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The Wild of God: A Global Journey

The Wild of God: A Global Journey

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The Wild of God: A Global Journey

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Jan 9, 2013


Eric Hanson claimed to follow the most remarkable person in history, yet his life was as exciting as sugarless gum. Confronted with a disparity between a promise of abundant life and what he saw in life surrounding him, he left everything behind for a year to travel around the globe through the worlds poorest countries.

Refugees, hermits, prostitutes, mobs, secret police, monks, and a motorcycle gang. A dangerous journey introduces us to a fresh side of faith, God, and a fulfilling life.

My eyes were opening to whole new levels of pain and poverty, darkness and despair, I saw new and altogether beautiful things become real to me. The Bible is full of Gods promises of healing and restoration, but those words always seemed plastic and hollow to me. For the first time in my life, I began to see God move and healto truly touch people in the midst of unbearable pain. And in that, Gods message of restoration suddenly took on a significant, real-life meaning to me.

As I watched Joses transformation, my heart was ripped from my chest and squeezed until my muted soul could hear God whispering that thisreal change, real love, not contrite phrases in an old bookwas the heart of God for His people.

Eric has written a powerful, endearing account of his adventures around the world. But this isnt a book that will leave you feeling helpless. It will give you faith in your own story and hope for living a more meaningful one.
Jeff Goins, author,
Wrecked: When a Broken World Slams into Your Comfortable Life

Jan 9, 2013

Sobre el autor

Eric Hanson is an avid adventurer, writer, and photographer. Having journeyed through 35 countries, he has found his life enriched and deepened through the adventure, challenge, and spirituality of travel. On Twitter @ericishanson

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The Wild of God - Eric Hanson


Chapter 1


The gray road passed beneath my feet like a ribbon in the wind. The time had finally come for me to leave home, and now the day I had dreamed about for so long was a reality. My possessions were those that I could carry in my oversized Gregory backpack. I was leaving behind the comfortable for the uncomfortable. I was going to the places less visited in the world—to countries that do not exactly instill confidence in the family of any traveler. I was entering the developing world. As is the case with any new endeavor, I had no clue what was coming my way. But in this instance, I felt particularly vulnerable to any number of dangerous possibilities—disease, hunger, kidnapping, robbery, political uprising, getting mobbed for a handout, encountering somebody who hated America and wanted to do something about it. The thought crossed my mind that I might not make it back in a pleasant condition.

I sat in the crammed bus, my head against the window, as I had for the last twenty hours. I remained painfully sleepy but unable to sleep. The bus swayed with each twist in the road and the green countryside passed by in a fuzzy dream. All day long people lined the highway, hitching rides north and south. Men with mustaches like umbrellas and women in colorful dresses carried fruits, vegetables, and trinkets to sell. The sun’s waving rays cooked from above, but the bus stayed cool.

We followed the Gulf of Mexico all the way from Texas to the southern reaches of Mexico, where the country hooks like a crescent moon. The only picture of Mexico I had in my mind was of dusty shantytowns, makeshift soccer fields, and the Three Amigos fighting off cigar-smoking criminals. But here the air tasted sweet from the ocean and people were smiling. The land seemed pleasant and inviting, filled with good people.

Congratulations. You’ve just survived your first Third-World bus ride! Chad smiled, slapping my back as I fell off the bus. But if you think that was bad, just wait till we get to China. I grimaced back, taking in the foreign atmosphere of Chiapas. We were not too far from Guatemala. Having started the day in Texas, I was just glad to be up and walking.

Now if you all can just sit tight here for a while, we’ve just got to sort a few things out, Chad announced to everybody.

Chad, the leader of our expedition, was tall and thin. He had buzzed hair and wore aviator sunglasses. Having spent the previous year traveling around the world, he was a natural choice for a guide. When he talked, the rest of us listened. I was not alone in being just a little nervous about being so deep in a drastically different country and his travel experience was comforting.

Chad and I met only a few days ago. Having just flown into Brownsville, Texas, I sat in the front seat of a van while he drove across the border and talked about what it was like to travel in the world’s more destitute countries.

God is gonna blow you away, man, he explained with a certain electricity in his voice as he drove. I remember when I was in Mexico last year … He trailed off a bit. It’s in these kind of places, you know, the poor places … I’m tellin’ you now; you’ll see some crazy things.

Chad was one of those Christians who I had a hard time relating to. He used to be the big party guy in college. But after that, he became what some call a Jesus freak. Everything was in Jesus’ name, and he praised God for everything. All that to me was a little bit loony. I just never had that. My faith was straightforward and logical, not something that would rock anyone’s boat. A rule-abiding life was all I had ever known. I never had the radical conversion. My faith was as normal to me as breathing. I grew up a Christian in the suburbs, and my faith was as quiet, peaceful, and safe as my upper-middle-class neighborhood.

But here’s the catch—it was the normalness of my Christianity that had really started bothering me. I saw a guy like Chad, and even though I did not understand him, I had to give him credit. He had zeal. He lived passionately, like God was as real as the wind on his face. About a year prior, I really began to wonder why my life looked so different from those of Jesus’ disciples. I had never seen or felt anything special. There were no sea-splitting moments in my life. There was little that set me apart from anyone else. I wondered how a guy two thousand years ago could split time in two—time being recorded as either before him or after him. That guy had to be a pretty exceptional fellow to do that. He had to be more remarkable and inspire more people than Alexander the Great or Caesar Augustus. He had to speak more truth and philosophize deeper than Plato and Socrates ever could. He would have had to reveal more of the universe than Galileo and Aristotle combined. In fact, this guy would have had to turn the world right on its head in order to be as noteworthy, as deserving of distinction, as the guy who is the greatest landmark in all of history.

And here I was, someone who claimed I was trying to be like this man who altered history, and my life was as exciting as sugarless gum. Something here was wrong.

All right guys, listen up! We’ve got a little bit of a hike ahead of us, Chad reported. There were about fifty of us who had been milling around the bus station for an hour and we all congregated again toward the sunlit entrance. I’ve just spent the morning trying to get a hold of our contact here. I guess there was some miscommunication, but praise God we ran into each other in town. Anyway, we’ve just got to walk down this road a little ways to where we’ll be staying. Go ahead and grab your stuff and we’ll head out.

A great stir of noise arose as fifty people rummaged through the piles of colorful backpacks that completely engulfed the tiny backwater bus station. After a good deal of time sorting bags, we were out the door and trooping under the blazing Mexican sun.

No one complained much as we set off, each carrying sixty pounds of luggage an unknown distance. Most of us were pretty green when it came to foreign travel, and nobody wanted to be seen as weak. We were almost entirely new to one another; some of these people I had only just met as we crossed the border into Mexico. We were guinea pigs—fifty people who had decided to go around the world together.

A few years back, a missionary in Georgia got the idea to send young people around the world to find themselves—to find God. Within a very short span of time, this man developed the idea, planned it (rather hastily, out of sheer excitement), and trusting that God would work out the kinks, floated the idea out on the Internet. Eleven countries in eleven months, the website said. This group of fifty people now trudging along under the shadeless sky was the result of that ad.

Even though we were traveling in connection with a missions organization, I wouldn’t exactly call us missionaries. That might give off the impression that we had our stuff together. Most of us were young, right out of college, and like me, had no idea what to do with our lives. A few from the group were older—late twenties and early thirties. Several of them had put their business success on hold or had abandoned it altogether. Regardless of age or position in life, we were all in search of something and had been attracted by the thrill of travel and the lure of significance.

You doin’ all right with that? I asked Scott. Scott was a former strong man competitor and had accumulated several extra bags in the last twenty minutes of walking.

Yeah, Scott said in between breaths. I’m fine. But it looks like some of the girls are witherin’ in this heat. Behind Scott was a bedraggled-looking crew, each struggling with his or her baggage on what was supposed to be a short walk.

Chad said we’re looking for a white sign on the side of the road after we walk under these trees a while. Scott said in his distinct Boston accent. Can’t be much further.

Up until this point, Scott had earned a living in the gym, so of course he was big. But I learned quickly he was not all brawn; he was thoughtful and deeply contemplative. He and his wife had decided to go against the grain. The two of them left their city life behind in search of a more fulfilling life.

There it is, Scott said, pointing ahead to a white sign with a rainbow painted on it. Shekinah … he muttered in a half-question as he read the largest word painted across the top of the sign. Just before the sign, there was a narrow, bumpy road that led up a slow hill through the dense green of the encroaching foliage.

Finally, I said, glistening with sweat as I looked at the hill. In turning to the others who trailed behind, I watched an odd-looking caravan of people struggling along the road. I wondered what the locals would think of such a peculiar sight in their small city, then turned and continued on.

The incline of the hill was deceptive, and I was quickly panting for breath. But this was the kind of need for air that lets you know you are alive. Growing up, I had become a backpacking enthusiast, and carrying everything on my back had a familiar, freeing feel to it. As much as possible, I found myself descending into the Grand Canyon or hiking into the aspen groves of the San Francisco Peaks, the largest of the mountains in Arizona. The looming peaks of Flagstaff are tall enough to ski on, and for Arizona, that is saying something.

A few months before I left for this pilgrimage, I took a road trip by myself to the National Parks of the Southwest. I wanted to get away and do some thinking, but mostly I just hiked. It was the unknown—the adventure—that really excited me. That is what I felt engulfing me now, although in this case, everything felt so much more final. I could not just head back to the comfort of home and flip on the TV. This time, I would be away from home for a year. I hoped I had made the right decision. I imagined it was probably along the lines of what most people feel their first week in the Peace Corps—a mixture of thoughts between This is the most brilliant thing I’ve ever done! Where in the world am I, and where’s the running water? and How long till I go home again?

At the top of the hill, I found three buildings. Two were clean and crisp, freshly painted, and looked brand-new. The third was under construction, cement grey, and only half-finished. Rebar poked up out of the roof where a second floor would be built. There were a number of palm trees that were heavy with bouquets of coconuts, leafy banana trees, manicured hedges, and springy, salad-green grass spread about the crown of the hilltop. Que linda, as they say in Spanish.

Let me introduce to you Eleazar, Chad announced as the last of us stumbled atop the hill. A man with curly black hair stepped forward and waved.

Welcome to my home. He spoke in clear English. It has been a dream of mine to open my home to missionaries and pastors and anyone who needs a place to stay. I am pleased to say you are my first guests. Everyone follow me, and I will show you to your new home. Those who had just put down their bags grimaced as they picked them up again before following him into the half-finished building.

It should not have surprised me to find that Mexico was much different than what I had envisioned. There were lush, rolling hills filled with towering trees and dangling vines. The terrain was not a dusty wasteland at all, but was rich and tropical. The people were proud, welcoming, and gracious. I could understand why the Mayans would have chosen this site to establish their civilization ages ago. Less than two miles away from Eleazar’s home, the ancient ruins of Palenque hid under the overgrown jungle. Over a thousand years ago, Palenque was a powerful Mayan city. The people built an impressive array of temples, tombs, pyramids, ball fields, and observatories of the heavens.

The Mayans are remembered most famously for two things—their brutality and their cunning in astronomy. Even with modern science, we have not achieved a more accurate calendar than the one the Mayans developed. Based on a fifty-two-year cycle of the stars, its precision was practically perfect. Planting dates and seasons for crops, solstices, ritual dates—everything they needed was projected out for five thousand years. It really is a mystery as to how such a calendar could be devised. Fifty-two years was longer than the average lifespan, so how did astronomers learn enough in their lifetime to develop such a calendar? It kind of makes you wonder.

The Mayans were brilliant, yes, but also bloodthirsty. Their civilization, politically and religiously, was entrenched in the occult practice of human sacrifice. They are known to have pulled out the beating hearts of their victims to appease the gods. They smeared the blood of the pumping hearts upon their statues and idols of the gods and danced in the skin of their victims. But here in this moment, the violent history was a mere shadow and a whisper. Time had moved on; only the skeletons of the empire now remained.

That night, I sat on top of Eleazar’s roof and watched the golden sun melt into the jungle. The atmosphere staved off the coming night with hues of deep blue and magnificent pink. I wondered what would become of my life as I watched the dazzling sunset. I felt like I was on the edge of something big, but the fog had yet to lift. Everything was different, and I knew somewhere within me that there was more to life than all I had tasted.

I grew up in an affluent suburb of Phoenix—the kind of place where sixteen-year-olds drive Hummers and Mercedes. Even though I had been immersed in the upper-middle-class suburbs for years, it still bothered me to show up at school to a sea of luxury vehicles filling the parking lot. It never seemed quite right, as if it were somehow unhealthy. But I couldn’t complain much, because I had a car when I turned sixteen, too. And I truly loved my maroon interior ’93 Grand Prix with a bumper sticker that read, Save a cow, eat a vegetarian.

Even as a teen, I found Scottsdale’s image-driven lifestyle subtly disturbing. So when it came time for college, I went north a few hours to Flagstaff, a place where the mountain air is always fresh and the people feel genuine, like a well-worn pair of Levi’s. I never really got caught up in the mad scramble to get ahead in life while in Flagstaff. That lifestyle didn’t click with all the people who would rather hike in the vast aspen groves of Hart’s Prairie or climb the San Francisco Peaks to peer into the nearby crack in the earth that is the Grand Canyon. That was all part of why I felt somewhere within me that life was too bold to only be about money or careers.

Chapter 2


Two weeks had passed since our initial arrival. My feet dangled off the back of an empty truck bed. A metal frame held a blue canvas cover that flapped in the wind over the top and sides of the bed to shade me. I watched as the road flew from under the back of the truck like a silver fishing line flying off the spool into a blue mountain lake. The morning sun had not yet risen above the horizon, and the clouds slept as a peaceful blanket draped on top of the jungle. I was by myself now. I had hitched a ride from Palenque to go find some of my traveling companions who had been immersed in the jungle without a translator, and with my modest Spanish, I figured I could help.

Before I left the United States, I made a promise to myself that I was going to keep an open mind about what I saw and experienced. I knew that I was bound to see a different side of God than the one I had been accustomed to. I was sure that what I may encounter with God in the Third World would most likely shock and challenge me. Although I was ready for it, I did not realize at the time how true that was. I believed that God had to be bigger than what I knew of Him. I figured if I had already seen all there was of God—if I understood the extent of His ways and knew how big of a box I could put around Him—then I wasn’t sure I was all that thrilled by Him.

I stared out the back of the truck as a large sign posted on the side of the road whizzed past me. It warned that I was now entering Zapatista territory. The bold black and red letters proclaimed that the guerrilla freedom fighters would not heed the governing authorities and for all to be aware of the faction’s power. In that moment, I remembered when I was in college, reading stories in Spanish class about the Zapatistas. Back then, they seemed like scary stories of people disappearing in the night at the hands of mysterious marauders wearing black ski masks. I read news stories of rebellions and communiqués, manifestos, and armed forces fighting the establishment. It seemed odd to unknowingly find myself in a geopolitical hotspot. Moments ago, I had simply been content gazing at the scenery and eating my bag of galletas. Now I wondered if masked men carrying AK-47s would stop the truck and demand of me secret passwords or allegiance to Subcomandante Marcos.

I banged on the side of the truck when we passed the white building of the Maranatha Community. The truck halted in the middle of the road, and the driver leaned out of the window and nodded at me. I hoisted my pack from the truck and jumped onto the cracked pavement. I found myself standing in a remote village in the jungles of southern Mexico. It was a living National Geographic.

The air was hot and sticky—thick like cream. Tree branches hung low under the weight of the humid air, tired because each day was hotter than the last. Wood huts hid among the foliage next to a small, whitewashed building. It was the only clean-looking place I could see. A young white man popped his head out of one of the nearby huts. He looked rather confused as he approached me.

Eric? he asked in a quizzical tone. It was Jimmy. He was stocky and clean-cut. He was the son of a preacher, and he looked the part. Even though Jimmy was a few years older and not at the same crossroads in life as I was, we both shared the desire to travel in the pursuit of truth and God.

Jimmy looked relieved as I approached him and we shook hands. Man, thanks for coming. It’s been tough out here, Jimmy explained as he showed me around.

Yeah, word got out that it’s been a bit rough with the language barrier. My Spanish is pretty rusty, but I hope I can help.

It’s certainly different here than in town, Jimmy explained. Most people only speak the local dialect. Marcos, the pastor, is the only one who speaks both Chol and Spanish, and we only speak a little Spanish ourselves.

I gazed and marveled at the place because I never pictured myself in such an antiquated—or rather, such a tribal—setting. A haze of smoke lingered in the air. Chickens walked at my feet, plucking little tasty things out of the dirt. Roosters crowed, even though the sun was up, its rays sifting their way through the tree branches. I could hear pigs rustling in their own filth not too far from where I stood while dogs wandered, barking up and down the street. Clothes hung on metal wires draped in the sun, and smoke rose from a stack of rocks that had been fashioned into a stove. Two women prodded the fire and stirred a pot that would soon, unfortunately, be breakfast.

We have no idea what is going on with everybody else, Jimmy continued. Had no idea you were comin’. The only news from outside we get is when Francisco brings us a fresh tub of drinking water.

You drink out of a tub?

Yeah. Jimmy chuckled. It’s over here. He walked over to a relatively small red plastic container and lifted the lid. When you’re thirsty, you come here with your Nalgene and scoop some out. After a few days, it gets a little slimy, so be careful. But that’s around the time when Francisco comes back to bring fresh water and news.

Jeez, this place is rustic. I thought places like this only existed in Papua New Guinea. Just then, a small man dressed in a plaid shirt stepped around a corner. He had tired, bloodshot eyes and a weathered face that silently spoke of years of pain and struggle. His small frame looked tough

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