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Open Doors’ pilgrimage: steps in the right direction

Have you ever considered going on a pilgrimage to draw near to God? asks Erin James

Do two weeks of prayer and reflection sound like a welcome break from the busyness of life or an impossible task?

Jesus regularly took time out to pray. But in today’s world there seems to be an endless list of chores, admin and notification pings. And they’re not all superfluous. Instagram will certainly still be there tomorrow, but if you don’t put on a load of washing you will eventually have no clean clothes to wear.

I personally struggle with the story of Mary and Martha in the Bible. Luke 10 says Jesus and His disciples were on their way home and Martha opened her home to them. Martha ended up cooking for the group of men; that’s at least 13 people for an unplanned dinner party. (I wouldn’t wish that task on even the most flexible host.) 

Surely being busy isn’t always bad? Martha is being hospitable, and she is serving, and yet she is rebuked by Jesus. Why? Because as important as the daily grind’ is, spending time with Jesus is even more important. 

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In a world where the average commute is nearly an hour, the laundry is never done, and we might want to promptly watch the latest Game of Thrones episode to avoid spoilers, how can we carve out time with Jesus? And not just time, but the sort of time that can’t get interrupted by a phone call or a toddler who won’t go to asleep. 

Koffi, a trainee teacher, had a radical idea. He walked a 136-mile pilgrimage from Winchester to Canterbury – a route that takes most people two weeks – and raised more than £2,000 for Open Doors. For centuries Christians have taken pilgrimages, meaningful journeys to sacred places – a time carved out for reflection and quiet. They are a time to be’ rather than do’.

Christians have long walked impressive distances as pilgrims as a spiritual discipline and a way to connect with creation. But for Koffi, his pilgrimage connected him with his Christian family around the world who are persecuted for their faith. 

The persecution of Christians has led to millions of families fleeing their homes. An estimated 1.3 million Christians in Northern Nigeria have had to flee their villages because they choose to follow Jesus. While in Syria, despite the conflict dying down, Christians are still walking away from their precarious situations to seek safety in surrounding countries. 

Koffi said, My pilgrimage was difficult because it was a whole day of walking, but it gave me time to think and pray. I was drawn closer to God and I had a whole new perspective on caring for my persecuted family around the world.”

A pilgrimage is a serious challenge, but it forces you to be like Mary. I’ve learnt from experience that times of true, undisturbed reflection and silence very rarely just happen. If you could take two weeks to reenergise mentally and spiritually, to take in God’s incredible creation and to pray for those who share our faith but not our freedom, would you take it? I expect for some of us wouldn’t, possibly because we don’t have time. 

As well as spending a dedicated 40 days in the wilderness, Jesus regularly took time out to pray. It seems to me that there is a season for a radical two-week pilgrimage but there’s also a time to split the journey. Even if it took two years, walking just a morning at a time, that’s still 136 miles reflecting with God. And as you do the journey at a steady pace, setting time aside for God, it will do you a world of good. 

Pat, a self-proclaimed golden oldie’, completed the pilgrimage last year. She said, Underlying the whole adventure was the knowledge that down the centuries others had trodden these paths and that God was very near. But we had in mind Christians who were suffering, often walking barefoot through atrocious conditions with no hope or assurance for their future.”

Whether you need two weeks of reflection with God, or a series of days spaced over several years, we should all find the time to be like Mary. If you’re ready to lace up your walking boots, Open Doors’ pilgrimage challenge is here to guide you on your way.

Erin James is a content writer at Open Doors. She is passionate about sharing the amazing stories of those who pay the price for their faith. She lives in Oxford where she can be spotted drinking coffee or running with her spaniel. 

Photo by Nestoras Argiris.

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