Totally different from my normal blog posts, today I am posting about my recent trip to Spain! This summer my husband and I had the amazing opportunity to go to Northwest Spain on a mission trip with the church he works at, Highland Park Presbyterian Church.
There is a pilgrimage called the Camino de Santiago, also known as the Way of Saint James. The legend is that the remains of Saint James, one of Jesus’ disciples, was taken to the Cathedral at Santiago de Compostela. The pilgrimage to Santiago was the most popular Christian pilgrimage back in the Middle Ages, but it has become popular again recently. Over 300,000 people walked in 2017, but most people do not walk for religious reasons, more popularly for sport or travel. Historically people would start their journey from their home, but now that people walk on The Way from all over the world, there are tons of different routes and starting points. The most popular trip, the French Way, goes from France all across northern Spain, and is 477 miles and typically takes about 6 weeks by foot.
All along the way the pilgrims (or peregrinos) stay in hostels or group albergues (typically a huge room that sleeps 60–100 in bunk beds). The Camino can become very costly: financially, physically and emotionally. Agape (CRU organization in Europe) owns and operates a small albergue called La Fuente del Peregrino (the Pilgrim’s Fountain) in Ligonde (about 5 days walking distance from the end of the Camino). It is a donations-only and volunteer-run hostel that provides up to 13 pilgrims a place to sleep, homemade dinner, and breakfast. They also stamp the pilgrims’ Camino passports (they have to receive a certain amount each day to earn their certificate at the end), have clean bathrooms, free drinks and snacks, and provide a place of rest for anyone along their journey. During the summer, several thousand people pass by every day. Agape has different churches, groups, and organizations around the world come work at La Fuente, and we got to be one of them!
This trip was all about radical hospitality, which is my family’s biggest spiritual gift and calling. It just seemed perfect for us to go on this trip. Jonathan is a videographer, so he filmed most of the trip, and even got to interview some of the pilgrims that stayed with us. We will eventually share the video of the trip, once we get it finished and add it to this post.
We had pilgrims from France, Colombia, Italy, Bulgaria, Holland, England, Canada, China, Germany, Russia, Australia stay with us during the week, but also a handful of Americans too! Arizona, Georgia, and even Dallas were all represented! Not to mention all the people from all over the globe that just passed through. Each day we would put pins on our map to represent each country from the pilgrims that day. It was so amazing to see the map fill up. During our week we had a large group from South Africa and a lot from South Korea. By far the most popular countries were Spain and France.
Our team did everything from cleaning the bathrooms, making all the meals, washing the bedding, stamping passports, to greeting (and dancing with) pilgrims as they pass by. It was so interesting to learn about each person’s reason for going on the Camino. Most of them seem like they are in search of something, and it was really great to reflect with them on their journey so far, and nearing the end.
Most of the pilgrims asked us why we were there, since it was very obvious we had come from America. We got to tell them about how we came to spend our vacation serving them, which was really shocking to a lot of people. Every night we played the Jesus Film in whatever was the most spoken language of our overnight guests. We also played this game called Solarium after dinner using images and stock photos. It helped them reflect on what life was like before and during their pilgrimage, and what they hope for it to look like after the Camino when they get home. A lot of spiritual seeds were planted and watered.
The biggest take away for me was that if God has called you to do something, don’t let whatever you think is a limitation stop you. Some people might think just housing 13 people a night isn’t worth it, when there are other places that can hold over 100. But the small amount of people really helped us focus on and have really in depth-conversations with them, instead of being a for-profit business. The trip has also reminded me to be more flexible. I am such a planner and love to know exactly what to expect, but on this trip you have no idea who will be staying with you each night. And sometimes people show up exactly when you are starting to serve dinner. But you know what, we made it work, we just added another plate at the table and readjusted.
Now time for pictures, what we are all here for:
Our team from Highland Park Pres.
Outside Family Dinner!
Pilgrims getting stamps. The yellow booklets are a type of tract explaining the spiritual meanings between the different symbols of the Camino.
Cows down the street from the Camino. They walked in front of the hostel every day in a parade.
What it looked like in front of the hostel all day until about 5PM.
Our last family dinner before we left La Fuente.
A part of the group from South Africa.
A group of pilgrims just around the corner from the cathedral!
We flew in and out of Santiago de Compostela, and got to spend some time there. We saw the Cathedral where most of the pilgrims’ journey ends. The cathedral was breathtakingly gorgeous, and was originally opened in 1211. We also attended a pilgrim’s mass service which was such an amazing experience.
I can’t forget to mention Rosa, the cheese lady. She taught some of our team how to make cheese, and she was by far one of my favorite people in Spain.
This is the Roegner family. They are missionaries that live in Spain and work for Agape. They originally are from Highland Park Pres, and we love them.
Jonathan and I can’t wait to come back and bring Sailor when she is a little older.
Copyright Melissa Maddox Photography 2018