By Seth Grotzke
For hundreds of years, the Camino de Santiago, or Way of Saint James, has been a primary pilgrimage route for Roman Catholicism. The legend of its ancient origin goes back farther than any of the kingly lines on the Iberian Peninsula. Modern pilgrims begin walking from all over the world in order to reach their sacred destination in northwest Spain, Santiago de Compostela. Hundreds of thousands arrive at this historic city and cathedral each year. In the centuries past, penance was the primary motivational factor. Today, not nearly as many pilgrims begin their pilgrimage for religious purposes, but nearly every single one has a spiritual experience.
That is where I met the pilgrim from Ireland. He was just a few days from Santiago and was stopping in churches, trying to pray for a suffering friend. He didn’t know how to pray. I did. So we prayed together for his friend, and I prayed for him.
Because the primary routes run through Spain—the least-evangelized Spanish-speaking country in the world—the Camino de Santiago allows us to share Jesus Christ in an amazing way. Pilgrims from all over the world walk hundreds, even thousands of miles. They spend weeks away from their families, their jobs, their routines, and their comforts. They take with them only their backpack, their thoughts, their guilt, and themselves. In this environment we are able to step in and serve them, listen to them, and share Christ with them. Whether we are hiking with our family or friends, or we are merely taking a few minutes out of our day to approach a pilgrim, we share a bond. We understand what it means to be searching for where we belong (Hebrews 11:13ff.). We are pilgrims at heart.
We have also been able to use this pilgrimage with long-standing friends. While church planting in Ponferrada, Spain, our team there held an annual English immersion hike with unsaved friends from our English class. For three days we would do nothing but talk in English as we walked. To fulfill our promise of total immersion, we would bring along three prompts. First, we brought a copy of Pilgrim’s Progress to read during coffee breaks. Second, everyone carried a notebook of our “Compass Questions” meant to spur conversation about meaningful life topics. Third, those of us who are followers of Jesus brought an earnest desire that our friends would follow Him as well.
Whether our fellow hikers are longtime friends or newly met, we don’t know where these pilgrims are along the path to Christ. But we pray that God would use us to help them take another step toward Him.
Every conversation is unique in its duration and depth, but no matter where we break off, our goal is that the person is left with the understanding that we genuinely were interested in them.
Show genuine interest.
“I see you are wearing/doing/speaking…”
Ask genuine questions.
“What is it like for you to…?”
Convey genuine concern.
“If I were in your place, I think it would be hard to/amazing/etc.…Is that what it is like for you?”
Share genuine counsel.
“This statement of Jesus has been very meaningful. I would like to share it with you.
A missionary family unexpectedly found ways to bridge the relational gap with hard-to-reach people.