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Knowing that I enjoy reading and bikes, someone recently lent me a small pile of books on the subject of cycling. Some were biographies and autobiographies of celebrated cyclists, some were about the sport and issues surrounding it, and one was called Cycling Out Of The Comfort Zone, which, having read a couple of books about people cycling round the world or across continents, I assumed was very much in a similar vein. In some ways it was, but it was far more than that - and the cycling element was almost incidental to the main thread of the narrative.

The book is by Charles Guilhamon, a French adventurer, and details the journey that he took around the world with his friend Gabriel de Lépinau on a pair of recumbent bikes - they're the bikes that you appear to be lying down on, with the pedals up in the air at the front. Having just finished university, the two friends took a year out to tour the world by bike, with a budget of just a few euros per day and the principle that they would not pay for any accommodation, but rely on the hospitality of others.

Their route, though, was designed to allow them to visit a number of people living in isolated or persecuted Christian communities across the globe. Guilhamon and Lépinau are both Catholic Christians, so their quest was to lead them to specifically Catholic communities, but the experience of such groups is common to Christians of all traditions in such places. Passing through Syria and Iraq they encountered those whose lives were made difficult by regimes driven by their Islamic faith. In Tibet they discovered those who were persecuted by the ruling Chinese. In Thailand and the Amazon rainforest they came into contact with Christians living in remote villages who were simply isolated from other believers by reason of geography. And in India, Senegal and Algeria there were other factors at play as well.

The book is written with a great sense of humour, vivid description and a clearly devout foundation of faith. It's a great read just as a normal travelogue and the scattered observations about cycling would make it a good read for anyone interested in that side of things. But the overwhelming message that shines through the story is that of the astonishing faith of these scattered Christian communities. Most of them are too isolated or remote even to have a parish priest - which, for Catholics, severely limits their access to the sacraments - but they manage to cope by practising the kind of communitarian approach to faith that is so evident in the Acts of the Apostles. I was particularly struck by the almost constant rhythm of prayer that is maintained by the Christians in such situations.

Living as we do in a culture where Christianity is usually accepted, if not always enthusiastically welcomed, and where we have regular and frequent opportunities to meet, worship and pray together, I wonder if we take rather too much for granted. The faith of the small Christian groups encountered by the two Frenchmen is almost overwhelmingly enthusiastic and their devotion to worship is amazing. Maybe we should pause every now and then and reflect on whether our commitment to our faith needs to be a bit more radical and thoroughgoing. In the meantime, if you want or need some inspiration, get hold of a copy of the book and give it a read.

Cycling Out Of The Comfort Zone by Charles Guilhamon (Translated by Juliet MacArthur) SPCK 2017 £9.99

Rev Ian Hayter

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Last updated: April 12th, 2019
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