And as I slept, I dreamed a dream…

Admin note: This is a short story titled The Pilgrims. It was contributed by Ryan Prins, a former student at Penn State, and originally published in 2009. We reprint it now because — let the reader understand.


Before me lay a vast desert. How long it had been since that wilderness had last seen rain, I could not say. Three years perhaps, or four. Long fissures reached like fingers across the clay-baked expanse. A few sun-scorched crags were the jealous residents of that wasteland. Allowing no creatures, no living things to share their kingdom, they were disturbed only by a light sand, swept by a fiery wind.

As I watched, the silence was broken by a deliberate beat, amplified by the harsh serenity of that wilderness. A legion of men emerged in the distance, marching toward me. Fifty men abreast, they passed not a hundred feet from where I sat in the shade of a boulder. Heads bowed, they trudged by, hooded in dusty brown robes that covered them down to their disheveled sandals. There seemed no end to the column; it stretched for miles, as far as I could see.

I drew closer and fell in the line next to a broad-shouldered man with a plodding step. He did not look at me exactly, but cocked his head slightly, revealing a bronzed face with a gritty countenance. The grizzled strands that escaped from his brown hood matched the stippled growth on his cheeks. Beads of sweat clung to his upper lip, occasionally brushed away by a rough tongue. I greeted him warmly, and was rewarded with a husky grunt.

“Tell me, sir, what is this company?”

“We are marching,” he answered.

“To where?”

“To the End.”

“To the End of What?”

“To the End of Man.” He seemed well satisfied by his answer, and silently trudged on, ignoring my inquisitive glance.

Undaunted, I renewed my query. “Why do you march?”

“It is our duty.”

“To whom?”

“To ourselves.”

This line of questioning bearing even less fruit than the last, I asked him what would become of Them. “What will you do when you get to the End?”

He seemed surprised at this, and retorted, “The End is the End. There is Nothing Else.”

I persisted, “There must be Something at the End.”

For the first time, the traveler turned toward me with a scowl. “There is Nothing Else,” he repeated. “We are Man. It is Enough.”

As he turned back to the road, he pulled from his mouth a small stone, no more than a pebble. Inspecting it, he smacked his lips twice, than placed it back in his mouth, sucking furiously. As I glanced around, I noticed a similar bulge in the mouths of many of the other pilgrims. I inquired of my guide as to its purpose.

The answer was obvious enough to him. “It sustains me,” he retorted with an especially loud smack. “But it cannot avail much against this heat, even for an hour.”

He pulled the stone from his mouth only to glare at me once more. “It is Enough,” he snapped, and popped the stone back into his mouth.

At this, we trudged on in silence for some time. Presently, my eyes were drawn to a small party on the edge of the endless column. Their step was lighter, their heads higher, than their comrades. Some of them peered about restlessly, scanning the desert for… Something.

I inquired about them. “They are the Seekers. Fools, all of them.”

“Why fools?” I asked. “What do they seek?”

The traveler snorted. “They search for More. A waste of time.”

“A waste?”

“Tried it once myself, when I was young; they will never find It. We do not need More. We have Enough. It does not help our Progress.”

At once, a cry rang up from the Seekers.  As one, they rushed toward a boulder set apart from the path the men followed. Shading my eyes against the sun, I could make out the glimmer of a small creek running out from the base of the boulder, bubbling from some unseen spring deep in the ground.

One man collared a young Seeker as he ran by. “Where do you think you’re going, little halfwit?”

“Oh it is wonderful, sir! They have found More!”

waterfallHis tormentor gave his arm a rude twist. “Bah! Do not waste yourself chasing such dreams! It is nothing but a mirage. You’ll stay right here. Don’t scorn your fellow Man; you’re no better than the rest of us.”

For one brief instant, the young man glared back defiantly. But in the next moment, his resolve seemed to crumple; with a final doleful glance at the other Seekers, he bowed his head and resumed his March.

I watched the other Seekers as they excitedly gathered the water, some drinking deeply, others filling a waterskin and running back to the column to share a fortune with their parched comrades. One returned ahead of the rest, not even pausing to quench his own thirst in his haste to give refreshment to another. He grabbed the first traveler he met and pressed the flask to the man’s lips. “Drink, brother!” he cried.

But his charity was unwelcome; I stared in disbelief as the man shoved the altruist to the ground, spilling his prize on the arid earth. “I am no brother of yours,” he returned. “And I have no need of your pity.”

The Seeker was aghast. “But only the water will fill you! What you have will never satisfy!”

“I daresay that’s as may be,” the man replied, as he drew his precious pebble from between his lips. “But this,” he gestured. “This, is Mine. Do whatever you like for yourself. But as for me, I have Enough.”

Disregarding the Seeker’s pleas and tears, he hurried toward the middle of the column, burying himself deep among his fellows.

By now, all of the other Seekers were returning with water. They ran to the front of the column, and shouted so fervently that the entire horde came to a halt. “We have found it!” they exclaimed. “Drink, and live!”

Their shouts were met with silence by the stoic pilgrims. Finally, one bolder than the rest came forward. Without a word, he accepted a flask from one of the Seekers and turned to face the column, raising it high. He paused briefly. Then, stone-faced, he slowly poured the water onto the ground. Turning to the Seekers, he growled, “Look here. We don’t need your new ideas.”

“No we don’t!” echoed the pilgrims.

“We can look out for ourselves. Man has always marched on, and so He will march to the End. If you are not with us, you are against us. Now stand aside. Do not hinder our Progress!”

A wave of fury rushed over the pilgrims, the first show of sentiment that I had seen from the masses. Once again, the swarm pressed forward.

The Seekers stood valiantly in the path, pleading with all those who rushed past, until, one by one, they all fell, pushed to the cracking clay by travelers who would not be turned aside from their goal. Row after row of pilgrims trudged on, heedless of the groans of their fallen comrades whom they now trampled into the dust.

As the last pairs of sandals pressed on, leaving behind scores of broken bodies, order was at last restored to the column.

One traveler turned to take one last glance at a shattered jug, its spilled prize still running along a small fault in the earth. Removing a pebble from his mouth, he licked his lips. A moment later, he replaced the pebble, turned, and was gone. Onward marched Man.

“If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water.” John 4:10




  1. Well-done. While i get the intent, i think, I’m going to choose to believe that even the most hardened pilgrims are not beyond redemption. and i want to stand in solidarity with them because they represent the plight of humanity; i clearly see my own tendencies in their behavior. Jesus, the living rock and the true Seeker, is graciously following all of us throughout this wilderness that is life and often times i willfully and foolishly refuse him though he never remains too far from me. So i don’t want to presume to be a seeker, but rather the sought after, and i want to stand with those pilgrims of old and pray that they may be newly sought and found by him too.

  2. Joe Schafer

    This posting is dedicated to the memory of The Well.


    “No good deed goes unpunished.”

  3. Joe Schafer

    Come to me, you who are weary and burdened. I’ll give you a pebble, and you’ll say that you like it.

    • Joe Schafer

      (That was my first attempt at beat poetry. The title is “We Invite You to Staff Conference.” I’ll do a performance if DavidW plays the bongos.)

    • :P I do have a drum from kenya lying around somewhere, so…

    • …too many innuendos for my small brain to decipher…

  4. Joe Schafer

    David wrote:

    “…even the most hardened pilgrims are not beyond redemption. and i want to stand in solidarity with them because they represent the plight of humanity – See more at:

    Yes. I’m not try trying to classify individuals as pilgrims or seekers. I see this as a Lewis-esque parable about movements and ideologies. I believe that was the author’s intent.

  5. Mark Mederich

    we must not be ruined by trudgers, must be cautious seekers (some mirages occur)& must not only seek/but get better in the Spirit

  6. I’m poor, pitiful and pathetic at poetry, though it does sound poignant and profound. Being not Tolkienesque, Lewisian or Narnian, I, too, like David, thought it was a dualistic dichotomy that contrasts two types of people: one stubbornly chewing a hard dry stone in their mouth, the other seeking refreshing water.

    I’m just thinking that many longstanding UBFers who read and care to comprehend this will firmly and strongly believe that they are like the latter who are drinking from streams of living water. Conversely those who won’t listen to them or highly honor them as indisputable top leaders are like those stubborn hardened bitter immature worldly disloyal unfaithful unrepentant people with a stone in their mouth that will only kill them.

  7. Joe Schafer

    Yes, Ben, they probably do. If they can go back to the same kinds of teachings and passages and are able to squeeze water from dry rock again and again, good for them. But there were (are) significant numbers of people in their midst who experience it as unbearable. Speaking for myself, I couldn’t bear to sit through any more of those Bible studies and messages. Especially after I began to learn from the outside church, I felt as though I couldn’t participate in ubf activities without turning off major sections of my brain, closing my eyes numbing my heart to the friends and comrades who had fallen by the wayside as the leaders urged us to stop talking nonsense and “go back to the Bible” or “renew your commitment to campus ministry.”

    If they were honest, they would admit that so many of them are burned out. Five years ago, the American staff began to openly say so. Leaders responded, “I’m so sorry” and kept marching on. One of the burned out people even said (nearly an exact quote, as best I remember): “I know that this is *my* problem, something that *I* have to figure out myself through prayer and Bible study” and the leaders nodded in approval. So even as our eyes were being opened to see that we were just sucking on pebbles, the recommended solution was for each person to go home and suck on more and more pebbles in the privacy of their rooms, despite the obvious facts that we had no time or strength or desire to do so.

    As I re-read Ryan’s story, I was struck by the words “To the End of Man” and “We are Man.” I was reminded of the teaching that man equals mission. They don’t just say that man *has* a mission. They say that man *equals* mission. Nothing more, nothing less. We were put on the earth to be like machines, marching along on through the deserts of our mission fields until we die and get a glorious heavenly crown or until we reach the glorious fantasyland of KOPAHN (which no one could ever explain) David L was absolutely right to point out how strange that KOPAHN idea is, bearing no relationship to basic New Testament eschatology. I would even say that its more like Islam than apostolic Christianity.

    And how can anyone deny that when someone starts dreaming of More, imagining something beyond the dry pebbles that ubf gives, those people are slapped down as the leaders say, “There is no More. We have Enough.”

    • It is so sad to hear when some say or think that More is polluting the so-called “pure UBF.” When I began to read More a few years ago, the rumor began and spread that, “Dr. Ben is only reading books and no longer studying the Bible.”

  8. Happypinky

    Dear Brian, Ben, Chris, Joe.

    I thinks it’s time for you guys to move on with your lives. I recently came back to UBF after spending several years in other churches. I loved many of them and was the leader of intervarsity group. To be honest, despite the flaws that ubf has, I came to appreciate it more and more and doing my best to rid of it of its flaws. In my chapter I’m seeing a great change. Not because of people who mumble about the problems all day long, but because they are willing to learn and change and most importantly do something in action. I have seen amazing things in other churches and intervarsity but there are things I hate about them as well. Your chit chatting all day does no good at all seriously. I’m thankful you brought up criticism of ubf and I have learned much but I don’t think its healthy to spend years on criticising organization due to its flaws. To cite one preacher ” Man up” What the church needs today is men who are willing to move one and take action. We have heard enough of your rant. I’ve heard for last 4 years and sick of it.

    Joe Schafer, you said you’re sick of ubf bible studies and messages. Well my response to you is make them better in your chapter and show the rest of us the great example. I’m a young, and I look up for people like you to bring changes. You were a pastor of church and director of a chapter, why don’t you exercises all the freedom and God given creativity. To me it seems like you have problem not just with ubf but with evangelicalism. I think also you should be bit more sensitive to your former ubf brothers and sisters who prayed for you and loved you. Imagine if your loved ones and kids just one day decided that they are sick of your flaws and focused only on that after years of being with you and etc. I chose to leave but now I’m back, because I want to try something beautirful and hope for beautirful. Whether ubf will continue or collapse, God decidesit. I will continue to serve him in either case. So move one and and serve God in ways you thinks it’s appropriate instead of chitchat ting all day on ubfriends.

    Brian and Chris to me you’re just a bitter people who are in danger of developing some OCD issues with ubf. I enjoyed this website before, but now I’m sick of it due to you and Chris. Seriously stop wasting your life and serve God. I’m seeing flaws in ubf, but I’m equally touched by many members openness to admit mistakes and change. So stop your obsessive rant and just move on.. I once cut of relationship with mentor because I was bitter, and I used that energy to serve my best in other church, and it was really a blessing and true way to heal. You need to heal man and healing wil only come from Christ and being committed to his will. I have friends from other churches and groups, like cru, intervarsity, and etc, and guess what, many of their leaders have gone throu so many horrible things that it breaks my heart. But many of them choose to move and receive healing in the process from God. Your criticisms was helpful, but now I getting sick of it seriously.

    Ben, I came to respect you a lot. but I think it would be better if your could show the rest of ubf body what church should be like more with your church. I think, you began a great initiative, but in my opinion more people would be persuaded by the beautirful changes and discipleship that occurs at Westloop. I sincerely hope it will occur soonI hope I can visit your church one day. Thanks four your courage.
    But, I don’t think ubf friends is healthy anymore. Because it really creates hatred in my heart for ubf and it’s people, although I should not. And this is not building up the body of Christ. I used to enjoy ubfriends including its criticisms of ubf, but it has become ubf hate website, although your tone is quite balanced. This is not the best way to bring reforms.

    One word: stop this repetitive OCD chitchats and show us the young generation some good real examples in action, not merely in blogs.

    • Joe Schafer

      Dear Happypinky,

      Thank you for coming out of the woodwork and speaking your mind. I really do mean that, in all sincerity.

      * I believe you speak for many ubf members who wish we would just go away and move on.

      * And, in a less direct way, you echo the sentiments of some people who have left ubf who think it might be more healthy for us personally to exit the blogosphere and quietly focus on personal healing.

      I will take you at your word that you really do want us to answer that question.

      My short answer to you is:

      What I am doing, I know I am doing imperfectly, and I will try to be open to correction from you and from anyone else. But in some fashion I must continue to speak up and interact with former and current ubf members, both in private and on social media, because the gospel compels me to do it.

      To carefully explain what I mean by that would take a while, more than I can fit into a comment thread. It would take (I am guessing) a series of three articles. And those articles wouldn’t be full of what you call OCD chitchat; they would be getting to the very heart of the gospel, which is what ubf claims to be all about.

      Although I have plenty of other things to do, I am willing to write those articles and post them on UBFriends. But if I agree to make that effort, do you agree to read them and think about them and react to them in a thoughtful way?

      Or is your comment a one time, hit-and-run thing? Are you for real, or are you a troll?

      P.S. In response to your comment, I have removed from this page some of the OCD chitchat that we were having yesterday just for fun. But all the substantive comments remain.

    • Sorry Happypinky for indulging and egging on Joe in our “OCD chitchat.” It was all done in fun and jest. It was my feeble attempt to not take serious matters too seriously. But that’s no excuse. I’m sorry that it was inconsiderate and insensitive to readers. Me bad!

    • Hi Happypinky and welcome! I must say, as an avid gay-rights supporter, I just love your nickname! How do you define “move on”? What would that look like to you?

  9. Thanks so much Happypinky. I am genuinely happy to read what you wrote. I wish that more and more people would boldly and courageously speak up explicitly as you just did, without pulling any punches or beating around the bush or being vague, implicit or indirect. I think your phrase “OCD chitchat” is quite creative, descriptive and direct! I actually like it.

    I think a communication such as your very well written comment is very healthy and welcomed, and definitely an excellent starting point for a genuine heart to heart dialogue.

    As Joe implied, I hope that you will continue to engage us, challenge us, rebuke us, call us out, correct us, and help us to improve as a good friend who speaks the truth in love (Eph 4:15). We are after all ubFRIENDS.

    But if you are a troll or a “one shot and done” deal, then to be honest I will be quite disappointed.