Written by Alison Witt, who co-leads the Prayer Pilgrimages with Sharon Schmidt.
I used to think prayer was boring.
Of course I knew prayer was important- but for me it was more in the same category as eating kale or going to the dentist. That category of ‘things I know are good to do but just don’t bring me delight’. Something changed along the way though and I can honestly say that prayer has brought me much delight over the past few years.
Participating in neighbourhood prayer walks, spending time in interactive prayer rooms, and going on silent retreats have all been part of helping me learn to pray in more creative and expansive ways. When I was a child I was taught that prayer is a ‘two-way conversation between you and God’. That sounded really attractive, yet for most of my life that simply wasn’t my experience. My prayer life was much more of a monologue involving me pouring out my heart to God (or at its worst reading through my shopping list of prayer requests.)
Slowly I am learning to listen. To pay attention. To hear what God is saying to me. And it is so energizing!
One of the prayer practices that has been particularly life-giving for me is prayer pilgrimage. Pilgrimage is going on a journey with a particular spiritual motivation. Not as a tourist who goes to consume, but rather going with a posture of listening to God and encountering Him along the way. A few years ago I was invited to go on a week-long pilgrimage to Iona, Scotland. I had a specific question I was taking with me and seeking God's direction about. The journey was filled with prayer, reflection, worship, beauty and many hilarious adventures. And in the midst of it, God spoke to me. It was so incredibly personal and meaningful.
I’ve come to understand that it’s not so much about the length of time - pilgrimages can be a week, a month, a year… or even just one day. It’s about the intention and the posture with which you are approaching your trip. Since prayer is at the centre of what we do at IAFR Canada we have been experimenting with ways to build pilgrimage into our ongoing ministry. Some of our team already went on an international prayer pilgrimage to the Mexican-Guatemalan border but we wondered if there are some strategic places right here in Canada where God might want us to go and pray.
Border crossings are a liminal space- a place where life and death decisions are made and life altering actions occur. The Fort Erie- Buffalo border is one of the main official entry points for refugee claimants entering Canada. It is also a symbolic place that represents all the other unofficial, and official crossing points along the very extensive Canada-US border. We sensed that this is a place God was leading us to go and pray. So in early June we invited a group of pastors and ministry leaders to join us on a day-long prayer pilgrimage to the Peace Bridge in Fort Erie.
One of the pastors who joined us was Jesse Hill from Philpott Church in Hamilton. He said “The prayer pilgrimage was a great opportunity to encounter a hidden side of the refugee experience, and to pray about how the Lord might be at work among refugees in my own community. It was both refreshing and eye-opening”.
These day-long pilgrimages are filled with learning about the experiences of refugee claimants, and learning about listening prayer, which have become two of my favourite things. So I guess it's no surprise that these pilgrimages to the border bring me great delight. (For the record, I am also experiencing much delight in eating fresh kale from my garden, but I still avoid going to the dentist.)
IAFR Canada anticipates hosting day-long prayer pilgrimages to the CAN-US border twice a year, fall and late spring. If you know a church leader who might want to join us on a future prayer pilgrimage, please let us know!
Our vision is to help people survive and recover from forced displacement. We do this together with the church, both globally, and locally in Canada.