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Partala, Southern Finland

Forests and Lakes

I’d walked thirty-four kilometres that day. Coming through the town of Jämsä, lunching with the street-drinkers, and with them enjoying the mid-day sun. At about four o’clock I’d decided it was time to carry on. It was a Saturday and I had no food left, nor money to buy any until I arrived in Tampere the following Tuesday.

First of all I walked through farmland, then the road went uphill through a dense forest and brought me to a beautiful valley called Partala. Dead calm. No breeze, no cars, and no mosquitos. As if I wouldn’t remember that peace I stopped, got out my camera, and took a picture. Then I carried on and remembered the uncertainty of having no food and no shelter. In my brain, of course, I believed - God will provide. In my bones, it was more difficult to feel so sure.

You’d think that I would have been used to it after a week and a half on the road, but the truth is that begging never becomes easy. To make a pilgrimage in a country where you just about speak the language... and all in the spirit of the sending out of the seventy-two: “Take no haversack, no spare tunic, no purse(!); eat what food you are given.” Theories, ideas and intentions are great, but only experience can teach us that kind of trust; and even then, only if we’re prepared to listen to God in it. I knew from the start that I would have to make small leaps of faith. I took less and less money and food, now here I was with neither, and I still had another 330km (205miles) to walk.

I knocked on the door of one house asking for somewhere to sleep. They said no. I knocked on the door of a second. She said no. The third, no-one home. The fourth the same. My feet and my knees were sore - 34km (21miles) is no short distance - but rejection is far more painful. I came to a house on the edge of a forest. “Well, maybe you could sleep in the sauna.”
“Yes, great, anywhere!”
“Or maybe the spare bed upstairs? Come and have a look.
“Something to eat?
“Something to drink?
“Have you ever been in a sauna?”
“Er...no...”
“You must have a sauna after your walk!”

The overall route was from Joensuu to Turku via Tampere.

The mysterious thing about receiving someone’s charity is that you also receive something of their ability and desire to give. Once again, theories and intentions are great, but a generous heart is a gift from God. In just under three weeks I walked 663km (415miles) from Joensuu and the Orthodox monastery of Valamo to the mediaeval cathedral city of Turku on the south-west coast of Finland. I was given a bed every night and as my leaps of faith got bigger the food I was given became ever more plentiful. It’s not necessary to walk across Finland in order to learn to rely on God - our tiniest steps in faith will be met by a generous open hand.

Mark Howe

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