On Faith: Life lessons I learned on a long walk


By Noel Castellanos

The metaphor that life is a journey runs deep in God’s Word. I experienced this in a fresh way a year ago, as I was finishing a sabbatical from my work with the Christian Community Development Association, an organization that encourages and equips churches to live and learn to serve alongside their neighbors in the most vulnerable communities of our nation and world.

I completed a 500-mile walk across Spain, called the Camino de Santiago (Way of St. James). It was an extraordinary journey. A few lessons that I learned on my journey continue to shape my life as I think about my responsibility as a global Christian:

The Camino is hard: Rosy Instagram posts can make it appear that life is always fabulous and that all of life is a selfie-worthy adventure. However, if life is hard for those of us who are educated and live in the wealthiest nation in the world, imagine how near-impossible life must be for the invisible majority of people on our planet who exist on meager wages, who suffer from hunger and food insecurity on a daily basis, who endure debilitating oppression and injustice, and who have very little or no hope of ever experiencing the kind of life that we enjoy and often take for granted.

Don’t travel alone: All of us intuitively know that we have been hardwired for relationships, intimacy, and belonging. Tragically, most of us settle to walk alone. One of the greatest tragedies in our nation today is the escalating division that is widening along racial, class, and political lines. The rich do not know the poor, yet we are the ones who often create policies to address their needs. Jesus defines the beloved community as a place of belonging — familia. To the degree that we travel, eat, and stay in close proximity to the poor and the vulnerable of society, to that degree are we following the Way of Jesus. Imagine how different our divided world would be if we committed to walk with others who are different than us. Never walk alone. 

All we need is our daily bread: I had the privilege of walking the Camino with two of my grown kids. It took us 31 days of hard walking. Because we had to carry all of our belongings in a backpack, we had to travel lightly. Thus we were forced to get our daily meals at every stop along the way. In reality, we were confident that at the end of each day there would be a place to buy food and drink as well as lodging to get a good night’s sleep. The same cannot be said for millions of people in our country and around the world who are not certain where their next meal will come from or where they will sleep. We take so much for granted and struggle to empathize with the poor because of our privilege. Praying for what we need instead of what we want could help us stay close to the poor. 

Walking in August for immigrants

While I was on the Camino, I felt a very clear prompting to connect with our immigrant brothers and sisters who make the dangerous pilgrimage into our nation to seek a better life. In an effort to expose others to the experience of their journey into our country, my organization and Bread for the World have planned a walk — El Camino del Inmigrante (Way of the Immigrant). 

El Camino del Inmigrante will take place August 20 to 30 in Southern California. It will begin in San Diego near the U.S.-Mexico border and end in Los Angeles. The Camino’s organizers say the purpose of the Camino is to walk in solidarity with “the sufferings of our immigrant neighbors who have been working and waiting for our broken immigration system to be reformed.”  Bishop Jose Garcia, director of Bread’s church relations department, will participate in the 150-mile trek as a core walker in order to draw attention to the linkages among hunger, our country’s broken immigration system, and the importance of the upcoming November elections to these issues. Bread and other partners will host a public event on August 26 at The Crossing Church in Costa Mesa, Calif.  More details on how you can pray with the walkers, accompany them virtually, or participate in the August 26 event will be coming soon.  

Noel Castellanos is the chief executive officer of the Christian Community Development Association.

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