A Walk of Reconciliation down the Meridian Line
June 15th to July 12th 2000
Come and walk with us
Come and talk with us
Come and share your lives with us,
We will walk the line
Come rain or shine
As we celebrate jubilee!
Oh, let us set the nations free
And we'll bring in the jubilee
Yes let's set the nations free
And we'll bring in the jubilee!
This impromptu song which we started to sing in the last week or so of the walk sums up something of what we were up to during this 250 mile journey along zero longitude in eastern England.
A Walk Together
Firstly it was about walking together...
For me personally, some of the most meaningful times were when there was only three of us actually walking - Monette from Martinique, Emmanuel from Ghana and myself - one from each corner of the infamous slave trade triangle. We processed a great deal about past history and the legacy it has left not only in black/white relationships, but also between those from West Africa and those from the Caribbean. To walk in a spirit of reconciliation and genuine equality, enjoying unity and enjoying the differences was indeed very special. Monette and I walked every step of the way and Emmanuel would have done if he had not had to leave for two days on pressing business. He must do those 30 miles on a spare Saturday!
By the end of the walk, the African representation was stronger with Marguerite from Mali and Ros from Togo with us. Pete Adams from Harpenden and Meg Williams from Forest Hill, who walked for a week each, also became very much part of the core team. But there were so many others who encouraged us on our way by walking with us for a day or two.
Other very vital core team members were Alasdair from New Zealand and Monette's 4 year old son Michael, who began to realise that walking was a good thing when we reached Sussex!
Alasdair drove our support vehicle and succeeded in meeting us at every planned rendezvous. His blowing of the ram's horn was a vital aspect of the whole venture conveying the spirit of jubilee in a unique way. Often we would hear the ram's horn blowing from some distance away. I particularly remember schoolchildren who were with us cheering when they heard it, as they anticipated a cool refreshing drink!
Yes, jubilee was of course another major theme. Monette had a great gift for conveying jubilee joy, with her "jubilay" shout and the glorious high pitched African "le-le-le-le-le-le-le-le-luuuu!" Only those of you who heard it will really know what I am talking about! More of us started our own calls and they proved useful when we got slightly separated in the woods.
There were so many facets to the jubilee theme, such as celebrating the 40th jubilee since Jesus Christ came, announcing freedom, healing and good news for the poor. We identified with the cause of the Jubilee 2000 campaign, distributing cards for people to sign and send to Tony Blair and Gordon Brown before the G7 Summit in Okinawa. We delivered a petition to Clare Short's office as we passed through London. We wore our "Drop the Debt" T-shirts each day and shared about the whole theme with a total of 1,700 schoolchildren who either walked with us or heard us in assemblies. This theme was also prominent in the radio interviews and newspaper articles and in our one TV appearance on Anglia TV. Jeremy Weightman of YWAM prepared the press releases and did an excellent job on the media side.
Walking with schoolchildren was another special aspect. One especially memorable occasion was when 600 children from two schools in Chatteris joined us. Many of them had made flags of the meridian nations and it was deeply moving seeing them line the street and wave their flags and cheer as we walked past. Later Monette taught them her call and hearing that sound from hundreds of children was definitely spine-tingling stuff! We felt that not only were we affirmed in a wonderful way, but also something really significant happened for those children, because Chatteris is definitely white Anglo-Saxon and welcoming the stranger was important for them too.
Several schools who participated either gave donations at the time or sent them after other sponsored events later. This was towards the literacy projects and schools we are supporting in African meridian nations.
With the smaller groups of pupils, we gave teaching, not only about the Jubilee 2000 campaign, but also about the meridian line, the story of the snake on the pole, slavery and about reconciliation issues. Many pupils (and adults too) asked us about our symbols that we carried every day - the rainbow snake on itıs pole and our alternative English flag of the oak tree.
Sometimes there were surprises such as when a small group of pupils from New Addington Secondary School walked a short distance with us and led us out onto a road which was filled with all sorts of rubbish left by gypsies. Somehow the environment seemed to match the sense of hopelessness in those lads. We shared briefly with them about the hope Christ came to bring and we sang our blessing ("May the strong love of the Father surround you") to them before they left.
Nature Takes Its Course
"We will walk the line, come rain or shine" - well it wasn't exactly normal weather! After a dry but windy start, there was a roasting weekend near Louth, but by the time Marguerite flew in from the Sahara it was distinctly cool and there were three occasions when we got a good soaking! The wind was pretty constant which added a bit extra to our declaration based on Tennyson's poem - "Blow out the old, blow in the new." At times we also had to contend with footpaths where we were definitely "making a way for the Lord" through 6 foot high nettles and brambles!
Adversity and Prayer
The greatest adversity we faced was Marguerite's illness. Soon after she arrived on June 21st, it was evident that she was not well. Twice in that week we took her to doctors, both of whom said it was a virus and needed paracetamol and plenty of liquids. On the 28th, soon after the rest of us had started the day's walk, she collapsed in agony in the minibus and Alasdair drove her straight to the hospital in Huntingdon. Malaria was diagnosed and she remained there for a week. We were so relieved that she made a good recovery and was able to walk near the end, but it was a very hard thing, not only for her, but also for the rest of us, who were so excited about her being with us. There were compensations however, such as the great kindness of local Christians who visited her and Marguerite's example of patience and grace under suffering. Also it helped us to identify with the kind of suffering that is commonplace in Africa, only now it was not thousands of miles away. It is in this kind of context that prayer becomes less theoretical and more real.
Prayer was indeed another important aspect of the walk. We prayed either together or on our own for the places we passed through, the people we met and the situations we encountered. We also had a pattern of walking prayers that we used at the start of each day's walk and also after lunch and at the end of the day.
Hospitality and Welcomes
A great variety of people joined us for the walk and although not all shared our faith, there was a sense of inclusion and participation for everyone. The churches we linked up with in some way and who provided hospitality for us were very varied, including Anglican (of all shades!), Pentecostal, Baptist, Methodist, Community Church, Catholic and Free Evangelical. What a privilege to enjoy the variety of the Kingdom! Our hospitality throughout was quite exceptional. Space does not allow me to expand on this, but one example will have to suffice. When we arrived at Crowhurst Church with itıs famous 4,000 year old yew tree, we were welcomed by all the locals, led by Leo, an Estonian who is more English than any Englishman! In the lovely churchyard were tables laden with food and our meal began with Leoıs own special carrot and coriander soup - just perfect for a rather cool day!
We also appreciated the civic receptions which were laid on for us. At Hull, we were royally entertained at Wilberforce House. A drama group showed us what Wilberforce had to contend with as he sought to abolish slavery. The exhibition there and especially the reconstruction of a slave ship was disturbing but important for us at the start of the walk. At the Discovery Centre at Cleethorpes, the Mayoress gave us a great welcome and there was a lot of interest in the Meridian Way footpath. The rooms at the Wisbech reception were very grand, but the Mayor was delightfully spontaneous and informal - Michael got his photo taken dressed up in the Mayor's 18th century garb! The Mayor of Bromley came and walked with us for a while and put us on course when I made a wrong turn! At Eastcourt House in East Grinstead we were right on the line in an excellent place for photos. At Peacehaven at the end of the walk, councillors met us on a raw windy afternoon and we lit their millennium beacon! They said it was warmer when they lit it the first time on January 1st! We were quite glad to leave the cliff top and tuck into the good food provided for us at the Meridian Centre!
A Defining Moment
We are indeed grateful for many wonderful memories, but we are very conscious that we have only completed phase 1 and now we are planning the rest of the expedition down the meridian line. There was one occasion when we especially felt our connection with all the other nations along the line. Just north of Waltham Abbey in the Lee Valley Park, there is a beautiful avenue which runs straight along the meridian line for a kilometre. At either end are two large granite blocks which depict aspects of travel and also the world with the meridian marked on it. Somehow as we walked down that avenue it was as if the whole line was shrunk between those two blocks. We thought about passing through the nations. As we did so, Monette began to weep bitterly. The rest of us knew instinctively what it was about - Monette was feeling the pain of the line - both the past pain and the present pain. The pain of injustice, the pain of exploitation through slavery, the pain of poverty, sickness and disease. We joined her on our knees on the damp grass as it began to rain softly and we felt the pain of God's heart too. It is a difficult time to describe, but it was both bitter and redeeming too. Shortly afterwards, the sun came out and shone bright and warm as we stood together in front of that stone with the world and the meridian line behind us. May God continue to use us in reconciliation in Europe and Africa and to
Blow out the darkness in the land and
Blow in the Lord Christ's Jubilee!