Thursday, 29 May 2014

A week in Spain already - how time flies!

It is hard to believe that I have been walking the Via de la Plata for exactly one week now! I am currently in a town called Zafra and I have covered 154km of the 1000km route to Santiago de Compostela. This is a spectacular walk and for more than one day now it has just been me, a few pigs, sheep, goats, chickens and a few more creatures that one would expect on a farm!

There are less pilgrims on this section of the Camino than on some others and I hope it stays that way! It is so special to be able to walk for hours with just your own thoughts occupying your mind! There are few distractions and the sounds of birds and crickets make for a perfect background symphony, allowing one to let your mind wander in conversation with your Maker!

As it is after 11pm already and as I have a full day ahead of me, I am going to suffice to say that I will attempt to bring you up to date with my journey from Seville in the next couple of days.

In the meantime, here are some photos that I have taken so far. Thank you so much for joining me on this very special journey, I hope and pray that together we can make a difference in the lives of those who call the Ark home!

Wednesday, 14 May 2014

It seems like a million years ago since I made the decision to pack my bag once again and head off to Spain, this time to walk the Via de la Plata route to Santiago de Compostela. Now, departure date from home is just a day away. I'll have until the 23rd of May until I actually start walking but my feet are truly itching to get going now!

I feel that the blessings that one experiences when undertaking a pilgrimage has already started arriving for me! Last Friday evening I was privileged to spend the night with a very special group of people at the Ark City of Refuge, home to almost 800 people and  the place I am hoping to create awareness for. As I arrived they were heading towards the community hall for their Friday evening praise and worship service.

I joined the congregation of men, women and children for an evening of worship that was filled with passion, singing from the heart, hands held up to God and tears running down many a cheek. They performed with angel voices and had us in stitches with  a short play that they had put together especially for the occasion.

I was asked to talk a little about the walk of a thousand kilometers that I am planning to undertake later this month and I shared some photographs of my previous walks. As I looked at the sea of faces in front of me I wished I could take each and every one of them with me to Santiago!

After a very special send-off we congregated for photos and I'd like to share some of those with you...

After the service I was invited to spend time with the young girls who are all on a road to recovery from drug and substance abuse. They were gracious enough to share their stories with me and I was given a glimpse of what it is like to be abused by a partner, live on the street, be separated from ones children and the horrors of being addicted to cocaine, heroin and crystal methamphetamine.

Some of the girls have been at the Ark for a few months, some have relapsed a few times and some have literally been there for a couple of days. I will always remember their honesty and most of all, the light that filled many of their eyes when they shared how they have found new joy and hope through the introduction that they received at the Ark to our Lord Jesus Christ.

NJ Girls - you are amongst the strongest women that I have ever met and I will never forget the special evening I was privileged to spend with you all.

The girls getting ready for their early morning march at the Ark. They do this every morning at 05:30, singing praises with their angel voices - the alarm clock for the other inhabitants!

The room I shared with the girls - a sleepover to be remembered!

A circle of song and prayer to welcome in the new day - nobody faces life alone at this very special place.

I left the Ark with a heavy heart coupled with an enormous feeling of hope.Two extreme emotions, sadness because of the fact that there are so many people out there who have to deal with horrors that are hard for me to even imagine. Being infected with aids because of a promiscuous husband who forced you to sell your own body to support both your drug habits. Children who are born into these lives and never know anything different, for whom 'home' is an alley in our city.Young people who never knew the love of parents and in turn only know how to parent in the same way - it is impossible to not feel their pain.

Yet I have to say that my interaction with the girls showed me that they are indeed feeling the hope that is offered to them at this place of safety. I saw a sisterhood that is strengthened by the faith that is being nurtured in this new environment that they find themselves in. A few even stay on as monitors, and are giving back by becoming part of the program. Through their own experience they have an understanding of what the people who arrive at the Ark have endured as homeless, destitute members of our society.

I saw hope and I saw laughter as a new day broke. Children were playing outside as I prepared to leave, their laughter filling the air - a sharp contrast to the sadness of the stories that filled my head. It is impossible to walk away from such an experience without getting involved somehow. I knew, as I drove away, that the decision to dedicate my walk to raising funds and awareness for this place of refuge, was the right one. There is hope and there is a possibility of recovery. As long as a place like the Ark is supported by those who have the means to help, this haven will continue to make a difference in the lives of those who often have no other way out.

Friday, 9 May 2014

Psalm 84:5 reads: 'Blessed are those whose strength is in you, whose hearts are set on pilgrimage'. These words are soft to my ears for I know it to be true. And I mean this in a much broader sense than you might imagine.

In this modern day and age is it possible to pack your bags to embark on a pilgrimage that will take you to a land far away and afford you the gift of walking in meditation for hours on end, evaluating your existence and your relationship with your Creator?

Well, if your mind is really set on it and you are able to put some money aside and take time out of your everyday life, there are a number of pilgrimage routes that you can walk and I guarantee you your life will never be the same. I decided to walk the Camino de Santiago pilgrimage in Spain for the first time in 2012.

I had spent 35 days on the road and covered a distance of roughly 800 kilometers. I had my share of aches and pains, blisters and despondence, but as I entered the square in front of the beautiful old Cathedral in Santiago de Compostela, my heart was ready to burst.

I had discovered the blessing of pilgrimage. I learnt how to open my heart and ears and I discovered that the Lord guides and speaks to us, loud and clear. All we need to do is to listen. Being away from my 'normal' life and having the gift of just walking, day after day, with only having to decide where I''ll stay and making sure I find a meal, afforded me the time to clear my mind and focus on my relationship with God.

It's also easier to become aware of the needs of your fellow travellers when you're all in the same boat. Compassion is almost inescapable, pain is shared and how incredible the feeling when you see the Lord at work when you are able to share a message or a thought that eases someones hurt. That is my experience of pilgrimage. It humbles me, it strengthens my compassion for others and it makes me evaluate the different elements of my life.

In researching the meaning of the word pilgrimage and what motivates people to become pilgrims, I came across thoughts that truly resonates with me. I'll share some of it with you.

Motivation: A religiously motivated pilgrimage is taken by an individual who has the desire to meet/experience God and somehow be changed by the experience.

Final destination: One has to be careful not to focus on a particular place to be the END of your pilgrimage. It is incorrect to confine God to one place and to make only such a place holy. Every time we leave our homes to go to church, we are actually on a pilgrimage! The Greek word 'paroikia' is the root of the English word 'parish', meaning a congregation of pilgrims.

Food for thought indeed!

So here I am, one week away from departing from my home to start another pilgrimage. This time I will be walking with a very special group of people. Almost eight hundred of them to be precise. They will travel with me in my heart and hopefully the hearts of others will be touched by our walk. I will be walking for the people who call The Ark City of Refuge home. I invite you to join me on this journey by visiting their website and learning more about this incredible place.

A place where people have ended up because life has battered them and their pilgrimage takes on a very different route than the ideal one described above. The Ark provides shelter, structure and food to anything up to 800 people, 365 days a year. These people have to be fed every single day and even though they have many wonderful donors who assist them, the need is huge and right now they are finding it very difficult to put food on all those plates.

My commitment is thus to help raise awareness that will lead to funds being generated so that their kitchen can continue to function. I will document my walk here as I have Internet access and should you wish to donate to them, you can do so by following the links at the top of this page. I will be attempting to walk a distance of 1000km (the route in Spain known as the Via de la Plata) and donations can be based on an amount per kilometer or it can just be as little or as much as can be afforded. Every little bit helps towards making a change!

This afternoon AT 15:25 I will be chatting about my walk and The Ark on Radio Tygerberg (104FM). Hopefully people who listen will be inspired to come on board, I know that God is at work here and I know that with his blessing, the help that they need will be provided!

This evening my sister-in-law and I will be staying with the people at the Ark and I am looking forward to worshipping with them and sharing photos and stories of my previous walks. What an adventure!

I will post pictures of our evening in the days to come and thank you so much for taking the time to read our story. We look forward to sharing the journey with you and I personally can't wait to meet more of the special people who call The Ark home.