“Blessed are those whose strength is in you, whose hearts are set on pilgrimage. As they pass through the Valley of Baka, they make it a place of springs; the autumn rains also cover it with pools. They go from strength to strength, till each appears before God in Zion.” Psalm 84:5-7
“To journey without changing is to be a nomad. To change without journeying is to be a chameleon. To journey and to be transformed by the journey is to be a pilgrim.” (Mark Nepo, “The Exquisite Risk.”) A good friend in ministry in Montana included this quote in his update letter. To me, it reflects on the 55 year journey of the Paul Anderson Youth Home and it’s indefatigable co-founder Glenda Anderson. And it reflects on your own journey through a definite and unique life. Are we nomads, chameleons, or pilgrims on this journey to Zion? Do we see in us and do we bring life changing impact upon the deserts and wilderness through which we travel. The Valley of Baka after all is a dry desert. As a pilgrim we undergo a change as we ourselves are transformed by the journey. In that light we bring with our self-transformation a change in the “landscape” traversed, that is, in our audience, the persons we serve as their neighbor in this world. Who are your neighbors whom you are to love in response to the Savior’s personal command: love your neighbor as yourself?
The ministry of the PAYH has persevered to retain its core values over the more than half a century it has worked with young men, ever striving to introduce them to the unchanging Savior. Yet the young men, the boys, have changed in the things they do to invite trouble into their lives, the changes in their own reaction to authority, an increasing disrespect for rules and elders. The PAYH has had to adapt to the changing audience of young men being served. Changes to the program provided reflect the changes over time in the nature and character of these young men who arrive here. Changes in the judicial system impact attempts to minister to boys who do not want any help, and to whom judicial leverage is no longer available or commensurate to motivate a boy toward even being helped.
We see all three of these types in the boys at the Home: nomads, chameleons, and yes, pilgrims. What will their journey reveal them to be? Nomads, in that their journey is making no permanent change in their character. Chameleons, in that they impermanently change and change back with frequency, with no thought of engaging in a truly transformative journey. And yes, pilgrims, in that their journey is seeing transformative changes upon their character and being, as well as those to whom they may minister.
But what about ourselves, those who are here to serve these young men? Do we see ourselves as those on a journey, pilgrims being transformed by the pilgrimage? Are we nomads, journeying, but being left unchanged? Are we chameleons, not recognizing we are even on a journey, changing back and forth from wave to wave? Or are we really pilgrims, journeying to Zion, going from strength to strength, being intentional about the journey having a transformative impact on me?
To enter into transformative pilgrimage, you must be intentional about the journey. The landscape really is a desert: wearying, frustrating, unfruitful, dry. The journey must first be transforming you in the midst of this bleak landscape. Blessed are those whose strength is in God, not in yourself. Seek God’s face for the journey, continuously; because your goal is focused on being one day “before God in Zion”; of first priority, before any other. To “SET your heart on pilgrimage” are your marching orders. I will enter into a life transforming journey that I might one day appear “before God in Zion.” Each day ministering to young men, in this case, at PAYH; I will seek to make the desert of this work be transformed into multiple springs of living water; by my seeking God’s strength for the task, by my demeanor and pleasing attitude, by my putting on Christ as my character-clothing, by truly loving my fellow-laborers in my actions toward them, and in seeking to win these young men to Christ with my words and example.
We are all on a journey whether we acknowledge it or not. Some are not changed by the journey; they are nomads. Some are changed flippantly and frequently with no permanence of character; they are chameleons. While others journey with a set focus of being transformed from strength to strength in their journey; they are pilgrims not unlike the allegory of Pilgrim’s Progress. They will stand before God in Zion in the confidence of Jesus Christ. Will this be your journey and will it transform you, a pilgrim in the grandest sense?
“Since, Lord, thou dost defend us with thy Spirit, we know we at the end shall life inherit. Then fancies flee away! I’ll fear not what men say; I’ll labor night and day to be a pilgrim.”
(3rd verse of John Bunyan’s hymn, “To Be a Pilgrim,” 1684)
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