“What is this Walk to Emmaus retreat? I know some of you went last year but you were so hush-hush about it, I didn’t dare to ask you anything! Where can we walk to in Singapore? Must I pay? And I’ve just been baptised! Am I qualified to go?” These were some of my initial responses when I was invited to attend the Walk to Emmaus retreat some years ago. Although some of my small group and DISCIPLE class members had taken this ‘Walk’, no one breathed a word about it or their experiences after that – until that Sunday when my DISCIPLE class facilitator approached me.
“Well, it’s just a retreat,” was his response. “There’s one for men and another for women. There’ll be time for silence, time for personal prayer and silent reflection, time for group discussion and fellowship, and time for makan. Don’t worry, you’ll enjoy yourself! We all did, and we want to share this experience with you!”
The Walk to Emmaus retreat, led by a team of clergy and laity, is a programme offered by The Upper Room, a unit of the General Board of Discipleship of The United Methodist Church, and is a unique experience of spiritual formation with emphasis on God’s grace. It originated from the Roman Catholic Cursillo movement, and the first Walk to Emmaus weekend was held by The Upper Room in USA in 1977.
The Walk is now an international movement covering all continents. It came to Singapore in 2000 and, to date, the Singapore Walk has been attended by nearly 1,800 pilgrims, many of whom are Methodist.
Essentially, it is a four-day three-night retreat starting from evening on the first day to late afternoon on the last day, covering about 72 hours. Just as the two pilgrims learnt more about “what was said in all the Scriptures” (Luke 24:27, NIV) in their walk with Jesus along the road to Emmaus, the programme included a structured series of 15 talks from both clergy and laypersons. Indeed, I was surprised to recognise three men from my church among the presenters! Besides sharing about aspects of Christian life, the presenters also related their experiences with God, and it was clear that some of their testimonies touched quite a few among us.
As we had to share rooms with other participants – or fellow pilgrims, as we are called – my room-mate (a member of the clergy) and I also shared our life experiences, as well as family and work matters affecting our personal walk with God. It was most heartening to realise that the difficulties and challenges in our faith journeys are also experienced by others, even the clergy.
Personally, my heart and mind were opened to the many aspects of God’s grace – in the written and spoken word, and in the gracious love which covered all of us during the Walk. I had the opportunity to reflect upon God’s Word as presented through the talks and the testimonies of the presenters, as well as to share my ideas and thoughts during the group discussions.
Indeed, among the groups of men, the discussions were often quite boisterous and loud. It was fascinating to hear several opinions popping up, and humbling as we learned that there could be other ways to relate the Word to our experiences in the secular world, because we all come from different backgrounds and different stages of maturity in our faith journeys. Through it all, it was clear that “… where two or three gather in My name, there am I with them” (Matthew 18:20, NIV).
Prayer is also an important focus of the Walk, and we spent time in the chapel and elsewhere reflecting and praying about our circumstances and even for each other. “They all joined together constantly in prayer” (Acts 1:14a, NIV) was an apt verse that came to mind. And, just like the two pilgrims did, there were times to ‘break bread’ and renew afresh our communion with God, reflecting upon the themes presented as we approached the Communion table.
It is also heartening to witness first-hand a band of brothers (and sisters) from the Emmaus Community planning and preparing for each of the annual Walks, giving of their time and sharing their myriad tasks unstintingly in fellowship and teamwork. All these are qualities which we in turn bring back to our own churches and our communities – our families and the marketplace. We are revitalised as members of the body of Christ, refreshed and eager to offer our gifts as indeed we discover that “we have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us.” (Romans 12:6a, NIV)
Some of my fellow pilgrims were already leaders in their home church. Some, like me, were newcomers. But, in line with the mission statement of the Walk to Emmaus – “empowering leaders to be the hands and feet of Christ” – all of us returned from the Walk with a deeper commitment to Christ.
Of course, there are some specifics of the Walk that are not shared (hence the secretive “hush-hush” nature). This is to ensure that the pilgrims do not anticipate how God may choose to encounter them, just as the two pilgrims did not realise they were walking with Christ.
I was sponsored by my mentor in terms of payment for the board and lodging and, in line with the Christian love I experienced, I have since sponsored others to the Walk and re-experienced the joy of God’s love in the Emmaus Community environment. I have also developed further in my personal discipleship journey over the years, in terms of helping out in various aspects of organising the Walks. Hearing and presenting the message of God, and actually witnessing the working of God in the lives of fellow Christians, has certainly led me to a deeper understanding of different aspects of Christian life.
Having been through a few rounds of the Walk and helping in different capacities, I am strongly convinced that God’s hand is at work before, throughout and after the Walk. Indeed, who knows what His plans for us are? To all those who receive invitations or want to find out more about the Walks, just know that His plans are “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” (Jeremiah 29:11, NIV)
James Tang –
is a member of Trinity Methodist Church. He is happily married to Susan and they have three lovely granddaughters.
Picture by rparys/Bigstock.com