Backpacking (or in my case, “duffel-bagging”) is many things: an adventure, an exercise in minimalism, a diet. Above all, though, I contend that backpacking is a religious experience. Or at least it was for me.
I must start out by qualifying my status as a “backpacker.” My three weeks of living out of a bag was merely a short glimpse into the world that is backpacking. True backpackers do it for months at a time. Relative to them, I am a novice, an inexperienced tee-ball player with a view of the major league.
That being said, however, my three weeks of backpacking taught me so many, many things. Like, if there is free food, eat it. And if you pay for a meal, then by all means, eat the entire thing. Spoons and forks are precious commodities, and if your utensil is plastic, take it with you; you never know when you might need it. If a bathroom is free, then use it—even if you don’t need to. (Trust me, something dies inside when you have to hand over 1.50 euro just to pee) And the list goes on and on and on and on … don’t stop believin’… ha ha
On a more serious note, though, backpacking teaches you a lot about yourself, and, if you are a Christian, a lot about God. I could share with you all I learned, but I need to work on homework (I know, you thought based on my previous blogs and such that I never do homework. Well, I do…. Once a week. Ha ha). So, to keep things short (Me? Be concise? Wow. Miracles do happen.), I will just share with you my most memorable lesson and the story that goes with it.
Lesson: There are no coincidences.
I know you have probably heard that expression before. Either you agreed with it, or you opposed it. I’ve heard it my entire life, too, and most of the time, I tacitly agree with it. Yeah, sure, God is working. Yeah, sure, He has His hand in my life and what happens. But is He really involved in the little details? The minute day-to-day goings-on that even I don’t really care about? Before backpacking, I would have said “yes,” but I don’t know if I would have fully believed it. But now, I can’t deny it; God isn’t in the coincidence business. Here’s how I know.
If you have been keeping up with my semester abroad, you might remember that Jodie (Canadian friend) and I visited Budapest toward the end of February. Though I loved the city and had a wonderful time there, the experience itself wasn’t especially noteworthy, and, as such, I didn’t even have a blog entry about it. While in Budapest, we stayed at a place called “The Backpackers Guesthouse;” while we were there, we met a group of backpackers—4 guys (2 from Canada. Jodie was happy) and 2 girls—who had been traveling together for a while. We hung out with them a little bit during our two nights’ stay, but we didn’t go to the club with them or spend any significant amount of time with them. And when we left to come back to Graz, we basically said, “have a nice life” and then went on our way, never expecting to see any of them ever again.
Fast forward two months. Jodie and I are in Galway checking into Barnacles hostel when some guy asks the person at the front desk where he can find an internet café nearby. I didn’t notice his face (I think I was trying to dig my money out of my wallet or something), but after he left Jodie said, “Oh my goodness, I know him. I don’t know how, but I know him. I think he was at our hostel in Budapest.” Weird. But highly unlikely. And I didn’t see him, so I couldn’t make a judgment call either way. Plus, we were staying at a good-sized hostel, so even if he was here, our odds of running into him in the next two days was pretty slim. So we went up to our room (an 8-bed mixed dorm), where we saw a large backpack with the tell-tale Canada maple leaf patches sewn onto it. Hmmm. Two of the guys in Budapest were best friends from Canada. But that would be too crazy… there’s no way….
Sure enough, when we got back from the pub that night, Canadian-and-Budapest guy named John was there, staying in the same hostel, in the same room, in Galway, Ireland, of all places. What are the odds? There are none. Crazy.
After we reintroduced ourselves and shared several minutes of mutual shock and elation (we seriously couldn’t get over how bizarre this was), we settled down with our other roommates and started to play a drinking game. The same thing had happened in Budapest, and yet again, I politely declined, saying that I preferred to watch.
After an hour or so, when the others decided they were going to head out to a club and were getting ready, John stopped and asked me, “You didn’t drink in Budapest either, did you?”
I replied that no, I didn’t. And that he had a very good memory. He asked me the usual follow-up question, “Do you ever drink?” Instead of giving my standard answer of simply, “I have a gluten allergy” or “I just prefer not to,” for some reason, I said, “No, not really. I’m a Christian, and I want to honor God with all my actions. And I think that’s much harder to do after drinking a lot.”
To my surprise, the conversation didn’t stop there. He continued, telling me that he was a Christian too, or at least that he had been an altar boy as a kid, but now he didn’t believe any of it. He asked me if I was saving myself for marriage, and I said yes. And he wanted to know if I really believed all of it, and I said, yes, that my faith is the most important part of my life. I think he asked me a few other things, which I can’t remember now, but I do remember this. At the end of our conversation, he said, “I’ve never met anyone like you before.” Wow.
A few minutes later, they headed to the club. Jodie and I saw John again briefly the next day but didn’t talk to him again except to say good-bye (with, of course, a “maybe we’ll see you again” ha ha). And that was basically that.
Someone far wiser than I am has likened God’s work to a tapestry. Countless threads of various vibrant shades are woven together to create a masterpiece of unspeakable beauty and intricate detail. As individual threads, we only get to see our little section; our perspectives are so limited. And even though we may know that this incredible tapestry exists, it’s very easy to forget that we are a part of it or to doubt its existence altogether. Sometimes, though, God gives us a moment to see from His point of view; He gives us a glimpse of the big picture, of his magnum opus in the making. For me, the conversation with John in Galway was one of those moments. I don’t know whether anything will come of it or if I will ever run into John again, but I do know beyond a shadow of a doubt, that the great Artist is at work in John’s life, and that He made our threads cross paths again for a reason, though I may never know it. But this I believe with my whole heart:
There are no coincidences, only a masterpiece in the making. 🙂
(Originally posted on April 30, 2010. For more of my study abroad adventures, visit http://steffi-in-austria.blogspot.com/)