Camino de Santiago: A Taxi and a Train

Everyone who starts the Camino has an idea of what they are willing to do and not do in order for them to view the Camino as a success. Some people plan to walk every single step of the Camino with a pack on their back. Some people have a strict deadline, so they plan on 2 days of rest as the guide book suggests. I, too, had my plan. I gave myself 4 days to rest and had no thoughts of doing anything other than carrying my pack every step of the way.

Day one my plan changed and I wasn’t happy about it. First off, let me tell you about day one of the Camino starting in St. Jean Pied de Port. It is an absolutely beautiful hike, but it also is absolutely difficult. The guide books say it is 25ish km (15 miles), but 20 km are straight up a mountain and the other 5 are straight down said mountain. In other words, the day is rough! This is day one too! No one is ready for that day, I don’t care how good of shape they are in, it is a tough day for almost everyone.

After about 8 hours of hiking up and down a mountain I sat down because I was feeling a bit odd. Almost as soon as I sat down I realized I had not managed my food and water intake very well and was about to pass out. I was walking with a British guy named James that day and he sat with me as I attempted to get back to normal. After the break and then another hour of walking we arrived at our destination…or so I thought. Sadly, once we got to Roncesvalles, we were told that there were no more beds there or in any town for another 12 km. Needless to say, we were frustrated. At that point we had two options: Walk 12 more km (3+ hours) or take a taxi. I did not have another 12 km in me, so a group of 6 of us got in a taxi and were driven to a place to stay.

One the way to our new destination we all talked about what the next day might look like. Would we take a taxi back to Roncesvalles so we could walk every step of the Camino, or would we just start our day from where the taxi dropped us off. It was a tougher decision than it sounds. The Camino is 786 km long. You plan for 786 km and not 774 km. The certificate you get at the end says 786 km, not 774 km. Taking a taxi is cheating. If you don’t walk it, you didn’t do it. That is what was running through my head, but in the end I decided to take the taxi and recognize that 12 km was 1.5% of the whole hike and missing out on that little wasn’t a big deal.

Fast forward about 3 weeks and I was having a major issue with my Achilles. Every step caused me pain. It wasn’t unexpected seeing as I had walked over 450 km (279 mi), but the pain was getting to be too much. There was no way that I would have been able to continue on for another 2 weeks at the pace I needed to have in order to catch my flight. I had to keep moving, but I also had to stop. Again, I was faced with the decision to continue walking and potentially end my journey in a hospital, or to take a train for 37 km to León where I had a hotel reservation and could properly rest for two days. I chose the latter and because of that rest I was able to continue on.

Towards the end of the Camino my friends and I all had a common saying. Whenever we discussed doing something that others might judge as not being Camino-like we would say, “This is our Camino.” Essentially it meant that we all needed to do things that allowed us to continue on. We could have made the decision to stop, but if we wanted to continue we needed to do certain things like sending our pack ahead to the next town when we were about to climb a mountain, or take a taxi because we physically couldn’t do more, or stay in a hotel because we wanted a good night’s sleep.

My Camino involved all of the above and yet I will always say that I completed the Camino, all 786 km. I just needed a little help at times (isn’t that always the truth) to finish strong. And what happened when I got to Santiago? I felt so good, I literally danced, but that story is for another day.

Camino de Santiago: Why?

I’ve Got All The Reasons

One of the first and most common questions you are asked on the Camino is: “Why are you doing the Camino?” It’s a valid question, and important question, a good conversation starter and also super personal, and yet before I even knew the name of the questioner, I was often asked this question.

I was also asked this question by people back in the US before I went on this trip. Like I said, it’s valid and important, but it’s also a tough question to answer. Typically I told people I had three reasons to hike the Camino and then I would proceed to tell people what drove this completely out of shape man to hike almost 490 miles. I don’t hide things from people, so I was completely honest with them and said:

  1. Jump-start to losing weight – I’ve always struggled with weight. I’ve been larger than average most of my life and the one time I wasn’t I was struggling with my weight in the opposite way. My thought was that 5 weeks of hiking would help me establish a healthier lifestyle and force me to eat better and move more. If 5 weeks of hiking couldn’t do it, what could?
  2. Research for my job – As part of my job I lead short-term mission’s trips to places across Europe and a missionary friend of mine and I want to do one on the Camino where we would hike for a week and then serve for another. Throughout my time on the Camino I was learning about hostels, villages, and the needs of pilgrims. We want to bless those who are making the pilgrimage and seeing their needs first hand was vital for any potential future trip.
  3. Going deeper with God – I spent a lot of time with people, but when you are hiking for at least 6 hours everyday you also have a lot of time alone. I wanted to use that time to surrender to God and His plan. Each day would be a time for me to dive deeper into prayer.

Those were my reasons, but the reasons for each and every person were their own. I met so many people on the Camino who were seeking. Whether they were seeking answers, a connection, a place to grieve, or as one person said “inner peace,” almost everyone on that trail was seeking. We all wanted something by the end of our time.

Camino de Santiago: An Introduction

Many of you know that from May 1st through June 5th, I hiked the Camino de Santiago. The Camino, as it is generally known, is a pilgrimage to Santiago where the bones of St. James are held. Santiago, in fact, means St. James. (San Tiago) and it consistently ranks in the top 3 most frequented pilgrimages next to Vatican City and Jerusalem.

There are a bunch of different routes to Santiago that are all Caminos (which means “The Way”) including the Portuguese, English, North and the more frequently traversed Frances. I chose the Frances as the route that would lead me to Santiago. Most pilgrims who hike the Camino Frances hike from St. Jean Pied de Port in France and continue 786 km (488 miles) to Santiago.

Over the next who knows how many blog posts I am going to be discussing a bunch of different aspects of the Camino. Part of this is to help me process the whole experience, but another part is to invite you all deeper into the who, what, why, and how of that trip. I invite you to join me as I journey back to Spain.

Buen Camino!

All the Feels

6 years ago, right before I left for Germany the first time, I probably sat in this exact same seat, writing a blog. I probably sipped my coffee while I sat for hours at my favorite coffee shop in my hometown of Toledo. I probably wondered what to write about and how to convey all that was in my mind as I prepared to do something that I never thought I would do. Shoot only about 8 years before that, did I think I would never leave the Toledo area, and yet I had left Toledo for Maryland only to come back to Toledo before taking the craziest step of my life. I was moving to Germany to do something I never intended to do.  I was going to Germany to be a missionary…weird.

6 years later and I’m writing this blog, thinking about all that has happened over the past 6 years and wondering what the future  holds. It’s weird how much changes over 6 years. While this coffee shop is no longer my “office” it still feels comfortable. I don’t know any of the people who work here anymore, but it is still a spot for me to relax, get work done and feel at peace.

But as I sit here in a place that connotes a feeling similar to what it did 6 years ago, I can’t help but think about what feels totally different. My home is no longer in the US. Though my family and good friends are here, which means part of my home will always be here, my home has moved to Germany. It’s where I feel the most comfortable, where I belong. It’s no surprise when you think about how God called me to this job, but it still seems strange. For a guy who never thought he would leave Toledo, home is no longer on the same continent.

Much more has changed for me, though.  As a teacher, I never felt confident that I was good at my job. I always struggled with confidence in general, except for when it came to my skill for planning events and baking peanut butter cookies. Beyond that, I would never tell you that I am particularly skilled. Now I will. I don’t make a habit of bragging, but I know that my skills are being put to great work helping create and run English camps, and I’m confident that I am doing that job well.

So many things are different and yet with those differences I see things that are the same. It’s crazy how we change over the years and at the same time, how we remain. I’m still the big goofball and nerd who can also switch gears to more serious topics. I’m still the son of Marge and Paul and I take all that they have taught me with me wherever I go.

All that is different and all that is the same makes me think: What will be different and what will be the same, the next time I make this place my office?

 

What You Can Do For Your Missionary on Giving Tuesday

Since 2012, the Tuesday following Thanksgiving, Black Friday, and Cyber Monday is the kick off to the charitable season called Giving Tuesday. It was originally begun as a movement that celebrates and supports giving and philanthropy. As the world begins its mad dash to gear up for Christmas, Giving Tuesday encourages us to enter the holiday season with the right focus – a reminder and an opportunity to give where giving is needed most.

If you are reading this, you likely give to and support me or another missionary, either financially or prayerfully. And while your missionaries would definitely appreciate a financial contribution this Giving Tuesday, we wanted you to know that there are some other ways to give and show your support this Tuesday.

First off, let me speak to some non-financial ways of showing your support:

Send an email/letter to a missionary/ministry you know and let them know you are thinking of them, ask for prayer requests, etc.
Thanksgiving is over, Christmas is close at hand and trust me, your missionary misses people, so send them a note reminding them you are on their mind.

Volunteer to stuff and address envelopes for newsletters.
No one really enjoys stuffing envelopes, do they? I know I don’t, and you probably don’t either, but instead of paying someone to do this service for them, ask if you could take care of this for your missionary. December is a common time for missionaries to send a physical newsletter, so now would be an awesome time to offer help.

Introduce them to your friends/churches who might be interested in partnering in the ministry.
We love to talk about our ministry, ok maybe I just love to talk in general, but we want people to know what we are doing and we hope they will partner with us. The problem is, we don’t know everyone you know, so introduce us to your friends who you think might be interested in at least hearing more. No pressure included! I can’t emphasize how huge this can be. For me, personally, I have been overseas for 5 years, so I haven’t been able to make connections that you have. When missionaries are back for a visit, it may be great to set up a dessert and coffee night where you friends can all meet.

Go on a short-term team with your missionary partner (this won’t always be available, but if it is!)
Not every missionary has a short-term mission’s trip happening, but if they do, they could probably use help, so if you aren’t sure if they have one… ask! It will help your missionary and, I can guarantee, your life will not be the same after!

Offer places to stay or a car to borrow when they are visiting your area.
Most of us don’t have a house waiting for us when we come back to visit. If you have an extra room in your house or a car just sitting around, ask if we can use one while we are back.

Donate your airline miles, hotel points or rental car points.
Flights, hotels and car rentals are expensive. When your missionary is back visiting, travel is a guarantee, so offer them some help that doesn’t even technically cost you money.

Record a video of their family and friends and send it to them.
I just watched a video that was shared with me and while it made me sad that I missed a specific event, I was so happy to see my family!

In addition to those options, there are some financial options that would also show your support:

Send an extra gift to their ministry account.
This should be self-explanatory, but if it isn’t, well, sometimes we need extra money to cover taxes, unexpected expenses, etc.

Ask them for a wish list they have on Amazon, another site, or buy them a gift card for iTunes or Google Play (ask them which one).
Amazon is in a bunch of countries and you can easily purchase something for a lot of missionaries and they may already have some things in mind. A little gift to say thank you goes a long way. Whether it is a book, a subscription to an app/site or even more extravagant purchases like a tablet, whatever you give will be appreciated.

Send a care package of stuff your missionary misses (I’d ask what they miss before guessing.)
No matter where in the world your missionary is, they probably miss something from wherever you are. Shipping isn’t cheap, so ask them what you can send before you spend the money.

 

The bottom line is, if you feel so inclined, use Giving Tuesday as a reminder or excuse to show the missionary in your life that you care for them and appreciate the work they are doing. These are but a few of all the possible ways you could show your support. I hope this post can provide a jumping off point for you to go out there and give!

If you are a missionary and have been blessed in a different way, please share a comment. If you have blessed a missionary in a unique way, I’d love to hear those too!

*This blog was originally posted in 2017, but has been updated for 2018.*

I’m a Missionary, You’re a Missionary, Everyone is a Missionary

A radio station in Toledo, YES FM, has pastors, missionaries and representatives from missions organizations on every morning to do a devotional of some sort. I have been honored to be on the station multiple times over the years. This post is a combination and summary of those five devotionals where the theme was “Being a Missionary in Your Everyday.”

My job title may officially be a missionary, but really all of us are missionaries. I want to talk to you about what it means to be a missionary in the everyday. This doesn’t mean that you aren’t being called to do short-term mission’s trips or even full-time mission’s work, but in the mean time, how can you live the missionary life in your every day?

After all, we are called to this in Matthew 28:19-20, “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,  and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

So what does that mean for the person who isn’t called to full-time overseas or local mission’s work? It means the exact same for the full-time missionaries.

David Platt, president of the International Mission Board and author of Radical, recently exhorted new missionaries, but, in my opinion it can be applied to all Christians. He said:
1. May your only offense be obedience to God.
2. May your deepest joy be found & your greatest work done in daily prayer.
3. May your constant protection be the presence of God.
4. May your life cause nations to give glory to God.

Missionary in Your Home

Proverbs 22:6 – Direct your children onto the right path, and when they are older, they will not leave it.

Ephesians 6:4 – Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.

It goes beyond parenting though. Whomever is in our home, whether they live with us or are guests, we need to be showing Christ to them.

How? Well:
– Model your relationship with Christ.
– Be real and honest, nothing works better than letting others see your struggles, but also your fight to overcome.
– Be a Safe place – allow people to share their struggles, judgment free. Let it be known you and your house is a place they can go when they need someone.

Missionary to Your Neighbors

Acts 9:36 – In Joppa there was a disciple named Tabitha (in Greek her name is Dorcas); she was always doing good and helping the poor.

I love how it says Tabitha was always doing good. I mean think about it; always doing good. On her way to get water at the well, Tabitha was doing good. When she was cleaning house, she was doing good. When she was watching the kids, she was doing good. No matter what she was doing, or was on her way to do, she was doing good. Maybe the always is a bit of hyperbole, but if she was known as always doing good, she was probably caught doing good way more often than not. She saw needs, and she met them.

I don’t know where I heard it, but someone said your neighbor is anyone that you run across on a regular basis. This means the people who live near you, your postman, the cashiers at the stores you go to, and anyone else whom you give that slight head nod to because it’s a bit awkward if you don’t, they are your neighbors.

How do we practically become missionaries to our neighbors?

3 Simple things can kickstart us to serving our neighbors.
1. Ask questions and listen – I know this will sound crazy, but if you ask them the normal greeting of “How are you?” actually ask them how they are and then listen to their response. Help people feel loved by investing in them and getting to know the real them.
2. Observe – If you look around you can probably notice things where people need help. It could be the homeless person you see on your way to work, the neighbor whose lawn is never mowed because their lawnmower broke and they don’t have money to replace it, the single parent who works two jobs and is scrambling to help their child with their schoolwork. Look around and observe and then ask how you can help, don’t assume.
3. Acknowledge – Words of encouragement are huge for most people. Look for people who are doing something well and point it out to them, or thank them for a job well done.

Now let’s go a bit further into Tabitha’s story.

Acts 9:36‭-‬39 ESV
Now there was in Joppa a disciple named Tabitha, which, translated, means Dorcas. She was full of good works and acts of charity. In those days she became ill and died, and when they had washed her, they laid her in an upper room. Since Lydda was near Joppa, the disciples, hearing that Peter was there, sent two men to him, urging him, “Please come to us without delay.” So Peter rose and went with them. And when he arrived, they took him to the upper room. All the widows stood beside him weeping and showing tunics and other garments that Dorcas made while she was with them.

It doesn’t say for sure, but seeing as these are widows wearing clothes Tabitha made, the thought is that that was part of her “always doing good.” Making clothes could have been her job or a hobby, but either way, she took what she was good at and served her neighbors with that very thing.

A lot of people think serving others has to be doing something you don’t enjoy, because it isn’t service otherwise. Some service needs to be uncomfortable, but not everything does. So, if you like to bake, bake a cake for a neighbor. If you enjoy gardening have extra vegetables in your garden, give them away. If you are skilled at a specific subject, offer to help students near you who are struggling. I don’t care what your passion is or where your skills lie, find someone and bless them with it. Whatever you are skilled at or enjoy doing, look and listen for the opportunities to serve those who need and are in your life.

That being said, I also want to encourage you to step out of your comfort zone and serve your neighbors in ways that stretch you. There are many organizations in the area that need people to come volunteer, be they homeless shelters, after-school programs, or what have you. If you can’t think of a place to volunteer, I’m sure someone at your church or your neighbors that you’ve been getting to know would have some suggestions.

The one thing I want to leave you with, if nothing else, is to get up, get out and serve. Remember we serve because of the Gospel and God’s love for us. We need to share that love to others.

Missionary at Your Church

1 Corinthians 12:27-30
Together you are the body of Christ. Each one of you is part of his body. 28 First, God chose some people to be apostles and prophets and teachers for the church. But he also chose some to work miracles or heal the sick or help others or be leaders or speak different kinds of languages. 29 Not everyone is an apostle. Not everyone is a prophet. Not everyone is a teacher. Not everyone can work miracles. 30 Not everyone can heal the sick. Not everyone can speak different kinds of languages. Not everyone can tell what these languages mean.

1 Peter 4:1-10-11
10 Each of you has been blessed with one of God’s many wonderful gifts to be used in the service of others. So use your gift well. 11 If you have the gift of speaking, preach God’s message. If you have the gift of helping others, do it with the strength that God

Let me tell you a story about one of the best examples of being a missionary to the church that I’ve been able to witness myself. My step-dad has been retired for a few years and almost as soon as he retired he dedicated more and more time to the church, serving on committees, helping with landscaping, setting up for events, etc. He gives more of himself to the church than I’ve seen anyone else do who wasn’t employed full-time by the church.

That’s not to say that we all need to retire and give a lot of our time to the church, but we were given specific skills to help the body of Christ grow closer to Him. I can’t speak for every church, but I’m sure if you contacted your church and asked if they needed help they could probably rattle off a good half dozen or so ways in which you can help. Most churches need nursery workers, Bible study leaders, landscaping, ushers, musicians, greeters, etc. Ask your church this week how you can serve the body of Christ.

Missionary to the World

How can you make international missions a part of your every day without living internationally?

  • Pray the Luke 10:2 prayer for more workers
  • Go on a short-term trip your church is organizing. Don’t know of one? Go to gemeuroteam.org and look at what my organization has coming up and sign up!
  • Send someone else to go on a missions trip. Partner with them financially or prayerfully to impact the world.
  • Go – gap year, internship, ten2 (10 weeks), or longer
  • Send – Most missionaries live on financial support from individuals and churches. Partner with them financially or prayerfully to impact the world.
  • I wrote a blog about how you can support missionaries in other ways and it will be posted next week, so come back and check it out!

Escaping the Room to learn English

One of the camps we partner with has a camp during Easter break and they want it to be less in the classroom and more active. In theory that shouldn’t be too difficult, the only problem being, we don’t have anything like that quite yet.

We needed to brainstorm, so I talked to a good friend of mine who also does English camps and he mentioned using escape rooms to help teach English. I had just done my first two escape rooms earlier that year and loved them, so I was immediately all in.

For those of you who aren’t aware of escape rooms, let me explain the concept a bit before talking about how we will be using them in camps. An escape room is a thematic room that has clues, puzzles and riddles spread throughout the room. Some of the puzzles are straight-forward word scrambles while others require much more brain power to solve. Normally the rooms take an hour to complete and the goal is to find a code that you use to “escape the room.”

The tricky part for our use is that we need a portable escape room or one that does not require a lot of set-up. This would allow us to bring the escape room wherever we have a camp. Most escape rooms are set up for months at a time and therefore can be much more involved. We, on the other hand, will need to come and go within a week and will probably only have a few hours to set up the room for a couple uses and then have to take it down again.

I’ve been tasked with designing the escape room. I’ve done research by going to multiple escape rooms with different numbers of people and discussing with them what worked, what didn’t and how we could adapt some of the good aspects to make it portable. I’m not an escape room expert, but with the help of my friends, I’ve been able to get some very good ideas down on paper.

The second tricky part is that we will want to use these escape rooms for a multitude of themes, so instead of designing one escape room, instead I am designing a template that a theme could be added onto. From that template we could easily adapt the room to fit whatever theme the camp requests…in theory.

The last tricky part is creating something that with only minor tweaks could work with students who know very little English all the way up to conversationally fluent students. Not sure how we will handle that quite yet, but we’ll figure it out.

To me, this is exciting. It is a challenge for sure, but to design something that the kids can learn through that doesn’t even feel like learning is worth the work!