Are you a tourist or a pilgrim?

Youth Leadership Retreatby John Stoltzfus, Conference Youth Minister

For many youth leaders and youth, this is the time that preparations begin in earnest for summer trips. Many are planning for the Mennonite Convention in Phoenix while other groups are planning service trips local and beyond. Are we preparing our youth to go as pilgrims or tourists?

At a recent conference gathering, Elizabeth Soto Albrecht, moderator elect for Mennonite Church USA (MC USA), spoke of her plans for a pilgrimage this summer. In solidarity with those who may be unable to attend convention because of immigration restrictions, she will take the opportunity to visit various places and churches along the way during the time of convention. What if all of us would consider our upcoming youth trips as pilgrimages?

A pilgrimage speaks of an expectation to meet God and to be changed along the way. A pilgrim resolves that the one who returns will not be the same person that left. A tourist may go with a more consumerist approach primarily looking to accumulate for personal gain. For a tourist, much more attention is given to the outer details of the trip: what is packed, where to visit, what entertainment to see, and what souvenirs to buy with little reflection on the inner journey of the soul. Pilgrims go on pilgrimage not necessarily to see something, but to receive something: renewed spirit, greater devotion to God, a new sense of community, and a wider world view of God’s kingdom.

Youth Visioning EventI wonder if it would be beneficial to remind our youth that we travel not as tourists but as pilgrims. This mind set is established prior to departure. When we are making our packing lists, pilgrims should be reminded that the most important thing we take with us on the pilgrimage is receptivity to God’s presence all along the journey.

The preparation and the follow-up can be as important as the trip itself. What makes the difference between being a tourist and a pilgrim is a sense of openness and expectancy. Too often we decide beforehand what a trip should be like and we judge it by our own needs and desires. It may prove to be disappointing or satisfactory but it will rarely be the occasion of some new revelation or growth in our life of faith. As leaders we need to cultivate within ourselves and our youth the openness to follow a different way.

For those planning to go to convention this summer here are some ideas of ways to do things differently:

  • Along with raising money to attend the convention, invest in the DREAMer Fund set up by MC USA. The goal of the fund is to help undocumented young people pay the fee required to apply for a deferment.
  • Partner with another congregation who may not have the resources in order to make the pilgrimage together.
  • Seek to visit and form a relationship with an immigrant congregation in your area in order share stories and increase understanding.
  • Invest the congregation in praying for the youth before, during and after the pilgrimage.
  • Encourage all the participants to keep a journal during the trip. Provide for regular opportunities along the way for group reflection and sharing.
  • In the months after the convention, take time for reflection on what was learned. Be prepared to make changes and respond to new commitments.