A Journey of Faith
by Abraham Park
“I’ll start with what I was most afraid of: that it [the pilgrimage] would just be a hot week in South Georgia with 10 teenagers, no phones, no sleep, and no spiritual development.”
That comment by Mary Martha Clark may accurately describe the deepest concerns of anyone who is involved in a trip with youth. It’s especially pertinent when the trip is more than just a trip or vacation, as the summer pilgrimage for the youth at Holy Trinity was.
Episcopalchurch.org defines a pilgrimage as “a journey taken with a religious or devotional intention” and that “Pilgrimages are typically made to shrines, holy places, or locations of religious significance.” Merriam-Webster calls a pilgrimage “a journey of a pilgrim; especially: one to a shrine or sacred place.”
In the life of a Christian, followers are expected to pursue their faith, and relationship with Christ, with an earnest heart. This journey appears different for many people; for some, a walk with Christ means entering the ministry. For others, it’s pursuing roles within their local churches and communities as a lay person, getting involved in serving the people around them as Christ did. For some, it’s simply being the very best person they can be.
For the ten youth and their leaders, Nancy Qarmout and Mary Martha Clark, it was their pursuit of God and their desire to dive deeper into their faith that was the impetus for taking part in the pilgrimage.
The planning for the pilgrimage started in earnest around Christmas last year and the decision to take the youth away from major cities and into the countryside came when a parent said that pilgrimages tended to go to big cities. This, Mary Martha said, lead to a suggestion of going south, away from large urban communities, to explore the rest of the country.
Of course, this would mean having to find ways to connect the experiences they would have with faith and spirit.
“One of the biggest things was… make that connection clear in nature and with each other,” said Nancy, “not just those we care about but that every human being is made in God’s image.”
Spanning almost a week long, their trip took them across Georgia, from the comforts of Atlanta to the countryside of Fort Valley and Americus. Youth and chaperones experienced the awesome and the mundane, and took in both the good and the bad. They explored beauty in the natural world and gazed upon the terrible reminders of an imperfect country marred by conflict and division.
Led by themes of the day picked out by Nancy and Mary Martha, the pilgrimage became more than a simple retreat or sightseeing tour across the state.
“The word usually symbolized the mood of that day, or connected to the main activity,” said Mary Martha. “On the second day, the theme was “honey” and we learned about some of the sweetest fruits of the earth here in Georgia by visiting a beekeeper and a peach farmer. The next [third] day, the theme was cross; we learned about the sin related to racism and war in the places that we visited near Americus.”
It’s something that the youth picked up on as well. Clara Allison, 15, has been a member of the youth for several years. She went on the last pilgrimage, which took place in New York, Philadelphia and Washington D.C., and was excited to go on this one as well. Compared to the last one, though, this pilgrimage was very different.
“We went to a lot of farms and we met a lot of farmers,” Clara said.
In terms of spiritual growth, Clara recognizes the importance of visiting areas that she might not have gone to or known much about. It was because of the pilgrimage that she learned of the importance that members of rural communities such as farmers have, and the impact they can make.
“I never really realized how much farmers contributed to society,” said Clara. “Everything is connected.”
And not only connected physically but spiritually as well.
In Genesis 2, the Spirit of God breathes life into Adam and Eve. It’s this breath of life, the ruach, that dwells in every person, a reminder that we are all connected regardless of background or history.
For Nancy and Mary Martha, the hope is that the youth will be able to draw upon the lessons learned and use it to fuel their pursuit of God.
“Obviously our goal is that they grew spiritually,” said Nancy. “It’s a good start and over the years we’ll see how the trip has changed their [spiritual] life.”
It may only have been a fleeting experience in the walk of faith, but even the smallest steps can make a difference in an eternal pilgrimage of pursuing Christ.