Updated: May 8, 2019
By Josh Walker - Ends Cycling Crew
I’m sitting outside a small café roughly three kilometers from Palas de Rei on the Camino de Santiago in northwestern Spain. It’s day four of what will ultimately be a 70+ mile hike. Nine of us started out in O Cebreiro with a goal of sharing the gospel, and with little idea of what we were getting into. Hundreds of thousands of people complete the Camino each year. Some are here for a religious pilgrimage, others come for the physical challenge, to satisfy family tradition or culture, or to experience the history and natural beauty of the region. Most are searching for something. They are seeking God, though they may not know it yet. These are the people we have come to meet, walk with, and hopefully point more clearly in the direction of Christ.
Travel can be a lonely experience. Different languages and cultural unfamiliarity can lead to a sense of isolation. But the Camino is special. People come from all over the world to follow the ancient pilgrimage. They eat in the same cafés, sleep in the same Albergues (hostels), and contend with the same language and culture. The Camino is a shared individual experience, and those who walk it seek their common ground, rather than what may divide them. There is an extraordinary degree of diversity on the trail - ethnically, culturally, and spiritually. This is a place where witchcraft is still actively practiced, and people speak in whispers of evil spirits in the forest. In contrast, Christians have been following the way for centuries and many churches dot the landscape in every direction.
We met Norika and her husband on the second day. They are from Japan, and he has recently become a Christian. Norika described herself as a “non-practicing Christian.” That night, my team prayed for renewal in her relationship with Christ. The next time I remember seeing Norika, she was lying on her pack next to the road, sobbing and holding a bandage to her face with blood on the ground around her.
I started out early in the morning, most of my team just finishing breakfast and preparing for the day. I knew they would catch up quickly, and one was already ahead. Before I even got out of town, I could tell something was wrong. The shouted conversation ahead of me held notes of authority and concern. I asked what's happened. “Someone collapsed.” As the road doubled back down the hill I found a small crowd of people surrounding Norika and her husband. One of my teammates sat beside her, holding her hand. Several people stood nearby talking quietly. With a little knowledge of Spanish and a lot of translation from my teammate, I learned that Norika had fallen and broken her nose, and an ambulance was on its way. I know Japan is an honor/shame culture, and Norika, visibly distressed by all the attention, begged people to continue on, embarrassed to be disturbing their way. I acquiesced to her wishes, knowing prayer was the best help I could offer.
Given its diversity, it's not surprising that a number of languages can be heard on the Camino. Norika, for instance, speaks both Japanese and English. The German nurse who stopped to help, however, did not. Nor did the paramedic who arrived with the ambulance. But God responds to prayer, and He knows what is needed, even when we don’t know what to ask. In this case, He provided a translator; a young boy from the city who spoke exactly the three languages required for Norika, the paramedic, and the nurse to communicate. At Ends of the Earth Cycling, it is not uncommon to find that God directs our tours through very dark places in the world. It would be nice to say we are bringing Him to the people who need Him most, but more often we find He is actually bringing us to Him. In Psalm 139, David writes that even if he made his bed in the abyss, God would be there. God reminds us constantly that He is at work even in the darkest places, the darkest times, the darkest hearts. Nothing is ever without hope.
As I leave the café and head for the next town, I am struck by Norika’s perseverance. She's had a rough time, but she hasn’t given up. She fell, but didn’t stay down. I don’t know how Norika’s story will end, but I do know it is not over. Though she may not currently be pursuing God, He is surely pursuing her, and I am confident that He who began a good work in her will carry it through to completion.