On My Road
Last April 18, I boarded a plane going to France. Starting in France, I was on my way to Santiago de Compostela in Spain. It was not my intention to go as a Christian, nor even as a missionary. I just wanted to go there. It was like when I first went to church, or when I first visited the Columban Missionary Society – I had no intention of believing in God, nor of becoming a missionary. My wish was just to go there.
So my solitary journey began. In France I got a night train to Bayonne. From there I got a bus to St. Jean (San Sebastian). On the morning of April 20, I was crossing the Pyrenees Mountains with my 13-kg bag on my back. The weather was good, and the views truly beautiful. It was incredible that I was on this road. I ignored the anxiety and the tension with which I had started my journey.
On the pilgrim road each person decides for him or herself what time to start, how far to walk, what to eat, whether to walk or take a bus or taxi, etc. That's what I did. Each morning I left my lodging at 7 a.m. On the eleventh day, one hour after I started walking, the rain started to drop becoming heavier as I went along. At this point was thinking, whether to keep walking and cross the mountain, or get a bus to the next resting place, or look for an inn to rest. After two hours I had not decided. Then I found myself siting in a bar with my wet clothes, and I was feeling cold. As I waited for the rain to stop, I was surprised to see myself in such trouble. I felt tired and sad.
Conscious of the few days walk ahead of me to finish, I tried to get as much rest as I can, walk on my own pace and started my own inner dialogue. These small changes eased my mind and although my body was sore and I felt tired, I am happy with the progress of my walk.
When my toenail fell off and my feet blistered, a lady named Paula, with a cheerful performance, treated both my feet and comforted me. Some Korean pilgrims gave me painkillers and Korean food for my sustenance. A girl from Lyon gave me a thumbs-up sign as I left a church after mass. An elderly Spanish man lightheartedly gave me oranges he had carried at least 20 km, which revived my strength. I wish I could see these people again.
I met many people along the way. On the overnight train there was an old Frenchman who took ensured that I got off at the right station, and a woman and her daughter from California who encouraged me to go on with the journey. Mario from Canada told me that I can call out on him if ever I feel I am in a danger and he would help me. Another friendly young man from Brazil saw that I was walking alone, and he became my talking companion. However, I didn't get to know more of the many of the people on the walk because I was more focused on the walk, anxious about the weather and what lies ahead on the road and determined to arrive at my destination. On the road to Compostella I saw many pictures of the "pilgrim route" on blogs or on pictures hanging on the walls of cafes. They were truly marvelous. I also took a lot of photos, but my photos were taken under very difficult circumstances! I even thought that the pictures I saw on blogs and cafes deceived me because when I was on "my road' things were tough and at times it was difficult to walk.
My view of missionary life is a truly beautiful life. When I was first sent overseas as a missionary I thought I could do anything to bring God's love to people of another culture but sadly I was concentrating on the result, not on people I meet along the way nor on myself. The thought arose that I was "deceived" meaning that I was not in touch with reality. I reflected on this and what being a missionary meant for me. As I prayerfully reflected on this it brought me closer to God.
I am writing this now in Taiwan. I intend to be involved with AIDS patients. I don't know what other plans God has for me, but I am no longer afraid now because I trust in God's providence. I believe that when I decided to go to Santiago de Compostella nor when I decided to become a missionary, God had a hand in it. I thank God for putting me on the road, on the road to Santiago or on my missionary journey, and I strive to do my best because it's all I can do. I am happy that God is with me as I travel the road.
Columban lay missionary Subin Lee lives and works in Taiwan.