Last night, my daughter and I happened across a cyclist who had pulled up in our church parking lot to take a picture. The sun was in the right position and the light was perfect for some beautiful photography. We introduced ourselves to the cyclist, who said his name was Chris-Alexandre Gionchetta. Chris is from Switzerland, and has been riding his bicycle across the world for four and a half years. He has cycled through countries like Turkey, Iran, Iraq, Mongolia, China, Tajikistan, Kazakhstan, Vietnam, Thailand, Russia, and South Korea. More recently, he has been traveling from west to east across the U.S. He is on his way to Washington, D.C., where where he will board an airplane and fly back to Europe.
Chris' bicycle (his third in his 35,000 mile journey) was laden with bags and gear. I asked him where he stayed at night. He said he usually found some out-of-the-way place to camp. We invited him to camp in our yard last night. He graciously accepted our invitation, and we were also blessed to share the evening with him. After Chris and I toured our church and stood in our baptistery (he'd never seen one before), we had spiritual conversation about everything from Mormons and Muslims and meditation to Buddhists and Baptists. He says that everywhere he has gone in the world, he has found one thing: love. We also enjoyed some and not-so-spiritual conversation, enjoyed some simple food, and laughed until the clock showed it was later than I expected. This morning after we shared some breakfast, Chris struck camp and we shot a few photos before he got back on the road. He has seventy-five miles to travel today in order to stay on schedule--I hope he makes it.
Chris' message that he shares with everyone he meets is that you can live your dreams. "People say they have no time to do things, but you just have to make time. I made time to ride my bicycle and it has given me so much time to think. Just think." Around the world, Chris has shared his inspiring message of peace, human solidarity, and "I can do it" attitude. He speaks before thousands of children at schools through his foundation, the All School Project (click here to learn more). He loves to share stories of bears and an appendix operation in Russia, bike theft in Vancouver, eating insects and Chinese medicine (not necessarily related), falling in love and breaking up, and all the wonderful people he has met on the road. With Chris' can-do message, he would probably disagree with me when I say, "If you can't go see the world, at least you can welcome the world when it comes to see you." Instead, several times he said, "Oh, but you can go see the world--and you have someplace you can stay when you get to Switzerland!"
If Chris was blessed by our hospitality, we were even more blessed by his company. I'm glad that our family had the opportunity to meet him--and especially that my kids had the chance to be inspired by this "chance" encounter. The first thing that my 13-year-old did after the cyclist left was to pump up his long-neglected bike tires and go for a ride with a friend. I'm struck by what we might have missed if we had seen this ragged-looking traveler, averted our eyes, and said, "Oh, there goes a homeless guy!" By engaging him in conversation, we met someone we will never forget, who blessed us more than we could have blessed him.
The author of the New Testament book of Hebrews 13:2 (NLT) wrote, "Don't forget to show hospitality to strangers, for some who have done this have entertained angels without realizing it!" Chris may not have wings, but he certainly touched my family in a positive way. I pray for wind at his back and safe travel for the rest of his journey. And I pray that when the world comes to your door, you'll open your home and your heart to its love.