A couple of years ago I went on a long journey to the city of Blue Spring, which is in the southern part of the Great Desert. For part of that journey, the part from White Water to Blue Spring, I hiked cross country. At times I was following paths made by other travelers. At times I followed the trails that animals had created. Sometimes I was forced to make my own way.
As I continued, the amount of time I was forging my own trail increased, until the prairie turned to sand. At that point there were no trails or paths, and the trail I made as I went disappeared behind me as the winds moved the shifting sand.
On the third day crossing the sands of the Great Desert, I came upon another group of travelers. These travelers, I quickly learned, were nomadic herdsmen. The group consisted of three families and their fifty-three cattle.
It was approaching evening and one of the men, Bindan, invited me to spend the evening with them. They shared their milk and meat with me, and I shared my hard biscuits and dried fruits with them.
As we ate, and afterwards watching the stars dominate the sky, we talked. They asked me about where I lived and what it was like. I told them of the mountains, the trees and grass, the rain and snow. I told them about the great cities and the herds of deer.
I was a little surprised by their response. I expected them to envy me, to wish they could live in such a wonderful place, a place favored by God. But they weren’t. In fact Bindan said, “I feel sorry for you, but at least you are in God’s country now. May God bless you and teach you his ways.”
I have to admit I was a little taken aback. I don’t want to sound like I’m boasting, but I thought God had taught me his ways. God had blessed me in so many ways. Then I remembered why I was here in this place. I was headed to Blue Spring on a pilgrimage. I had been instructed to travel there because God had something to teach me.
I had assumed that the thing I was suppose to learn was in Blue Spring, but sitting there on a warm evening, looking at an uncountable number of stars, I wondered, if maybe the lesson was on the journey, not at the destination.
“Why would you call this God’s country,” I asked Bindan.
Bindan poked a stick at the small fire for a few moments before he answered. “This place is hard. There is no place here to make a home. We must wander the dunes and hills looking for grass and water for our cattle. I cannot look at that dune over there and tell you if there is water on the other side. How many days have you walked through this wilderness? How many pools of water have you seen?”
“I’ve traveled three days and I haven’t seen any pools.”
“If we travel more than a day without finding water our supplies will be exhausted. If we traveled two days without water some of our cattle would die. Three days without water and we would all be on the verge of death. Four days and there will be no fifth for any of us. So how do we survive?”
“You find water. You must know how to find it.”
“We do know how, but it is not a skill we have. Every morning we gather and pray. We ask God which way to walk. We ask Him to guide our footsteps. Everyday someone in the group knows the way to walk, they feel it. Everyday we listen to that person and follow him or her. Everyday we find water. We have found water everyday for as long as I’ve been alive.”
“But if you lived where I do, you wouldn’t have to…” I stopped in mid-sentence and Bindan finished it for me.
I sat in silence. I didn’t know what to say. I wasn’t going to say “trust God,” but his words convicted me. That was what was in my heart.
“We live here because it forces us to trust God. We know in our hearts that if we didn’t have to follow God’s leading we would each follow our own hearts. We also know it is so much better to follow God’s. But that’s not all. Because we follow God he has blessed us. Do you know the last time one of us was sick? I couldn’t tell you how many generations. Do any of us want for anything? No. We have our cattle. From them we have everything we need. They supply our food and clothing, our utensils and tents, and God keeps them alive for us.”
“I must be honest with you, what I told you before was a half truth. Everyday that we pray to God and ask for his guidance we find water, but sometimes we don’t pray. Sometimes we want to prove to ourselves that we can take care of ourselves. We become arrogant. On those days, when our memories have become short and we don’t remember what happened the last time we didn’t pray, we head off into the wilderness and find no water.”
“Sometimes we even go two days on our own. God humbles us and we return to him and ask for forgiveness. For some reason God is always merciful to us, and forgives us, and leads us again. He blessed us again, and we know we are loved.”
I moved closer to Bindan, feeling very humbled myself and not wanting to have my voice heard by anyone else, and said to him, “Forgive me.”
“He looked at me, the fire light dancing off of his eyes. “You have done nothing that I need forgive you for. It may be God that you need to ask.”
I nodded. I got up and walked out across the sand, I sat alone and thought and prayed. I took a quick inventory of my life and didn’t like what I saw. There was pride. There was a feeling that I could live without God if I chose to. There was my attachment to my belongings. More than anything else there was my belief that I understood God.
I fell asleep sitting there. When I woke I fond that someone had covered me with a blanket. I rose and made my way back into the camp and found Bindan. He smiled at me and nodded his head.
“Are you ready Hector?”
“We have prayed to God and he has told us that it is you who are to pray and lead us today.”
“Me? No I can’t”
“Are you saying God has lied to us?”
“No. But perhaps you where mistaken.”
“Why do you doubt Hector?”
“I … I’m afraid. What if God doesn’t speak to me? What if I lead you in the wrong direction?”
“Our faith is sufficient. God said that you will lead us, and so you will. God does not lie. Come now, it is time.”
I didn’t know what else to do so I followed him. He lead me to the rest of the group and we prayed together. And God spoke to me. I didn’t hear him say words to me, but I knew which hills to walk over; I saw each one in my mind.
God gave me the faith to trust the vision he had given me. That day I led Bindan and his people to the water God had prepared for us. It was a very humbling journey because I knew I didn’t find the water, but that God had used me.
That second evening we talked again and Bindan finished his explanation of why his people chose to live in this place. Not only do they have to trust God and feel his leading in their lives, by living in this place God has prepared their hearts and sends them to do his work.
By keeping pride out of their hearts, by removing greed from their minds, by having each of them in turn carry out God’s leading, he has build a community. A place where all belong and everyone loves everyone else.
God had prepared them to meet me in the wilderness. They had crossed my path because God had told them to wait for me, and being obedient they had waited. He had prepared them to believe that I, a stranger, could also be the one who speaks for God. And finally he prepared them to prepare me and send me off with a new understanding of where I fit in to this world.
I thought about staying with them, but they said that God had other plans for me. They also told me that if I ever felt lost I was always welcome to come back and discover the simple truths of listening and obeying God, in this land where God dwells because his people are here listening.
So then, what brought this story to my mind today? I was talking to a friend about the pilgrimage he made to Blue Spring. He was telling me of the magnificent building on the edge of the oasis. He went on and on about the date trees and the wonderful food. He said that it had changed his life.
I listened to his story, but my own played back in my head. I felt sorry for him that he had not met Bindan in the wilderness. I thought for a moment that it might have been nice to see Blue Spring, but then again I remembered that on the second morning I had prayed to God and asked which way I should walk. He lead and I followed. He didn’t led me to Blue Spring, but I have never regretted where he has led me.