June 28, 2012 by eneubauer
I have often stated that our traditional understanding of pilgrimage encompasses the ideas of journey, sacred space and religious devotion. In a previous post I stated that our ultimate end on life’s pilgrimage is union with Christ. Today I want to offer another thought about pilgrimage – it’s not just about the sacred place you visit but the people you meet along the way.
What I have learned during my travels along the pilgrim’s path is that each place has offered not just sacred space with its history, architectural wonders and spiritual significance but also wonderful people. Each trip has deposited something special into the story of my life – with the most significant impact coming from the coupling of place and people. This relationship between place and people has produced personal transformation and unique perspective.
I remember delivering food and school supplies to a small village school outside of Kabul, Afghanistan. We were given 300 MRE’s from the Dutch military which we filled with essential school supplies. Each box was delivered to the students with love and a smile. The boxes of food and supplies were received and cared for like they contained a treasure of unimaginable wealth. Not one child took the box and opened it, but held it close with a smile – in stark contrast to the American way of handling presents. Because it was the end of the school day the students were released and everyone ran for the door to spend time with friends and family. As we wrapped up our work and left the facility many of the children were huddled in two’s and three’s looking to see what was included in their box. I saw one boy standing alone, trying desperately to open a chocolate bar that was included in his package. As I saw him struggle I turned to help and his reaction was surprising. He jumped back made sure he had a tight grip on the supplies and ran. Later, I came to understand that each student would stop and take one small piece of their “present” [every morsel being significant] before they would return home and surrender it to their family. In Afghanistan, as in other developing nations, every gift received or reward for labor is treated as a part for the whole to share in. These presents weren’t about what the students received but how these gifts would benefit the family and help them live another day.
The encounter with this young man and the many others I interacted with reminds me just how precious life really is, the importance of sharing, and just how easy it is to make a practical difference in the life of someone in need. Today, most of us have the ability to share from our wealth and invest in someone in need – maybe a family member, neighbor or someone else you meet along the pilgrim’s path. What I learned from this place and people is that small acts combined with Christ’s love makes a big difference in the lives of those we are called to serve.