Escape and Pray
by Esther Legg-Bagg
Bonjour bonjour!! So we're off to Lyon! Which is in France. And great, because I love wine and cheese. Time to dust off that GCSE...
A couple of weeks ago I got involved in this crazy little adventure called ‘Escape and Pray’. It’s organised by Fusion, they’ve basically sent nearly 100 teams (over 300 people) to cities all over Europe to connect with students, universities, and all kinds of people, and do some praying.
Sounds nice eh?
The twist is that these teams of 2-4 people have no idea where they’re going until they turn up at the airport (for us at 4.30am – extra points for the crazy early start?), and they only have 20 Euros each, no accommodation or food sorted, no transport or connections with people lined up.
Now you’re talking, that sounds slightly risking and a little bit scary...
We arrived in Lyon about 9am. Tried to blag a lift with a guy whose name was written on one of those boards at airport arrivals, freaked him out by sounding like we knew him. Figured we’d give the hitchhiking thing a go – made a sign, including some French, and even used the right accents and stuff! (I should confess here that any French that was spoken during these 2 and a bit days was done by Pippa ‘I’ve got a French A Level’ Elmes. My contributions were minimal, but I like to think crucial. Oui?)
Hitchhiking was an unbelievable success, a great guy drove us the 30 minutes (totally unwalkable) into town – and to be fair we were buzzing to see the practical stuff being sorted so soon into our trip!
Church is often described as being like a ‘family’ – sometimes we do that great, sometimes not so good, so I was interested to see how effective our ‘hi we’re here for 48 hours with nowhere to stay’ emails to churches in Lyon would be!
As we sat outside a church somewhere in the city, Pippa doing something productive involving French, me rolling up my t-shirt sleeves working on the tan, we got an email back from a guy called Ben who was the leader of a church and had somewhere for us to stay – all before 11am!
Still buzzing off the ride from the airport, another quick answer to the practical stuff being taken care of was pretty epic.
And I guess that was the theme of the next 48 hours – being amazingly provided for, meeting some properly quality people and just feeling like God was being excessively generous in answering prayers we prayed, and some that we didn’t.
I didn’t expect to find myself in a French supermarket buying meat for a BBQ and sampling some free blue cheese – but that happened.
I didn’t expect to be offered someone’s annexe to stay in for both nights, to have a bed and a shower (and hairdryer), and to be made to feel a genuine part of someone’s family and life so quickly – that definitely happened.
I didn’t expect to be in France drinking wine, eating bread and cheese, meat, croissants, watermelon, more cheese, homemade pizza cooked in the outdoor oven thing, trying a French beer, filling a sandwich with more cheese for my lunch to take with me as we left – but that SO happened.
I didn’t expect to meet an awesomely generous and inspiring British family giving everything to a city and people they love, or some amazing, on fire passionate Catholic students, or a properly lush Norweigan girl on a year out in France serving in a church very different to hers at home, or two guys who ‘just wanted to serve’ by helping us get to and from the airport while they fasted during Ramadan – but I’m so glad they happened.
And to be totally honest, I didn’t expect a random city in Europe that I knew or cared nothing about, to take a big piece of my cheese loving heart, make me sad to leave, and to still be in my thinking, and loving it, 2 weeks later – but Lyon did that.
It was a pleasure to be a part of that city and those people’s lives for 48 or so hours. I hope that we were able to give and to encourage as much back as what we received. There’s some cool stuff going on in France, some quality people living out their faith in a difficult but awesome place – keep an eye on Lyon, something’s brewing.
Here’s our last ridiculous story of generosity and provision...
- We ask a guy on the street about a good hitchhiking spot from town to the airport, he offers to drive us to the station for free, from where he says we can get a train for just 5 Euros each to the airport.
- Get out at the station, there are no trains to the airport.
- The tram is going to cost us 32 Euros. We have 26.50 and just an hour to get to the airport.
- We pray for the remaining Euros. No luck asking strangers for it!
- We approach the ticket man in hearing of an English couple. We tell him our story - he tells us he'll sell us youth tickets (didn’t look him in the eye in case he figured out I was 37...) - they come to €26.40!!!!!!! We have 10 cents change!
- The English couple also offered to pay the rest of our fare if we hadn't enough.
- Sat on the tram amazed.
- Got to the airport 10 minutes before check in.
- Ate the cheese sandwich and brownie we’d been given by the friends we stayed with.
I was there and I’m still shaking my head in slight bemusement...