SPAIN— The pungent odor of cow manure fills the air as travelers walk the Camino de Santiago (the Way of Saint James) past dairy farm houses toward a hostel named La Fuente del Peregrino. The name means The Pilgrim's Fountain. It's just one of many dormitories for pilgrims hiking the 500-mile journey to Santiago de Compostela, where Catholic folklore says the bones of St. James, the brother of Jesus, are buried.
It's a beautiful spring day. Yolanda* and her 13-year-old daughter, Juni, are from Germany and have walked the road for 19 days when they arrive at La Fuente del Peregrino—a building offering fresh coffee, clean bathrooms, and an overnight stay if needed. Those who lodge get two hot meals, outstanding hospitality, and a chance to watch the "JESUS" film.
The small, 400-year-old house is run by Nick, a staff member of Agape Spain, the name for Campus Crusade in this country. He recruits small groups of volunteers from around the world. They rotate in for a week at a time, maintaining the hostel and sharing the message of Christ to the 400-800 pilgrims that drop by each day.
Whether or not travelers begin their pilgrimage for spiritual reasons, they often find themselves unexpectedly open to God conversations, willing to discuss spiritual topics. "We use those moments as an open door for the gospel and God blesses our efforts." Nick says.
The door of this rustic hostel is less than 10 feet from El Camino—a convenient spot that beckons travelers to stop and rest at the sound of laughter inside. No fees are charged. Everything, including lodging, showers, and meals for 7-9 guests are offered for a donation.
Yolanda and her daughter register for the night but they are private, keep to themselves, and careful to avoid any photography that might reveal their whereabouts. Juni's head has been shaved. She mentions she did it to get extra cash for her and her mother. Yolanda grows silent.
One mission trip volunteer at the hostel notices that Juni is unusually interested in the religious items lying about the hostel. She picks them up and reads any material containing references to Jesus and shows her mother.
In the afternoon, an optional reflection time is offered to those who stay the night, followed by a showing of the film, "JESUS." For the pilgrims, a movie is a welcome treat, complete with popcorn!
Meanwhile, mealtime is full of merriment, as travelers from six countries share their stories and hear about the history of the hostel and what makes this one different from the others.
Nick explains to the guests, "Unlike most lodging that only provide for your physical needs, we focus also on your heavenly needs—helping you take the next step in your spiritual journey."
After dessert, the lodgers are invited to participate in an activity using "Soularium" cards, a tool used for sparking spiritual dialogue. The conversations around the table reveal what individuals believe about God and help the volunteers know how best to continue talks with the pilgrims one on one.
Filipe is also a guest this night. Filipe is a guru of Eastern mysticism and almost derails the discussion with his talk of chakra energy and aliens who abducted him and bestowed special powers to heal people.
The Jesus Film Mission Trips® volunteers pray as they communicate truth to Filipe. He is unreceptive. They do not get to filter who stays at the hostel, so they trust God to bring the right pilgrims who need to hear the message of Christ.
Some receive it, some reject it, but all are sent on their way contemplating Jesus and the extraordinary love and hospitality poured upon them by His followers during their stay.
The next morning we find Yolanda and Juni shedding grateful tears as they say goodbye to the volunteer staff.
Juni receives a copy of the film, "The Story of Jesus for Children."
Her mother responds, "You’ve blessed us. We have been homeless since my husband died. Many hostels are not safe for us sleeping in the same room with strange men. But last night, I rested well knowing my daughter was safe next to me. There's something peaceful about this place—about you."
This year is the 20th anniversary since La Fuente del Peregrino opened its doors. Almost 19,000 pilgrims have found rest, shelter and the love of Christ with the help of more than 5,500 volunteers over the years. God has truly blessed this ministry.
Pray for Yolanda and Juni as they continue their pilgrimage. Ask God to reveal Himself to them, and that Juni's interest in Jesus would grow.
Pray for Filipe to encounter more believers, denounce his false gods and embrace the one true God.
There's no doubt God has placed this hostel in a strategic location surrounded by vulnerable people searching for answers. The Pilgrim's Fountain continues to be a beacon of hope in a lost and broken world.
If you would like to participate in a Jesus Film mission trip, go to Jesusfilmmissiontrips.org
To learn more, go to lafuentedelperegrino.com.
*All names changed for privacy