Volunteer work teams are pilgrimages
After 15 years of guiding volunteer work crews, often after floods and disasters, Dave Bell, director of the Yakama Christian Mission, said he does that work so church leaders learn there are root human causes to disaster damage.
As he was recruiting the team going to Hughes, Alaska, one participant commented, “Well, at least it’ll be an adventure.”
That comment stayed with Dave while he was in Hughes. He came to realize disaster work is not adventure work.
“If journey, risk, danger and uncertainty had been all we experienced, then it would have been an adventure,” he said. “Volunteering can be adventurous, and ‘adventurous’ is a common way volunteers describe their experiences.”
It was more than an adventure, because faith matters, Dave said.
“Faith nurtured for decades becomes embodied and leads one to say ‘yes’ to the bush, maybe even when one’s health isn’t what it was 30 years ago,” he said. “Embodied faith is why folk need to quit volunteering to have an adventure.”
He considers such an experience a pilgrimage, “the richer edge of adventure,” because beyond the uncertainty, risk-taking and danger of adventure it involves spirituality, holiness and mysticism.
Dave said that work trips and mission trips draw volunteers into thinking that they are going to fix something that is broken, but that is charitable thinking, not the thinking needed to promote justice or end root causes.
“Pilgrimage is about more than justice. It’s also about the pilgrim,” he said, describing pilgrimage as an intentional journey, stepping into a sacred landscape that changes the pilgrims as they discern the sacred there.
Dave explained that as pilgrims come to know the mystical elements unique to the landscape and the lives of people living there, the lives of both the volunteers and the people they assist are enriched and become seeds for justice.
For information, call 509-969-2093 or see his blog at
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