Being welcomed and being turned away / 13.11.12

We are always looking for a place to stay. Whether it be a place to camp, a hostel or hotel, a home stay set up on or, or a spontaneous invitation, we are daily in need of a place. So far on the trip we have had all of these, but we were not always welcome.

On the west coast of Italy, just out of Sanremo, we needed to fix our bicycle. We agreed to meet up with the others later at a Lidl grocery store down the way so they wouldn’t have to wait for us as our bicycle was being fixed, and they could get the shopping done before we arrived. When we arrived at the Lidl, we saw no sign of our friends. We shopped for some items and waited until dark, and then decided to go to another Lidl 4 km away that someone told us about to see if perhaps they had waited there. By the time we arrived, the store was closed and the parking lot was deserted. It was night. This was not a very big deal–only an inconvenience to figure out how to reconnect without cell phones in a foreign land…and to find a place to stay for the night.

Along the bike path we were following we didn’t see too much in the way of prime camping spots, so we kept going for another hour or so. Our map signaled several camping grounds ahead, so we decided to try for one of them. At 9:30 we arrived, and found it a bit too quiet. It was the off-season, so we thought maybe no one was camping and the hosts were gone for a bit, but the light was on near the office and the low traffic gate was not locked. We let ourselves in and went to read the signage near the office. There was some stuff about rules and rates, but no sign that said the grounds were closed. There was a sticky note on the door’s window that said “After 19h check at the restaurant.” I went to check, but everything was dark there. Clearly from the cats and the parked vehicles, someone lived there, but no one was currently home. We were tired from the long day and decided to leave a note, set up our tent and cook dinner, and talk to them about paying in the morning.

We were just finishing up our dinner at 11:30 when we heard a car pull in and some voices down by the house. “Okay,” I thought, “we can explain ourselves and hopefully be allowed to sleep here for the night…” When the man saw us, he stopped with a surprised exclamation. I moved toward him to talk, but he said, “stop!” Then he turned back to go get someone who could speak some English, I presume. We waited, and a woman appeared who came toward us saying, “Camping is closed. You must leave now.” I tried to explain about the note and our situation, but she only shook her head and said, “Camping is closed.” Before I could ask if they would make an exception, I heard the man say in exasperated Italian, “Non capisce” (“he doesn’t understand”). A younger man (I assume the son) stepped up at that point to say, “If you don’t leave in two minutes, we will call the police!”
“Okay, okay!” I said, “No problem, we will leave…” It took us 20 minutes to pack up our dishes and take down the tent. On our way out we stopped to say sorry, we didn’t see it written anywhere… They seemed to me to be tired and just wanted us gone. So we continued on until we found a patch of asphalt just off the road by the shore, and pitched our tent there at 12:30 a.m., tired and a bit upset. I had wanted to write a note with our names and address in the USA, saying
“If you need a place to stay in the US, you will not be turned away here.” But Kallie thought it in poor taste. She was right, of course, because that wouldn’t be hospitality — it would be some kind of jab in hospitality garb. But the whole encounter made us doubly aware of our own need, and heightened our resolve to offer kindness to others in need. Not being welcomed touches more than the inconvenience and fatigue of finding a different place; it reaches into some level of human dignity and says, “You are not worth the trouble.”

Perhaps that’s why it’s so wonderful to be welcomed. Because we sense the message is reversed: “You are special; you are important; you are worth taking the time and trouble…”

When we finally made it to Ionnina, Greece, we were tired. It was a short day by most standards–only 43 km–but you had to feel how uphill it was to appreciate it. So when we rolled down the final slope into the city, we were facing some fatigue. And biking into a city is one of the last things a fatigued cyclist wants to do. Cities are wonderful places offering shops and groceries, but they are also confusing, loud, and trafficked, and a cyclist who goes in also has to get out if they want to camp. We just wanted some groceries and a camp spot. We coasted toward the center, and then caught a view of the lake, and stopped on a wide plaza that was surrounded by graffiti and an inordinate congregation of pigeons. We took it in for a moment, and then began our uncertain task of making the next decision.

“Hello! Where you guys from?”
The voice caught us a bit off guard, and we turned to see man and woman walking toward us. They had just gotten off the bus and the bearded one was speaking English. “I saw your bikes and figured you were travelers — I’ve always wanted to do something like this,” he continued. We made introductions, and he asked, “You guys want to come in for some coffee or something — get out of the cold?” It had been cold, and we would welcome a chance to sit down and dry off — but we also knew we didn’t have a campsite or food yet. But what the heck, this is what traveling is about, and we weren’t about to say no. “That would be great!” we responded.

He led us back through the streets to his apartment, not more than a couple blocks away, and we learned that his name was Jason, that he was an American and had been here for two months, and that he was working with a Christian organization called Campus Crusade, or just “Cru.” He was there with a few others doing ministry on the college campus, which meant they initiated conversations about God with anyone who might be interested. He said they weren’t really about making converts, but just forming relationships and sharing what Jesus meant to them. If people didn’t want to talk, they didn’t pursue it.

In no time we were sitting around a dry living room, half way through our coffees and asking questions about Greece and answering those about our trip. His roommate Matthew returned, and we made introductions, and we were invited to take a hot shower if we wanted. We all wanted. It was about 4:30 and they didn’t have anything going on until 7:30, when they would watch the final in the Lord of the Rings trilogy with some friends they had met here, so we were welcomed to relax. Matthew invited us to use his telephone with a USA area code if we wanted, and talk as long as we wanted to because it had unlimited minutes. When the conversation turned to food, Jason said he had just the food for us and how would it be if he ordered some Greek style Gyros for us that were like Chipotle burrito size? “My treat!” That would be… fantastic. In some ways we were truly overwhelmed by their hospitality, and felt almost a bit confused in the face of it. Should we really take the shower? Do they mean it? How do we make sure we don’t overstay our welcome or take advantage? They didn’t let us think too much about these things. “We talked it over with our team leader,” Jason said, “and if y’all want you can stay the night here–that is, if y’all don’t mind watching The Return of the King with about 15 others…” (Jason was from Texas). We didn’t mind.

In the morning they cooked us some eggs and we packed up to go just shy of the time they were meant to be in bible study. It was truly a kindness to experience so warm a welcome in the face of cold, wet uncertainty, and they topped it off by stuffing some traveling money in our pockets as we were preparing to leave. Our protests were to no avail. After we prayed and they asked God to bless our journey and watch over us, we pushed off down the

road and into the sunny morning, still a little incredulous about what had happened.

Sometimes we’re welcome. Sometimes we’re not. And, as my friend Juan would say, “That’s how it is.”


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  1. Grace Claus said on November 14, 2012 at 5:08 pm

    I want to tell you how wonderful these posts are! They’re a delight to read. Especially the next one — that image of being up to your ankles in walnuts!

    • ajspidahl said on November 14, 2012 at 5:21 pm

      Thanks Grace, glad to know they are being read :) The encouragement is much appreciated!

  2. Jason from TX said on November 14, 2012 at 9:42 pm

    All praise be to God the Father in heaven. Y’all were the true blessings to us in more ways then you could imagine. So glad to have met you. I hope all is well and that you are safe and warm somewhere tonight. :)

    • ajspidahl said on November 17, 2012 at 7:40 am

      yes, thanks… glory be! :)

  3. Lisa Clausen said on November 15, 2012 at 2:33 am

    Thank you for sharing your stories! I was transported away. Blessings to you all, Lisa

  4. Anders Spidahl said on November 18, 2012 at 4:50 pm

    This story was really inspiring! I think it demonstrates how much God is really at work in our lives, bringing all of us together from across the world. I really hope I can do a trip like this sometime. Peace and blessings. Anders

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