The road from Emmaus

Published on 15 Aug 2017

Dan Nisbett, a member of London Jesuit Volunteers, is doing a fundraising walk for a homeless charity. He writes about what he is learning from his walks – the importance of ‘disconnecting to reconnect’

I work for a homeless charity – Emmaus Lambeth.  We are getting ready to celebrate our 10th anniversary in October.

A founding principle of the community

Emmaus as an organisation is much older.  Started in Paris during WWII by a French Capuchin and member of the French resistance, Abbe Pierre.  A homeless man named George Legay asked Abbe Pierre if he could help him, Abbe Pierre asked George if he could help him in serving those even more less fortunate than they were. Emmaus was born and the essence of solidarity was a founding principle of the community.  In later years George said that what had sustained him was not the food and shelter, but the companionship and sense of purpose working in solidarity with Abbe Pierre and other companions for the greater good.

One of the ways that we will mark the 10th anniversary of our founding in London is by walking from the community building in Lambeth to Calais. We chose Calais because it is now hugely symbolic.  It is symbolic of the struggle of refugees, the distances they travel for asylum, for safety, for basic needs.  It is symbolic of the forces that oppress them. The irony of course being that it is in France, but we like to think that our walk to Calais is in the spirit of Abbe Pierre whose life was forever about looking to be in solidarity with the poor and marginalised, we hopefully honour him in that.

We aim to raise some awareness and hopefully a small amount of money for two other causes.  The first one is Spires day centre in South London.  We have an ongoing solidarity endeavour towards them trying to do what we can to help them.  They in turn do a lot of good work with the homeless and other disadvantaged people in South London.  The day centre offers space and a place for people to come to, to be heard, to get advice and to access a range of other services.  It does lots of good work and in these times of uncertainty and austerity is a place of sanctuary and peace for many.  Anything we can do to be in solidarity with them will help us towards our aim and toward continuing Abbe Pierre’s good works.

Supporting growth

The other organisation that we are in solidarity with is Emmaus Bangladesh – Thanapara Swallows.  Emmaus Bangladesh was established during the conflict in the region in the 1970’s as an aid and emergency refuge.  This has grown over the years and is now a major community project in the area providing work for many women in the area and schooling for many pupils there.  From the conflict were sown seeds that have produced abundant life.  We wish to support that growth with our act of solidarity.

The walk itself will start at the community building in West Norwood, naturally, and then we will take the road away from Emmaus! to Dover using the North Downs way to get there.  The first day of walking will take us from West Norwood to Caterham and from Caterham we can get straight onto the North Downs way which goes all the way to Dover using up some parts of the pilgrims way.

A walk in the garden of England

The whole walk will be done by myself and one other staff member.  But we are inviting people to take part in sections of the walk.  We have broken the walk down into legs and have gathered all of the information about those parts and distributed it.  Firstly we are hoping to have as many companions join us as possible, including, or perhaps especially, the ones who wouldn’t naturally be inclined to go walking.   We have ensured that there are parts of the journey that are accessible to anyone, and that they can get off at any point that they want to.  This is gaining more and more momentum amongst companions and I am sure that we will walk in the garden of England together come September.

We are inviting other people from Emmaus communities around the country to join us as well.  As we pass two enroute – Emmaus Medway and Emmaus Dover we will be collaborating with them.  We hope to include more and more people in the walk on different sections as we make our way along the downs and the emphasis is very much on journeying together as we make our way to Calais.   We may be moving in the opposite direction, and we are far more comfortable, but our hearts are with those who have and continue to make their way to Calais from other places, fleeing violence, feeling poverty, fleeing oppression, fleeing disaster and whole range of other social and universal ills.   Christ told us that the greatest two commandments were to love God with all our heart and soul, and to love our neighbours as ourselves, are these not our neighbours?

Finding God in the simple things

I find God in all of the walking that I do, it gives me space and time to think and it gives me perspective, it is prayerful.  In these times of ever increasing technology where it can be impossible to have a break of any kind at times I take the time to turn off my phone and disconnect for a few hours –  world affairs and superfluous news items seem to continue quite well without my attention!  This is important to me, I disconnect to reconnect, to reconnect to something meaningful and real, something deep and that is God at the very core of my being, in the silence, that contemplative walking can lead me to, that nature reveals to me in so many different ways. I find God in people, I find God in the good acts of solidarity, in the support of others, in the compassion of others. I also find God in the simple things, the beautiful birdsong I have heard out in Kent, the gentleness of the lamb in the fields,  a nice cup of tea and peaceful, shaded rest, the sun, the views, silent walking, conversation with another.   

So I look forwards to this long walk for many reasons, as I focus on the reasons with the aim to strive for the greater glory of God.

Dan also wrote a short reflection on where he found God in his walks. 

Perhaps you would be interested in finding out more about London Jesuit Volunteers, of which Dan is a member.

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