This Blog follows the Adventures of Bear Mills. David "Bear" Mills is a Young Adult Volunteer serving in Belfast, Northern Ireland for a year working in peacemaking.
A poem about my time living in Belfast, Northern Ireland.
I’ve been called a hopeless wanderer and I guess that it’s true. I’ve walked holes in these worn out shoes; but I love every second of my storybook adventure, because it’s led me to you. You see, coming here changed everything. My life will never be the same. I’ve grown to love this place I’m living and you people are to blame. But now the time has come for me to go. It’s time for me to put back on these worn out shoes and walk this lonely road. Yet, somehow I’m not afraid. I guess it’s ‘cause you’ve taught me that no matter where I am I’m never far from home. Yes, it’s hard to leave the ones you love and it’s hard to say goodbye. It’s hard to turn and walk away, but you’ve taught me leaving doesn’t always mean goodbye. So I’m no longer afraid to leave this place, ‘cause leaving means I’ll get to come home again someday. They say that life is about making mistakes and dying is about wishing you made more. Well if that’s true, I’m glad I made a few with you because you mean the world to me and I’ve learned so much from you. What you have given me I can never repay. Memories of times we’ve shared I’ll carry in my mind, and wherever I am when the rain begins to fall my heart will come back to this place and I’ll remember you. I’ve been called a hopeless wanderer and I guess that it’s true. But really what’s happening is my family is swelling and I have a new place to come home to.
Ok, so I stopped posting for a while. I have been traveling Spain, coming back to the USA, getting settled in to a new apartment, and starting school. Life has been crazy, but I’m ready to fill you in a little on what’s been happening. So for the next while you will periodically get a mix of current and past. I hope you enjoy it. I know I have enjoyed it.
As many of you know, I am leaving for Spain tomorrow so that I can walk the Camino de Santiago de Compostela. It is a pilgrimage known by many as the Way of St. James.
The total distance of the Camino is around 500 miles. Due to the amount of time I have before I head back to America I will not have the luxury of walking the Camino in full. Disappointing as that may be I will still be able to walk a great deal of it and experience new and brilliant things. On my journey I will walk approximately 270 miles spread out over 18 days and will surely see great beauty even through the struggles of the journey.
I hold no reservations that this pilgrimage will be easy. Actually, that would somewhat defeat the purpose of a pilgrimage and could instead be simply called a vacation, or holiday as it’s commonly referred to over here. A pilgrimage is intended to be long and arduous. It is expected that you will suffer along the way, but that doesn’t mean that you wont be able to find great joy even in the midst of suffering. In fact, I believe one of the purposes of a pilgrimage is to search for joy in the midst of suffering.
That’s not why I’ve chosen to embark on this adventure, but it is a reality that I accept. I have chosen to walk the Way because I want to spend time in communion and communication with God. I want to seek God’s presence in my life without the distractions of everyday life.
By the end of this journey I hope to better understand God’s plan for my life. I know where God is leading me but I don’t know why and I may not understand why anymore after this journey then I do now, but the point is the searching.
I told the youth at my church here in Northern Ireland to never stop asking questions because the questions are every bit as important as the answers. Questions mean that you’re seeking God and that is the point. So, I am taking my own advice and asking questions. I’m seeking God and seeking answers. I will walk and I will wait for God’s response, but in the mean time I’m also searching for the answers where God has revealed them to us. The Bible.
I have been studying the word Pilgrimage in the Bible and trying to get a feel for what people during that time understood Pilgrimage to be. I want to see how their definition relates to our current understanding of Pilgrimage. What are the similarities and what are the differences? What are the values in their understanding of Pilgrimage that I can take with me on my own Pilgrimage?
In studying the Bible I came across Psalm 84:5. It says, “Blessed are those whose strength is in you, whose hearts are set on pilgrimage.” What I get out of this scripture is that people are blessed when their strength is in God. Strength to believe. Strength to obey. Strength to suffer. Not everyone is physically or financially capable of pilgrimage in it’s traditional meaning, but when one has the faith to take the risk to become a pilgrim God’s strength is with them. People who enter into pilgrimage are sure to have moments of weakness. They will suffer along the way, but all the while God is with them and is for them. God will help them see the journey through to it’s end and will transform them along the way.
At least that’s what I’ve gotten out of this scripture so far. I will take this scripture with me and will continue to ponder and study it as I travel the Way of St. James. I’m sure this scripture will change and evolve as I travel.
A lot has changed over the last year. I have grown, matured, learned a lot, and I have experienced great wisdom. If I could choose one overarching piece of wisdom that has encompassed my year of living abroad I would say that I have come to realize sometimes you have to get lost so that you can be found.
There is no question that when I made the decision to join the Young Adult Volunteer Program I was totally and completely lost. I was reeling from leaving my previous job, which I loved, and in many ways had become my life. I was struggling to recover from a long-term relationship that was, to say the very least, unhealthy. I had no confidence in who I was and relied solely on my ego to cover up my growing insecurities. Matthew 5, in the Bible, says that I should love my enemy; but I had no idea how to love my enemy because my enemy was myself. I was lost and I was broken, and I had no concept of how to pick myself up or how to get back on the right path.
So I joined the YAV program and let myself go. I was free to wander, and to suffer, and to explore my feelings wholly alone. I began a pilgrimage to find myself, to find my place in this world, and to find my place in God’s plan even though I didn’t realize that was what I was doing at the time.
I thought I was just escaping my present reality; but in doing so I came to realize, as the Cheshire Cat once said (paraphrased), “If you don’t know where you’re going, any road will get you there.”You see; I still had to deal with my problems. I hadn’t left them behind. In fact I had no intention of leaving them behind. I just needed a quiet place to work through them, and I believed I could find that place in Northern Ireland.
The reality is that the location probably made little difference. The trouble was I couldn’t answer the questions that hung in my gut and clung to my heart, because everyone around me was trying to answer those questions for me. I was talking an awful lot but I couldn’t hear God’s response. I needed to find a quiet place to be alone, even if that place was surrounded by people.
Pico Iyer once said, “We travel, initially, to lose ourselves; and we travel, next, to find ourselves.” The YAV program has allowed me the opportunity to explore myself in a way I have never been able to do before. It has taught me how to stop trying to do everything and let God be God. My confidence is growing, and I no longer need to rely on my ego to support me when I’m afraid I’m not worthy of the love I’m given. I no longer feel the burden of having to try to live up to other people’s standards of who they think I should be or what they think I should be doing with my life. I’m free to be me, and after this year I have a better understanding of who that is.
Ralph Waldo Emerson
I’m so excited! In a few days I will be heading to Spain to hike the Camino de Santiago de Compostela! It is a pilgrimage that follows the Way of St. James the Greater. The Way of St. James was one of the most important Christian pilgrimages during medieval times. Legend holds that St. James’s remains were carried by boat from Jerusalem to northern Spain where he was buried on the site of what is now the city of Santiago de Compostela.
The total pilgrimage is just over 500 miles in length and takes about 40 days to complete. I will not have the time or money to complete the trek from start to finish, so I am planning on starting in Burgos, Spain. From there I will travel for 20 days to Santiago de Compostela. In all I will travel on foot for a distance of approximately 270 miles.
I know some of you are wondering if I will be traveling with companions or if I will be traveling alone. The short answer is this will be a solo journey. The truth is that I will meet many people along the Way to travel with and will be far from alone, but I will begin this journey as so many pilgrimages and journeys begin… On my own.
In truth, I am ok with the idea of traveling alone and actually welcome it because I see this journey as an opportunity for me to process the past year of my life, what it has meant to me, and what it will mean for my future. With so many things happening in such a short period of time I have not had the luxury to stop and process the many aspects of how this year of living abroad and in community with a totally unique group of people has affected my life. Pilgrimages begin for many reasons, but they usually end with one main focus. God. This, I believe is true for me too and I look forward to having the opportunity to discern God’s wonderful plan for me in a part of the world that has meant so much to so many Christian followers.
I have wanted to walk this pilgrimage for some time, but became aware during the later part of the year that I would likely not be able to afford this journey. I was saddened, but had come to terms with the idea that I would have to choose a shorter journey that was closer to Belfast. Recently, though, I have been blessed with an opportunity to make this trip. I wont go into a lot of detail, but I will say that the generosity of people never ceases to amaze me.
I did not come to Belfast prepared to make this journey and in the true nature of pilgrims before me I will have to walk the 270 miles without some of the luxuries that many of today’s hikers will enjoy, but the opportunity to walk in the footsteps of so many Christians and faith seekers is something I cannot pass up.
So next Tuesday I will put on my old, dusty, worn out shoes; adjust the straps on my backpack to fit the weight that I have gained over the last year, and begin the long journey to the burial site of one of three men who Jesus trusted enough to travel with and allowed to see His Transfiguration. Tuesday I will walk the Way of St. James.
This year has affected and continues to affect my life in so many ways, and I am excited to have the opportunity to share my story when I go home. I can’t wait to share how profoundly I have been changed through serving God and God’s people in an environment that is not only foreign to me but is in many ways a mirror reflection of many of the troubles we face back home. The characters and storyline are different, but the theme is unfortunately universal. At the same time there is a unique beauty to this land and these people and I look forward to sharing their stories with others.
I would love to see more young people joining the Young Adult Volunteer Program and programs like it, because I believe that the best way to discover who you are and who God intends for you to be is to serve others. Service can be exciting, it can be boring, it can be uncomfortable, it can be risky, it can be humbling, and it can even be demeaning at times; but it’s when we are living outside of ourselves that we discover who we really are. Jesus’ whole life was a declaration of truth and service, and he gave us so many examples of what it means to serve. I want to encourage and excite others to join the YAV program because it is a living example of Jesus’ call to serve.