Hot off the press! Travel: in tandem with God’s heart (IVP UK)

It’s here!  From October 18th (today!), Travel: in Tandem with God’s Heart is available on:

The Publisher’s Website (*ebook and paperback)

Amazon and with free postage to Europe: The Book Depository

The Evangelical Bookshop (*cheapest, and includes free postage to UK)

Unbound Cork (*10% off when you enter “welcome” as giftcode when paying)

All good local bookshops

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Christianity Today interview about “Travel: in tandem with God’s Heart”

A month or two ago I “sat down” with a like-minded traveller from the other side of the globe, and had a Skype which turned into this Christianity Today article.  It’s been one of the joys of this whole process – being introduced to top thinkers and practitioners in various settings and from various theological backgrounds – what a joy!

Do check it out!

#TravelinTandem Chapter 3: Extra Material

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One of the souks, where we started off

BLOG POSTS that relate to this chapter:

A book review of Ministering in Shame/Hono(u)r Cultures which delves deeper into some of the issues I’d raised.

The potential consequences of getting shame/honour culture wrong: martyrdom.  And then some feedback from those far wiser than I.

God’s Big Picture is one classic that I recommend everyone reads at some point.  But for those of you who aren’t readers, here’s it on video.

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Souks are more relaxing for some than others!

Tangential thoughts somewhat related to the chapter:

Top tips for a day in the souks

More material about souks and culture

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Trying to ascertain what goods are genuine local ware, and what are imported or replica kit, is hard at times!

Feedback from readers on the chapter:

“For this chapter alone, the book is worth it to even the most experienced Christian or cross-cultural worker.  The implications of this chapter are so profound, I’ve to go away and think more about it all, and how it affects my life, nevermind those travelling overseas.” 
(A kind, retired, reviewer in Ireland)

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Further along the Arabian window, you see temperature gauges on the street – this wasn’t as high as they went!

#TravelinTandem Chapter 2: Extra Material

[This is extra material to go alongside Chapter 2 to “Travel: in Tandem with God’s Heart” (IVP UK, October 2018).  Video content, photos, questions, blog posts and responses will be continually added over time.]

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The stunning remains of ancient Tunisia that helped me name this blog, but also speak into what the chapter finishes with: beautiful ruins

BLOG POSTS that relate to this chapter:

This one is a link to Dan “The Rebel Cyclist”‘s  blog who shares of his broken moments.  You’ll meet him throughout the book several times – he has an incredible story to tell, I’m sure you’ll agree!

What about when I can’t stomach intentionality in my travels and just need rest, and only rest?  Here’s one for you.

On why travel doesn’t restore my faith in humanity fully.

More on “aljabr” and why “beautiful ruins” have stuck with me so much.

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I did say they were stunning, didn’t I?  Not a tourist in sight.

Tangential thoughts somewhat related to the chapter:

a. Find labelling everything a ruin, too depressing?  Good news.  Christianity is the only worldview who allows you to stare into the blackest of black, and still have great reason to hope.  So please don’t stop looking into the black – it makes His rescue all the more incredibly bright!

b. I mentioned how our own stories can so often dominate the conversations we’re in, or be the things that we choose to define ourselves by. 

That, done for the wrong reason, I said leads to making less of Jesus’ story and more of ourselves.  We invert the “He must become greater, I must become less”.

But what does the opposite look like?  Some will never mention themselves, will shake their head when you compliment them, and will pride themselves in asking amazing questions to open up conversations about others (and they can be good questions).  But this, taken to the extreme is equally problematic.  People know nothing about you as a human, because you’re either always asking questions to get others to talk or telling people about an abstract Jesus, when they really just would be more impressed to see what difference He makes in a real human life.

Chapter 6 will explain more of what living for Jesus’ story really looks like.  But from this chapter, you’ll tell that our silences, our questions, our stories and even our evangelism, all have their “beautiful” side and their “ruin” side to some extent.  But before I’m into another blog post…. 

c. Travel as an educator

The secular mantra is that travel educates.  It’s wonderful because it stops any objective bigotry or thinking we’re better than anyone else.  All humans are wonderful….or so the story goes.  But much as travel can educate, it can also create the most selfish, absorbed people ever, who have no ambition to truly humble themselves and learn.  We’ll meet one of them soon…

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Fun video to go withthe chapter:

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A Roman Colosseum in better shape and with far fewer tourists than the one in Rome – another beautiful ruin in Tunisia

10 top Christmas gifts for Christian travellers

Coming up to Christmas, here’s 10 top gifts for those with a heart for travel and for Jesus.

  1. A travel experience

Experiential gifts are not everyone’s cup of tea, but travellers will normally respond well to them.  A voucher for a stay at somewhere stunning.  Money off flights.  A particularly unmissable experience in a place they are going to.  Yes, it’s money quickly spent, but we all have things we value, and its so often memories for a lifetime.

2. A holiday for a single missionary

Sound weird?  In my introduction to my book, I mentioned a lass who was in an Islamic setting who couldn’t holiday by herself without cultural shame or danger.  All she needed to get time off was someone to come and say that they were happy to go somewhere with her – easy!  Even male missionaries can be like that (much to my surprise).  I was in a classy holiday resort with a male missionary recently and was solicited by so many local female resort workers, that I was very glad to have someone else to point me to Jesus!

3. Reading vouchers for something they can take with them

Dan’s solo cycle round the world was enhanced greatly by his pastor giving him a reading list of all sorts of incredible things to read.  He grew so much in his faith through reading, particularly in the countries where no-one spoke English and he had hours to spare!  Why not buy some Kindle books for someone?

Books and pictures in one….

4. Money for photos to be printed/framed/put on canvass

Travel memories will be incredible, but having a few photos rarely goes amiss!

5.  Travel resources for those with kids

Travel can be easily perceived to be a thing for single people.  But the percentage of the industry revenue that comes from single parents travelling with kids, or families travelling, is increasing and very significant.  But what about those who do find it hard to travel with kids?  Well, I’ve already mentioned these incredible resources from Immeasurably More Designs, made to increase their knowledge and enjoyment of the world, as well as being mad fun to play with!  Check them out here.

6. Travel experiences for those not able to travel

How about doing something to take a disabled friend out on a trip, or an experience that let’s someone less privileged capture the magic of the world around us?

The local train from Cork to Tralee is disability friendly for most, has some stunning mountain views and is only 13 euro – a great day out.

7.  Shaping your travel plans around visiting mission partners 

It may cost you a little more, but why not visit that mission partner of your church, and find out about their lives and context, so that you can better pray for them in future?  Or how about sending their kids a prezzie or two, so that Christmas day away from home can still be exciting for them?

Visiting CUI mission partners in countries that are allowed to be named.

8. A gift of hospitality

What money do you ever set aside to serve those who visit our lands?  Most people mentioned in the book of Acts came to faith while they were away from home.  If you don’t have time to meet such people yourself, why not donate regularly to the local International Student Cafe outreach near you, or to a River Community that reaches travelling people with the good news of Jesus?  They’d love to even hear of people supporting them!

9. A gift to those we meet

For myself, as a student or young professional, I always cringed when (and if) I made it to a church service of an amazing church where I was visiting as a holidaymaker, and the offering plate was passed around.  I knew that I was spending several hundred on my week away, and would continue to do so that day on things.  But I would never dream of putting money in the collection.  Similarly with those I was visiting – rarely did I think of going out of my way to give them something lavish, instead of treating myself.  Or simply to the needy person I encountered on the street in one place.  Buying them lunch would be no harm to them, to my pocket, or society.  But I hadn’t budgeted for giving money to others.  I touch on ethical situations like this in Appendix 1 of the book.

10. Oh go on then…

Well you’ve probably guessed by now.  Number 10 might be a certain book on Travel that I recently wrote.  Or if you’ve read it already, why not buy a copy for a travelling friend and read it with them?  Oh, so you’ve done that too?  Well, hosting an evangelistic gathering on the theme would be easy to do and not too expensive!

How your Christian Union can make the most of travel

I told one church leader what the seminars were at the Christian Union (student-led, interdenominational mission team on the university campus) Weekend Away:

Travel,
Conversational evangelism,
Community and Hospitality.

“I hope the students choose the one on evangelism – it’s far more relevant to mission on campus than the others” replied the church leader.

But is it?  Should we just cancel the other seminars and have everyone narrow their focus to evangelism?  Asides from the dualism of his assumptions, here’s 5 evangelistic reasons I think he’s missing out:

  1. Most people explicitly mentioned in the book of Acts that come to faith, do so while away from home.  There are thousands of International Students on our campuses from some of the most unreached places in the world.  If we understand travel, we’ll understand them and be able to prioritise getting alongside them with open arms and warm hearts.
  2. God is a God of all peoples.  He desires that an international band of followers congregate round his throne one day.  It’s bizarre if our churches and CUs don’t mirror that by welcoming in, and even prioritising the “outsider”.  How can we do this?  Well, one way is by knowing and experiencing what it is to be an outsider ourselves, in other cultures, in other lands or even where other religions are practised.
  3. The CU who travels together on mission, often not only benefits the culture who has invited them to visit, but learns things they can put back into practice in their home culture far more effectively.  Perspective is an incredible thing that can shape every day – why not get your CU thinking through this travel option?
  4. Everyone has questions on our minds and yearnings on our hearts.  That’s what it is to be made human.  But we don’t always express them with our lips, unless experiences in life force those questions to the forefront of our minds/hearts, and unless we have those we trust beside us who we can share deep things with.  Travel allows us to share hours of the day together, to be vulnerable with each other, in a way that little else does.  Why not travel with our non-Christian mates?
  5. Travel dominates conversations, fills Instagram feeds and echoes longings on many student hearts.  Know how to relate the gospel to travel?  You’ll know how to relate so much of our culture to the gospel too, in ways that students will be able to relate to and understand.

So what does a CU that loves travel look like?  Here’s 5 further top tips of practical things you can do to help that involve travel, or understanding it:

To welcome the traveller:

  • A welcome week!  Whether it’s international students arriving at a far off place, or just Irish students from 20 miles down the road, it’s amazing to be welcomed by a warm community of people.  Speak to your staffworker or Friends International worker about running some basic welcome activities/events or having a welcome pack from the CU/local churches for every overseas student.  Wouldn’t it be amazing if the first person that every first year student met was a Christian, offering a warm smile, help with their luggage and a welcome pack?  Could you even offer the university that there’ll be Christians to pick students up from the airport?  Don’t just duplicate what’s already on offer!
  • A homestay program.  The college holidays hit and all local students go home to be with family.  But what about the international students?  They’re left alone and often with days that they aren’t away travelling.  Could you work with your staffworker to link them to local Christian families who’ll offer a warm home to visit around Christmas and Easter?  Often those friendships go far beyond the day that they visit!  And it’s really easy to organise – all you need to do is get word out there – even a 2 person CU can do that!
  • An International Cafe community space.  Once a week pick a cultural theme or activity, hang a few flags up, play some music and voila, you’ll have an international cafe!  The purpose of it isn’t to entertain people or to get huge numbers, but to build deep relationships with the local helpers, who are all Christians.  Sometimes a Bible study might run concurrently to it, for the many who want to find out more and are naturally curious.
A homestay program just needs a flyer (even a culturally insensitive one like this one worked fine!!) and a staffworker who can liaise with local churches who can host.
A more-fancy-than-usual event when we partnered with the local Chinese Christian Fellowship for Chinese New Year – they did all the hard work!

To travel with the local student:

  • The CUs across Europe that are most effective, are generally those that have community groups with leaders who live in the halls of residence.  Why is this?  Well, because of what we said earlier: people who journey alongside each other are vulnerable with each other too.  And even if that travel is only a twenty minute walk to lectures every day, or a trip to the shop together – the depth of friendship adds up quickly, particularly when people eat together in community too!  So why not start Bible study groups in your halls?  University College Cork CU even had a “3,2,1, GO!” rhythm in place, where they do a Bible study each week for 3 weeks, and then reach out with the good news of Jesus in small ways in their hall of residence on the fourth week (eg: Text-a-toastie and a question about God).
  • Don’t have halls of residence in your college?  Some colleges where most students commute in, have car-sharing arrangements or public transport where many of the people are students.  One student in Carlow offered a lift to a lady every day of term, and she became a Christian before the end of the year!  Another deliberately didn’t put her earphones in immediately every day, leaving chance for conversations with people to develop at the bus stop and as time went on.
Some of my first ever smallgroup/hall group, before a once-a-term formal meal which the whole hall of residence went to.

And so we could go on.  Have you seen good ways that we can all be integrating our faith with our travels as mission teams on Irish universities and campuses?  Let me know!

And in the meantime, please don’t just denigrate travel to the thing you’ll never think about, because it’s not as important.  God can use travel to revolutionise your CU and cause ripples across the nations: will you let Him?

#TravelinTandem Chapter 1: Extra Material

[This is extra material to go alongside Chapter 1 to “Travel: in Tandem with God’s Heart” (IVP UK, October 2018).  Video content, photos, questions, blog posts and responses will be continually added over time.]

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In the light of the Midnight Sun, Tromso, Norway – 21/06/15

BLOG POSTS that relate to this chapter:

On getting distracted with Genesis

On contrasting creation accounts – an Islamic theology of travel

On environment – something that needs far more mention than I could give it in the book, and probably fits in this chapter’s exploration of what it is for a world to be made good by God.  More here.

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What better to do than go hiking and camping 12 hours after we finished our first ever marathon?!

Tangential thoughts somewhat related to the chapter:

On evangelism: We sometimes think creation is good because we get to tell people about our creator.  “Aha!  They’ll never be able to deny him when they see this [insert scene]

But I’m not sure taking the quickest way to sharing of our God is always the best, particular if you have a thinker with you.  Partly because it immediately raises questions of suffering (as soon as they’re with us and see it together), that only written revelation can give a satisfactory response to.  If you’re wanting confrontation, perhaps.  And that’s not always bad.  But 90 times out of a hundred, I prefer to sit with people in their questions, and work together towards a solution, rather than coming with a perceived answer to someone’s non-question.  More on this another time.

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3am in the morning and still bright as daytime!

And your video for the chapter: enjoying life and all the random craic that comes with it…

Follow on episode here

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A rare walk through civilisation

#TravelinTandem Introduction: Extra Material

[This is extra material to go alongside the Introduction to “Travel: in Tandem with God’s Heart” (IVP UK, October 2018).  Video content, photos, questions, blog posts and responses will be continually added over time.  The introductory chapter is short, and so I include a special video with a short lunchtime talk I recently gave at a university.]

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The golden Atlantic shores of Western Morocco where we sat, 4 travellers together.

BLOG POSTS that engage with this chapter:

What Augustine never said

 

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Sunset by the crashing waves

Some tangential thoughts loosely to do with the chapter:

  1. Know any female missionary friends in settings where single females aren’t accepted so much?  Perhaps you could ask them whether they want company on holiday somewhere?  Often it’s the only chance they’ll get.

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One of several dinner-selling friends we made that day

A video made for students wanting to know why they should explore more:

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Can we please not just enjoy our holiday?

Responsibility is so often seen as the deadener of desire.  Like pouring cold water on burning embers.  But yet we all agree that some responsibility is good, some constraint to freedom.

Gravity limits us, but this is largely a good thing, no?

Living so that we don’t harm others is generally accepted as the way to go.

But what about when our harm affects people indirectly?  What about our environmental impact on the next generation and the world they live in?  What about our unsustainable travelling that doesn’t longterm benefit the local communities we visit?

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Taking a 16 hour bus journey to London was quite the experience, but not one I wanted to repeat on the way home!

Well so many of these things I’m still exploring, so here’s a few starters for people who like to learn in different ways:

AUDIO: General discussion on the topic on Radio 4’s “The Moral Maze”

ACADEMIC PAPER:

The International Centre for Responsible Tourism produce an annual journal with interesting articles.  Here’s a link to one edition with articles on airline impact.  Their Irish website is here.

Most of these centres, businesses or communities function on the basis that climate change is real, and that global warming is true.  If you’re not (for whatever reason) yet convinced by these premises, then do check out these two websites who collate peer-reviewed research on such things:

Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change

Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research  (Tyndall being a good Irishman!)

In particular the BBC article here, links to two research papers.

INTERACTIVE COURSE MATERIAL: the Future Learn website which has free courses like this one which may help you study in more interactive ways.

Here’s a link to one carbon-offsetting business, who take your money and invest it in sustainable projects across the world that take carbon out of the environment in various ways: Carbon calculator

Many of us will find in the early days of exploring this, that cutting flights and other high-carbon use things out of our lives is too hard to completely do it immediately, but may hide temporarily behind carbon off-setting as a means by which to transport ourselves into a more environmentally friendly life.  Answers to hard questions about that, can also be found on the website link above.

And of course, my preferred level of exploration: a fun book at a popular level which got me thinking far more: How bad are bananas?

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The Welsh Coastline last week from my plane home.

So are responsibilities like this going to deaden our desire for travel?

Well, I could imagine they’ll start reshaping our desires slightly as we grasp such benefits and reap the longterm rewards of responsibility.  And so ultimately we’ll leave more fulfilled than before, but only after going through the frustration of holding back somewhat while we learn this way of living of re-channelling desire.  I’ve learnt to excite myself with a different way of travel, not to travel less.

And if you decide unfettered freedom is better?

I think you’ll find it to be a cruel master that will still leave you craving for more, and yet remain unsatisfied.  If it’s anything like the sexual “liberation” that we’ve encountered in the west, and that many still push for, the results of it have left us having less sex and not enjoying it as much.  Or at least that’s according to Esther Perel and her famous TED talk.  And not only depriving ourselves of joy, but harming others too.

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A local Christian professor give the latest inventions that help to reduce the affects of global warming.

Pastoral authority in a travelling world

“All my congregation are travelling.  The older generation visit their children and grandchildren.  And the younger generation for work and just about everything from music gigs to sport to pleasure travel in and of itself. What should I say to my travelling congregation?  That’s what you should write on next.”

It’s what I’ve been told or asked several times in the last week or two.  So what’s my response?

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Travelling for the bank holiday weekend in Ireland: I made sure I went with other church family, and with the goal of mixing and mingling Christians with non-Christians too.

Well, although I didn’t write the book primarily for the church pastor, I hope that what I say can still be very helpful at demonstrating how to speak to someone with their heart set on travel.  In chapter two of the book, I touch on a [borrowed] metaphor for humanity that my blog name actually derives from – beautiful ruins.  Everyone on earth is beautiful but broken.  Everything on earth is beautiful but also fallen, to some degree on another.  But it creates life hard for us all.  Because it’s far easier to see the extremes of the spectrum in anything.  To brand people, things or viewpoints as entirely bad or wonderfully good.  And so pastors who have travelling congregations could quite easily do the same.  They’re looking for a quick fix to tell people to stop travelling and start committing to church.

“…quick fixes aren’t available in the Christian spiritual world.”

But I wryly smile, because quick fixes aren’t available in the Christian spiritual world.  Convictions of what church is, and other such things are taught and caught over years of pastoral ministry.  Even if I did think it was the answer to tell people to sit down and stop travelling (which I don’t, primarily), a book that told everyone to do precisely that, wouldn’t exactly be a best seller to travelling people.

But because there’s far more to travel that just “is it good or is it bad?”, I write to help people think for themselves and see both the potential and the harmful sides of travel in their life and the lives of others around them.

So the way I identify with my fellow travel-lovers, the language I use about it all, the emphasis I take and much more, will hopefully be an example or a sharpening to those who teach and those who lead churches, in how they can do similar.  A book about that, would only end up exampling and repeating so much of the same things again.

But a final note to pastors or those who are frustrated at the amount of travel their congregation or certain individuals do:

If I can boldly say so, I think in saying this, you’ve often been steeped in the same individualism as your young travelling congregation have.  Pleasure travel has thrived in the extreme individualism of the western world.  But so has pastoring-from-a-distance.  It’s amazing how we have churches now where everyone drives in from miles around, and never sees each other from Sunday to Sunday (or occasionally at the midweek).  Living out the tens of “one another” commands in Scripture (love one another, forgive one another, confess to one another etc) which seem to dominate the discipleship patterns of every letter in the New Testament, seem virtually impossible without seeing people from one week to the next!  Relationships will never thrive and sin can always be hidden from each other in such contexts.  Conversations will always be shallow after church on Sunday, if we don’t know each other better than that.

“So how was your week?”

“Oh, alright thanks.  I had a cold on Tuesday and work has been busy but good apart from that.  Did you see the football on Saturday?”

“Oh sorry to hear!  Yes, great game, wasn’t it?”

Etc.

But many of the younger generation won’t go to this type of church – they want real community.

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“They want real community”

And so as a pastor/elder, gone are the days where you can get away with saying “I’ll meet with you if you have a problem or if you’re new, but apart from that, I’ll focus on other things” (if you ever could say that).  I’ve heard it numerous times from students, that the student finds it impossible to get to know their elders or feel like they’re accountable to them, because they’re not known by them.  It’s led many of my students to find their church leaders authoritarian (because rebuke comes outside the context of deep relationship), or for them to not respect local church at all (just leaning towards a worldwide church and taking “elders” to be those who they respect across the city/world, because they actually feel understood and known by these people).

Now of course it’s a two-way thing.  And to willingly forsake a regular Sunday local meeting of God’s people around His Words and His sacraments, is just silly.  But I’ve rarely found young travelling people to be away so much when there is genuine connection and community.  It excites people, despite the messiness of true community being with people who aren’t like us.

What this means for city centre churches in big cities, or for churches that aren’t made up of geographically proximal people, is hard to see.  I think we have to be more creative than to tell people that they must just go back to the old way of life of living and spending time with all our physical neighbours (chapter seven of my book touches on why I think this).  But in other ways, I’m increasingly convicted there has to be more geographical proximity than we currently have in most churches in Ireland.  We must preach the gospel to ourselves and to each other regularly.  It’s partly why I believe Christian Unions see so many coming to faith, because of the beautiful [geographically proximal] community that models the good news for onlooking people.

(It’s also why, although I’ve been away from my Cork church two Sundays in a row launching this book, I’m quite content that I’m not forsaking the gathering of God’s people.  Not only am I visiting my sending church, and at a friend’s church on those Sundays, but I’m also intensely involved in the lives of my Cork church family during the week, often spending whole days with some of them (partly due to the flexibility of my job, admittedly) in ways that I can be vulnerable even with my elders).

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So in short?

Elders, please do be involved in your congregation’s lives and seek to know them and “one another” them regularly.

Travelling friends, please do seek to get to make yourself and your schedule open to rubbing shoulders with your elders and sharing your life with them.

It’s a two way thing.  The fault is rarely just in those we point the finger towards.

Further thoughts or advice?  Get in touch or comment below.