints just about everywhere) and appreciating the finer things of nature like throwing rocks in the creek and pretending to be a frog. We had a special lunch at Chik-Fil-A and then they sent me on my way to Jacksonville. Fortunately I didn't have a bag to check so getting in was quite quick and smooth. I kept myself awake through sheer force of will for the entire flight and then had a joyful reunion with the parents and girlfriend.
We went home for a dinner of hamburgers (which I had vowed not to eat in Spain, which made me miss beef) and typical home food, followed by a wonderful cake with my pastor and his wife. I got a call at about 7:30 telling me they had my bag and were going to deliver my bag that night (big kudos to Aer Lingus!) so I was able to wash all my clothes today.
While I have returned home, God's work in Spain is far from finished. It is clear to me from all the players in motion that I met in Madrid that the Holy Spirit is hard at work in Spain and the Camino is a particularly important place because it can serve as a launching point for all of Europe and eventually the whole world. Pretty much every country in the European Union had a representative on the Way and every continent had a representative.
As my friend from New Jersey said, when you know people for such a short amount of time you can only plant seeds and pray. That was true in the six week period I had with my Camino family and it will certainly be true when I return to Spain and only have one day and night with those pilgrims who come to me. But I know without a doubt that if I and those with me dedicate the cafe, albergue, and our lives to God's glory and displaying his Kingdom that he will be faithful and bring fruit from those seeds from Spain to Europe to the ends of the earth. Praise the Lord!
While this is a bit of a wrap-up post, this blog is not quite finished. I have a few pictures to share and hope to show you all more as I request and receive them from my friends (at least those whose contact info I have). For now, though, God bless!

Sunday, June 26, 2011


I´m going to go ahead and admit that this title will seem like a stretch, but trust me that you´ll get a kick out of the end result.
Dinner was delicious, as I expected, and we followed it up by sharing a quarter of a watermelon I saw at the grocery while I was buying orange juice. We had to use dental floss to cut it, but that worked better than expected and we then followed it up with some icecream cones. After a bit of lingering we parted ways and I made the long and very sweaty walk up to the bus station, where I stared off into space for a while and then went down to the bus.
Rather than tell you directly about my experience on the bus, I´m going to tell you a little story. Call it a parable if you want. Once upon a time there was a sardine in a can. This sardine had longer fins than all the others, so he was much less comfortable than they were. The average-height sardine right in front of him also ignored his barely muffled "oomph" as the average sardine leaned his chair aaaaaall the way back right into the long sardine´s knees that were already touching the back of the seat. Needless to say, the long sardine was not very comfortable, but he still got an adequate amount of sleep. The end.
And speaking of Fins, the girl sitting next to me, who was so petite that I found my legs coveted her size, was from Finland (see, I told you you could trust me with the title). She cycled the Camino, so we had plenty to talk about and it was very fun to compare hometowns, especially with the length of days in the seasons. Good seatmate, especially because I was able to use some of her legroom since she was so tiny.
Arrived to the bus station about an hour late, but since I was already getting to Madrid 5 hours early and figured out my metro route ahead of time that was no problem. Got to the right stop and wandered a bit before finding the Episcopal Cathedral and then set about finding a hostel and breakfast (by this time I was pretty disgusting, so a shower was out of the question). I found the latter first and after a lot more walking around I found a hostel that was open (€50 for the night! eek!) and not full and took a nice shower. I put on my best clothes, meaning I zipped on the pants attachments onto my less sweaty shorts and wore my long-sleeved tshirt and also my boots for the last time.
I was still really early, but I went ahead and waited outside the church anyway and was warmly greeted by the diocesan secretary and a pastor from Cuba who was attending some sort of Spanish Episcopal synod that concluded today with the ordination of three deacons and one priest. I understood very little of the Spanish of the service, but at least I had an order of service so I could read with everyone else rather than standing silent like I did in mass. We also sang four hymns, which was fun because a couple of them were familiar tunes. Bishop Carlos gave a (though brief) sermon (from what I understood of it) and after Communion we finished. At that point the couple sitting next to me who had gotten in after the start of the service introduced themselves as Presbyterian church planters and were very interested in the vision God has given me. They´ve been working alongside the Anglicans here (apparently the Anglican church has sent four Australian pastors to Spain as well) and are working to plant churches in Madrid.
After the service was a fellowship time with quite a bit of good food, though I saw little of it because of the number of people (apparently alot of laypeople from the diocese [so, Spain] came to the cathedral for today) and finally received an excited greeting from the bishop himself.
He said several times how happy he was that I came and that he´s really excited for the vision. He listened very attentively to the ideas I´ve had floating around in my head for the past 6 weeks and also inquired about whether the two churches supporting me in the States would be willing to cooperate with the Spanish church (take note, NAMS folk, I think we´ll want to keep in touch with him). He was most excited when I mentioned Léon because apparently he´s been praying about that city because he considers it a critical place and has also wanted for a long time to have a pastor serving pilgrims. He´s working right now in fact to send someone to Santiago itself, so that could be a place with which I could network once I get back here.
All in all, it was a very exciting meeting and I´m praising God for his receptiveness to the ideas. He offered any sort of help, particularly legal advice which was worrying me since my talk with the American missionary yesterday, he could give and I asked for him to pray. He said he´d add me to his list and then prayed for me right then and there and then hurried off to visit a parishioner in the hospital. (I know life as a hospitalero isn´t exactly a walk in the park, but seeing him definitely reminded me why I hope God never calls me to be a bishop. He is one busy guy!)
After I left the cathedral I walked around for quite some time trying to find my hostel again and then obtained a map from the hostess while trying to translate for some Korean businessmen who were checking in without a word of Spanish. They were all very interested that I had walked the Camino and appreciative of what little help I could give them. Now, after a bit of searching (during which I saw a place that looks like it would serve falafel... score!), I´m here.
Tomorrow I fly out of Madrid airport at 11:00 am Spain time and get to D.C. sometime in the early afternoon Eastern Time. I´m pretty pumped to get back home, but not so pumped about sitting on a plane for 8 or so hours. Please pray for safety and good movies (like Kung Fu Panda 2, for instance, though if that´s still in theaters in the States it´s not quite as urgent)! Until next time, God bless!

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Birthday Cake

So walking over to the unexplored part of the old city was a great decision! I toured an 18th century Franciscan cathedral and monastery and ended up being there right during mass as well. After that I went down to a more residential area and found a lovely and quiet little park where I sat for some time before I decided to return to civilization. After some debate I decided to go ahead and buy my bus ticket so I wouldn´t have to worry about it today, so I made the long walk up to the bus station and got my passage to Madrid and then found an internet cafe that looked like it would have better Skype capabilities than the place I´ve been frequenting the past week. After I returned to the main plaza my Nebraskan friend and I went to get dinner and then icecream.
When I first got the idea to share a Santiago cake with the incoming pilgrims there were a few considerations I took but many more that I didn´t. For one, I at least knew enough to make a sign that said "Congratulations" in Spanish, English, French, German, Italian, Dutch, Danish, Korean, Portugese, Czech, and Romanian. (In order to do that I used to Google translate and also plotted a Madrid Metro route from the bus station to the church for tomorrow.) What I didn´t think about was that in the heat of the late morning, one of the last things a pilgrims wants is an extremely thirst-inducing sweet. Those who rejected my offer, if it wasn´t because they were already thirsty or diabetic, seemed to regard me as a beggar even though I was offering a gift rather than requesting money, so I edited my sign to say "Free!" in English and Spanish. Eventually I got rid of it all, and I think the Koreans were most excited and touched to see their own characters instead of the Latin characters that all of the western languages use. One Mexican student from Madrid gave me a big (and shirtless) bear hug when he found out it´s my birthday and his Swedish friend followed suit. About time for another shower now, haha!
I also got to meet four women from Ohio, one of whom is actually a fellow aspiring albergue host(ess). She´s been in Spain for a few years now and is working through the legal hoops required to open a place in Santiago, so I got her contact information and hope it will be a fruitful meeting (it certainly wasn´t random).
We and Nebraska had lunch and then I headed over to the "quick" internet place to video chat with the parents and girlfriend but soon found that the connection was only good enough to maintain about 20 or 30 seconds of conversation before it had to reconnect. Sometimes that took less than a second, but other times it took longer than the last bit of conversation so after an hour we finally called it quits. I went ahead and paid and returned to the closer and cheaper and more reliable internet place in the old city to update this blog. Tonight I´ll have dinner one last time with Nebraska (at the falafel place, of course) and then head over to the bus station and (hopefully) sleep my way to Madrid.
I hope you will all pray for my meeting with the bishop, because I honestly have no idea what to expect. I know he loves the Lord and has a very big heart for his country, but I don´t know how long we´ll meet or even what exactly I should talk to him about that I haven´t already emailed him. But the Holy Spirit will lead us, so I´m not worried, and I´m excited to see how the Spanish Epicopal church worships.
I may not get a chance to update until Monday when I get to D.C., so until next time, God bless!

Friday, June 24, 2011


I´ve still got it, folks. And by "it" I of course mean my gift for clever (and puntacular) titles. Let me begin by remarking on how quickly it feels like my time in Santiago is passing. I suppose that´s partly due to a rather monotonous schedule (get up, go to mass, update the blog, eat falafel, walk around and run into familiar faces, get some icecream or a treat from the bakery, debate whether to take a nap, get dinner and/or go to mass, read in my room until I fall asleep), but it´s still surprising that tomorrow evening I´ll be taking a bus to Madrid. The other part of the title is, of course, a Catholic pun that I´ll leave you all to figure out for yourselves*.
So after yesterday´s update I walked down to the train station to look at times and prices and discovered that my decision was rather easy. The only train to Madrid on a Saturday is at 11:00 or so and takes 8 hours with all the stops, so a bus wouldn´t really be that much different and would probably be easier because I´ve already used the Spanish bus system.
With that important decision out of the way, I headed back to the old quarter and wandered around a little more. Eventually it was time to think about dinner, so I got a bell pepper, cheese, apple, banana, and bread to bring back old times and ate it in the Cathedral plaza. I waited for mass in the church and got to meet the cute Korean couple I saw a lot the first couple of weeks and congratulate them. After mass I returned to my room, did some laundry, and then waited to fall asleep.
I slept very poorly due to the catch-22 of sleeping in a room close to the municipal square. If I have my window closed, my tiny room gets hot very fast, but if I have it open the sound of protesters is a lot louder and for some reason they only make noise between 11:00 and 5:00 or so rather than at a time when someone would be in the government building or when anyone would pay attention. I´m sure they know what they´re doing, though, since it´s been about a month and a half that they´ve been doing it.
There must be some kind of spiritual warfare happening as well (perhaps due to my speaking out against change without God yesterday) because not only did I sleep poorly but the priests this morning were somewhat drowned out by the construction going on outside the Cathedral. Sheesh. Please pray for all of us in Santiago.
That´s really all I have for today. This afternoon I´ll probably walk over to a part of the old quarter I realized I haven´t seen yet and then I might take a nap to make up for last night. Until next time, God bless!

*Okay, if you really need a hint, here you go: think about what day of the week it is today.

Thursday, June 23, 2011


Time for another post-mass entry. After yesterday´s entry I went to the falafel place in hopes of seeing my New Jersey friend one last time, but I realized after the fact that we should have specified which falafel place because there are several in the old city. So she´s in Madrid getting ready to fly home, but at least I have her email.
That afternoon I did something more exhausting and discouraging than walking 50km with a pack twice as heavy as mine: I went shopping. All the pressure to buy, buy, buy nearly did me in and although I was pretty much successful in getting everything I wanted I still felt awful afterwards and had to eat an icecream and take a 90-minute nap to recover. After my nap I went to dinner with my Korean friend, who had a wonderful experience on the Camino (praise the Lord!) and was very excited and encouraging about God´s vision for Léon. I gave her my email, so hopefully we´ll be able to keep in touch, and we parted ways.
After that I listened to the tail end of a children´s violin recital in one of the plazas and then went up to the quiet of my room to read and write. Some of you may remember that last time I was here God gave me a good prayer for sojourners, and I felt called to write down some scattered thoughts I´ve been having since I got to Santiago, so think of this as a evening prayer and the other as a morning prayer.

Lord, you have brought me safe thus far;
please carry me forward again tomorrow.
Lord, you have fed me all I need today;
please provide for me to eat tomorrow.
Lord, you have given me abundant drink;
please open up new wells and springs tomorrow.
Lord, you have blessed me with breath;
breathe anew in me tomorrow.
And all I meet, Lord, let me greet
with the love of Jesus
on my lips, heart, and mind (and feet!)
so that the Kingdom of God
may come near to the pilgrims.
Now, Lord, with your blessing, I´ll sleep all I may,
and rest to gain strength to serve you all the day.

I expect those last two lines would be labelled as "sentimental" by my poetry professor, but he can deal with it.
Another subject that´s been on my mind without my choice is the reason for today´s title. You see, every large city I´ve passed through has had a groups of tents set up by protesters in front of the government building. In Santiago, the government building shares the square with the Cathedral, so I´m constantly seeing the evidence of upheaval and discontent with the current establishment. One sign (in English, which I found rather weird, but I suppose it´s for pilgrims to read) that was posted on a safety rail surrounding road work said, "Here they are changing a stone, there they are changing the world."
Now I´ll preface the rest of this entry by saying that I don´t really know very much at all about politics, much less the particular situation in Spain. But that sign got me thinking about a certain presidential campaign that was immensely popular at the time that used the same word, "change," to great effect. Obviously there´s something in the thought of change that creates a spark in the human psyche. There´s an awareness that things are not right with the world and a massive human effort to change because if things aren´t right at the moment, change must be good. Yet so often after the "change" occurs people find life is still hard, that nobody is perfect, and that the world is still not right.
There´s no arguing that walking the Camino changes every pilgrim. They return home different physically (I mean, look at my "beard" when I started!), mentally, and spiritually. Yet I´ve noticed differences in people who have finished. Some find a purpose or direction, some simply find self-contentment, but their behavior is what I notice. My New Jersey friend was a mother to all young people I saw her meet during our time together, and my Korean friend apparently began giving foot massages. On the other side, although my Nebraskan and Quebecan friends had a great experience, they had short fuses to deal wit hthe language barrier at the restaurant and admitted that they got "b****ier" the closer to Santiago they got.
Change is not enough. Jesus says in Mark 10:18, "No one is good exept God alone." Everything else is, at best, neutral in itself. But when God is in something, he makes it good. Thus, the pilgrim who submits to God´s will to be changed however he wants will receive the gift of a change for good from God. The change in my friends may be good in time, but they (and I) must first give the change up to God as an offering of praise and thanksgiving.
All right, that´s all the deep stuff for now. If you want to know what I´m up to while you´re all driving to work or sleeping in or doing whatever you do until lunchtime, I´ll be checking train and bus ticket prices so I can decide how best to get to Madrid on Saturday. I know that puts you on the edge of your seat, so I´m going to leave you with that cliffhanger. God bless!