El Camino (the Way) is a 775km hike starting at the North-eastern French border and crossing all of Spain to the east coast in Galicia where the Cathedral of Santiago is situated. Thousands of pilgrims from all over the world come to walk the Way, braving all sorts of weather, covering 25 to 30km each day, with blisters and sore muscles. Why does one start? The reasons are varied; some for adventure, others for the experience, but many believe that by suffering the trial they will get some forgiveness for their sins or an answer to a prayer request. Every day, you get up, put on your shoes, shoulder your backpack and get back on the Way, following the signs until you reach your destination.
How did we start on the Pathway to Missions?
For me, Trevor, it was at the same moment I had my conversion experience at 20 years old. After years of rejecting God and eventually hitting rock-bottom, I began seeking God in different religions with a group of friends who were also seeking. We thought that all ways led to God, and would meet every night to share what we were learning. Soon we realized that to advance, we needed to commit ourselves to a religion, so each of us committed ourselves to a different religion, while we continued meeting regularly to share our insights.
Though I didn't yet know it, I had started walking the seeker’s way, and God was giving me signs as to where to go. He led me to a church in Perth where the gospel message was given. I decided to commit myself to finding out more about Jesus, so I began reading the Bible. I was deeply challenged by the words of Jesus where he claims to be the only true WAY to God. Later on, I went to a small church where I watched them take communion, when it suddenly hit me that they were remembering the sacrifice of Jesus who had died for me...a sinner. I realized that I had wasted my life up to that point. Jesus had given his life for me, and my only response was to ask his forgiveness and give my life to Him, wherever that would lead. There was only one true WAY. So I put on my shoes, shouldered my backpack, and started following the true WAY.
This took me on a return car trip to Brisbane, seeking all my old friends to share Jesus with them, while also always looking for places I could serve at. One year later, God opened the doors for me to serve 3 years on the ship Doulos in South America. On the Doulos, I met Manoli who had started her pathway in her teenage years. She had been challenged by an OM team of young people who spent their holidays evangelizing in Spain, and since then had spent all her summer holidays working with OM teams distributing literature in the many villages of Spain. God then led her to serve in India on the Logos ship and then on the Doulos. We met working on a team in Uruguay, got engaged in Peru, married in Argentina, then went on to serve together in Spain.
When you start walking the El Camino, each day is different, but there are always signs to guide you. Following Jesus is the same. After spending the first year with OM in Barcelona, a car accident and team problems meant we left OM and moved across to Galicia.
Ferrol was then an important Navy base where young men from all over Spain came to complete their compulsory boot camp training. Every evening, you could see young people walking all around town, usually drunk. This was a sign, an opportunity, and God helped us set up a coffee-house ministry in the red light port area, where we opened every evening to offer free coffee and share the gospel.
I can still remember when Manolo walked in one night asking for help, and told us he was a drug addict. The huge drug explosion had just hit Spain, and hundreds of thousands of young people jumped into trying heroin. It affected almost every family in Spain. The sad thing was that AIDS was also just beginning, and the drug addicts were the hardest hit. Manolo was another sign and opportunity. We took him to a new Christian drug rehab centre called RETO. We continued collaborating with RETO, channelling in needy young people, helping RETO set up new centres, and reinserting those young people as they came out. This led us to set up a workshop school, halfway houses, and second-hand shops. RETO has since set up centres in over 40 different countries, including Australia. They are all run by ex-drug addicts who have been delivered from drugs, saved, and have decided to also put on their shoes and walk the pathway to mission.
During all of this time, as people responded to the gospel, we continued meeting together for discipleship. During a certain retreat, the group told us they had the desire to form a church. Up to this point, we had seen our ministry as evangelizing and disciplining, not church planting, so we asked God for a sign. Not long after, we received two large gifts with the condition to use the money for the purchase of a church building. A new opportunity. Twenty years later, God has allowed us to open three new churches in towns where there were previously no established evangelical churches.
For many years, teams from other countries have come to experience the cross-cultural mission in Spain. Many young people begin their pathway from this point onward. Part of the training experience involves several days of walking the Camino, interacting with the many pilgrims who are walking and seeking. God gave us another sign and opportunity. We have been able to purchase an old building with some extra land on the Camino walk. We are now working to rehabilitate it as an Albergue (hostel for pilgrims). Once finished, it will give us the opportunity to reach out to pilgrims. It will also be a place to house the teams that come to serve as volunteers, as well as a place to run camps and retreats for young people. We are also using the premises to accommodate the meetings of the new church we are starting in Ribadeo.
The thousands who walk the Camino are seekers who don't yet know the true Way. They are the same as those who get lost in the world of drugs and those who live in the thousands of villages and towns in Spain without established churches, as it is in so many other countries. It doesn't matter how you start, the important thing is putting on your shoes, shouldering your backpack each day, and walking the Pathway that God has for you.
By Trevor Allan