Obstacles into Opportunities on the Camino de Santiago
Dating back to the 9th century, the Camino de Santiago stretches across the north of Spain to Santiago de Compostela, where Saint James the apostle is said to be buried. Each year, hundreds of thousands of pilgrims from all over the world hike the 500 miles through the mountains and valleys, through the hot sun and cold rain, through aching shoulders and blistered feet, to complete the trek. But for many, the real challenge is what happens within them.
Many pilgrims have taken on this adventure for spiritual purposes and are seeking to find themselves, find the purpose of life, find God or grow closer to Him. GEM workers Wes and Sherry Koop run a café located on the Camino Trail that focuses on serving the pilgrims walking on this spiritual journey.
On an ideal day, this looks like going through the process of opening the café, serving customers drinks and snacks, perhaps drawing a rejuvenating foot soak bath for weary feet, and other service-oriented work. But the ultimate goal of all this is to open the doors to meaningful conversations.
These conversations naturally begin by centering around the pilgrim’s experience and easily transition into their emotional and spiritual well-being.
This is hopefully followed by sharing that the answers, the fulfillment, the satisfaction and the peace they seek can only be found in Jesus.
With a vastly different feel from anything else around, this little café is appropriately named Pilgrims’ Oasis and provides a welcoming retreat where pilgrims rest, recover and engage in rich discussions. The beautiful simplicity of this ministry is fun, easy, and fruitful…on an ideal day
As with most ministries, however, many unseen factors exist that can suddenly derail an ideal day. Most recently, when construction closed the street and a portion of the Camino in front of the café, forcing them to close, Wes and Sherry had a choice. They could defeatedly stay home and wait it out—or they could see it as an opportunity to adjust their approach and continue to serve the pilgrims in a creative way.
After a quick trip to the store, the Koops bumped up the dirt path of the Camino with a couple of volunteers and their hatchback full of supplies. Finding a remote portion of the trail located between villages, they set up a table to hand out bottled water, cookies and coffee brewed by Wes over a propane camping tank.
As pilgrims approached this table in the middle of nowhere, most faces were covered in skepticism. This suspicious distrust melted into shocked disbelief that someone would be so considerate and caring to offer free drinks and cookies just to serve strangers.
Resting her aching feet by sitting in one of the camp chairs placed near the table, a pilgrim from Germany breathed deeply of the aroma of coffee, so foreign to this isolated part of the trail and sighed. “Mmm…it smells like civilization and kind people.”
Friends were made, conversations were had, and each pilgrim that passed by felt the love of Jesus from the Koops and their team. Without the willingness to modify original plans, these connections would have been missed.
Embracing adaptability is critical in ministry.
When the end goal is for people to experience the love of Jesus, it may require changing plans to meet them where they are—in this case, literally!
The Koops are currently dreaming of and praying for a food/coffee truck so they can broaden the reach of their ministry to the pilgrims on the Camino. It will be a joy to see how God continues to honor the desires to love, serve and minister to those on this spiritual journey.
Are you interested in learning more about serving alongside this unique ministry in Spain? Click here to join the Koops serving on the Camino.
To partner with the Koops in their ministry to travelers, click here.
About the author and photographer:
Katey Leavelle is a storyteller with Greater Europe Mission serving across Europe. Check out thegroundedwanderer.net to learn more.