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.