A School Trip as Pilgrimage
Over the last 20 years, the private Christian school I teach at has offered a trip to Washington D.C. every other summer to our 7th and 8th grade students. It has been a fruitful trip, allowing students to see as much of the nation’s capital as possible, and to connect to a Christian reading of our nation’s founding. This past year, though, our long-standing sponsor decided to take a reprieve from leading the trip. This allowed me and another coworker to build something new.
Within the context of this school, the word “pilgrimage” is antiquated, strange, and usually reserved for Muslims and their trek to Mecca. Travel is vacation; sight-seeing is the examination of artifacts and historical events. The primary way to receive the Spirit on the road is by participating in a mission/service trip. But as my coworker and I discussed a possible vision for our trip, we kept coming back to this ancient concept of pilgrimage. Therefore, we built a trip to Washington D.C. with the primary purpose of softening their hearts to be empathetic to the seemingly “other” in their lives and world.
On our pilgrimage, the students’ first built relationships with each other. Life in Christ is never done in isolation; pilgrimage is always done alongside others. They lived in tight quarters, they cooked meals together, they hiked difficult terrain, and they prayed together. These experiences galvanized individuals who were once separate into a group seeking a common goal: to fall more in love with the Lord and his people. From there, this new community examined the African American and Holocaust museums and the different war memorials in D.C. with the purpose of coming to grips with how their past influences their present. They had to grapple with the most essential question: how does Jesus call me to respond here in this moment of repentance and in the life I am embedded in each day?
By weaving together what they had been learning in class and the essential questions of life in Christ, our students tread a well-worn path set forth by the saints of old, and they saw the face of our risen Lord along the way – not only in the historical artifacts but also in each other.