A small peek into my recent mission trip to Spain.
The pungent odor of cow manure fills the air as travelers walk the Camino de Santiago (the Way of Saint James) past dairy farmhouses toward a hostel named La Fuente del Peregrino. The name means The Pilgrim’s Fountain, and it’s just one of many hostels for pilgrims hiking the 500-mile journey to Santiago de Compostela, where Catholic folklore says the bones of St James, the brother of Jesus, are buried.
It’s a beautiful spring day. Yolanda* and her 13-year-old daughter, Juni are from Germany and have traveled the road for 19 days when they arrived at Le Fuente del Peregrino—a building offering fresh coffee, clean bathrooms and an overnight stay if needed. Those who lodge get two hot meals, outstanding hospitality, and a chance to watch the Jesus film.
The small, 400-year-old, hostel is run by Nick, a staff member of Agape Spain, the name for Campus Crusade in this country. He recruits volunteers from around the world to spend a week keeping up the hostel and sharing the message of Christ to the 400-800 pilgrims that drop by each day.
Whether travelers began their pilgrimage for spiritual reasons or not, hikers often find themselves unexpectantly open to God conversations, willing to discuss spiritual topics they normally would not. “We use those moments as an open door for the gospel and God blesses our efforts,” Nick says.
The door of this rustic hostel is less than ten feet from the El Camino—a strategic location that beckons travelers to stop and rest at the sound of laughter inside. No fees are charged. Everything, including lodging, showers, and meals for 7-9 guests are offered for a donation.
Yolanda and her child register for the night but they are private, keep to themselves and are careful to avoid any photography that might reveal their whereabouts. One volunteer at the hostel notices that Juni is unusually interested in the religious items lying about the hostel. She picks them up and reads any material containing references to Jesus, and shows her mother.
In the afternoon, optional reflection time is offered to those who stay the night, followed by a showing of the film, JESUS. For the pilgrims, a movie is a welcome treat, complete with popcorn!
Juni’s head has been shaved. During a community dinner in the field outside, she admits she sold her hair for money. Yolanda is suddenly quiet. Meanwhile, the mealtime is full of merriment, as travelers from six countries share their stories and hear about the history of the hostel and what makes this one different for the others.
“Unlike other lodgings that only provide for your physical needs, we focus also on your heavenly needs,” says Nick. “Helping you take the next step in your spiritual journey.”
After dessert, the lodgers are invited to participate in an activity using Soularium cards, a tool used for sparking spiritual dialogue. The conversations around the table reveal what individuals believe about God and help the volunteers know how best to continue talks with the pilgrims one-on-one.
Filipe’ is also a guest this night. Filipe’ is a guru of Eastern mysticism and almost derails the discussion with his talk of chakra energy and aliens who abducted and gave him special powers to heal people.
The volunteers pray as they communicate truth to Filipe’. He is unreceptive. They do not get to filter who stays at the hostel, so they trust God to bring the right pilgrims who need to hear the message of Christ. Some receive it, some reject it. But all are sent on their way contemplating Jesus and the extraordinary love and hospitality poured upon them by His followers during their stay.
The next morning finds Yolanda and Juni sporting grateful tears as they say goodbye to the volunteer staff. A copy of the film, The Story of Jesus for Children is given to Juni and her mother responds, “You have blessed us. We are homeless since my husband died. Many hostels are not safe for us sleeping in the same room with strange men. But last night, I rested well knowing my daughter was safe next to me. There’s something peaceful about this place—about you.”
This year is the 20th anniversary of Le Fuente del Peregrino. Almost 19,000 pilgrims have found rest, shelter and the love of Christ with the help of over 5,500 volunteers over the years. God has truly blessed this ministry.
Pray for Yolanda and Juni as they continue their pilgrimage. That God would reveal himself to them and Juni’s interest in Jesus would grow. Pray for Filipe’ to encounter more believers and to denounce his false gods and embrace the One True God. There’s no doubt God has placed this hostel in a tactical environment surrounded by vulnerable people searching for answers and The Pilgrim’s Fountain continues to be a beacon of hope in a lost and broken world.
*all names changed for privacy