By Kara Witherow, Editor
South Georgia’s La Caminata a Emaús – the Walk to Emmaus – recently celebrated its 10th anniversary as a Spanish spiritual retreat.
What began as a project of the Conference’s Hispanic Ministries’ office a decade ago has grown and developed into a model that others attend and emulate, said Rev. Daniel Medina, Associate Director of Connectional Ministries for Hispanic Ministries and pastor of Nueva Vida UMC in Macon and Warner Robins First UMC.
In the past 10 years, South Georgia’s Spanish Walk to Emmaus has hosted 550 pilgrims from not just South Georgia, but North Carolina, Tennessee, New Jersey, Mexico, Puerto Rico, Bolivia, and Uruguay. This year, a delegation of pastors and their spouses from the Dominican Republic Methodist Church came to experience the 72-hour retreat.
They came to be renewed and encouraged in their faith and also to learn more about The United Methodist Church’s doctrine and structure, which they hope to adopt, said Rev. David Diaz, Emmaus Walk spiritual director and associate pastor of Cordele First United Methodist Church.
The eight church leaders came to South Georgia at Rev. Diaz’s invitation and as guests of Connectional Ministries, Hispanic Ministries, and Cordele First UMC.
“Connectional and Hispanic Ministries were excited to host the pastors and laity from the Dominican Republic as they participated in the Spanish Walk to Emmaus,” said Dr. Nita Crump, director of Connectional Ministries. “The Spanish Walk has been an integral part of the Walk to Emmaus movement in South Georgia for 10 years. Those from the Dominican Republic went home with plans to send additional people next year and then start a Walk to Emmaus on the island. This is an exciting way our Conference is ‘Alive Together in the World’ as we offer our Hispanic brothers and sisters, in South Georgia and in other countries, a way to grow in discipleship. I give thanks for Rev. Daniel Medina and Rev. David Diaz who worked to make this possible.”
The Walk to Emmaus retreats are important to the Hispanic community because they help foster spiritual growth and encourage laity in their spiritual development, retreat leaders say.
“They have been very important – crucial, even – in the development of our Hispanic ministries in South Georgia,” Rev. Medina said. “They are where our lay people are inspired and trained on issues very basic to our Wesleyan doctrine.”
Held at Camp Dooley near Vienna, the retreats immerse pilgrims – those who attend the retreat – in a time of prayer, teaching, fellowship, and worship. This year, 28 men attended the men’s retreat, held Sept. 27 through Sept. 30. One week later, 42 women attended the Women’s Walk.
Based on Luke 24:13-34 which tells of Jesus’ post-resurrection walk to Emmaus alongside two grieving disciples who aren’t able to recognize him until they shared a meal, the retreats are designed to help attendees recognize and experience God more fully.
“The main idea of the Emmaus Walk is to let them know that we are not alone, that Jesus has always been with us and will always continue to be with us,” Rev. Medina said. “After our encounter with Him we can go back to our Jerusalem, our places, to be witnesses and to spread hope and love and share the good news.”
All South Georgia Hispanic pastors are involved in this annual retreat, Rev. Medina said, and many lay members serve during the weekend, too. Haroldo Poroj-Vicente, lay leader of El Faro Hispanic Ministry in Albany, served as lay leader of the most recent Emmaus Walk.
The weekends are powerful, and being involved with them has been a blessing, Vicente said.
“Seeing people serve God who don’t know me and sometimes don’t know each other who are serving with all their hearts encourages me to continue serving God.”
Vicente, who was himself a pilgrim about seven years ago, said that the Emmaus Walks are important to the Hispanic community because many experiences pilgrims have during the Walks only occur during that weekend.
“I think it’s very powerful for us and I thank everyone who has helped us put this on,” he said. “It’s been a blessing for us to have them and it’s very important that we continue them.”
In South Georgia, in the Dominican Republic, and beyond, the Conference’s Spanish Walk to Emmaus retreats are impactful and important.
“I have seen it impact the Hispanic community greatly because people get inspired,” Rev. Medina said. “They are ready to serve. I think that’s the result of those 72 hours. They are inspired and motived to serve their local church.”
The Walk to Emmaus Movement
The Upper Room, part of United Methodist Discipleship Ministries, began the three-day ecumenical spiritual-renewal retreats in 1978. The self-supporting ministry grew out of the Catholic Cursillo movement, and took the name Walk to Emmaus in 1981. The goal of Walk to Emmaus is to equip church members for Christian action. Following the three-day experience, participants are joined in small groups to support each other in their ongoing walk with Christ. The movement also includes the Chrysalis program for youth, the Face to Face program for adults 60 and older, and the Journey to the Table program for adults 18 to 35. Learn more