Hallelujah! It’s here.
Finally a Christian who thinks travel is a topic that merits some thought and wants to help us engage in the global phenomenon that has struck our wandering millennials (myself included).
And Stephen Liggins (an Aussie pastor/Sydney Missionary Bible College lecturer) didn’t disappoint. Although I gulped a little at the “why I wrote this book”, and wondered whether we were going to have a tirade against travel, my early fears were relaxed as soon as I got stuck into to story after story from round the world. Here was something who agreed with me that the Bible thinks travel is good!
The author takes us on a journey, seeing that travel is always in the presence of God (chapter 1), is good (chapter 2) and then gets very practical about how to connect with Christians (chapter 3), how to connect with those who aren’t Christian (chapter 4). In chapter 5, he considers travelling in a suffering world, and then finishes off with practical advice in chapter 6 and some questions to our motivations in chapter 7.
I love Stephen’s travel tales, that were so relatable in nature, that if you swapped stories, they could have been mine or yours too. Finding himself in awkward group settings doing things he didn’t really want to be doing. Finding himself chatting alongside a beautiful female late at night and wondering what he will do. Wondering whether he should go on that holiday for months on end, or save every penny for other things? These and so many more positive situations and stories.
This book oozes so much practical advice for on the road, that it would be a great read for someone as they travelled. And yet for me, what it is most helpful for is learning from Stephen’s personal example and lifestyle. The conversations he has had. The way he decides to make choices. The dilemmas of life.
But sadly two things irked me about this book.
- how gospel truth is communicated
Stephen has a beautiful view of God. I mean the Bible has a beautiful God, so it would be disappointing if we didn’t communicate this. But it is clear from His writing that Stephen really thinks this is worth living for. And he conveys it well, particularly in early chapters about the nature of a God who is with us, and about the nature of this world.
But I found he also rather dominated the book with a list of instructions. I don’t know whether this is a difference in how Aussies communicate authority or commands, or just an older generation attempting to speak to a younger one, but it seemed to me to be like a parent listing of a list a “do” or “don’t do” things before their child headed off to explore the big, bad world.
Refrains that struck a lot were his thoughts on alcohol, sex, drugs, money etc. And I’m not sure I would have disagreed with much of what he wrote, but I did wonder whether it needed brought up as much as it did. They are huge issues while travelling, but I’m not sure the solution is to tell us thrice over about his “two drink” policy, wise as it may be (and caveated as his advice was).
Even the chapter on suffering turned into a comment on sex, drugs and racism (amongst other things).
2. cultural suggestions taking precedence
There were a few points in the book where I just thought Stephen was writing to a very conservative, western audience (socially so, not just theologically). Socially, I wondered whether he needed to make as big a deal over how to chat to people about Jesus or how to apply some things.
For example, as a “Christian worker”, I can choose one of two ways to take a conversation when asked what I do. I can make it awkward and tell a very forthright description, or I can give some response that will seem relevant to the listener. Primarily because I want to be known for being human, before people know me as a Christian, I often do the latter. And opportunities (through questions I ask), often open up windows of opportunity to say more. There are other ways of doing things that aren’t his.
Equally, on hammering on about the importance of the evangelical “quiet time”, Stephen could well lose a respect from a traveller who has learnt far more flexibly to commune with God. Obviously it depends a lot on the traveller and their spirituality, but I could easily imagine the type of person who is on the road, won’t appreciate being forced into such narrow definitions of what it might be to have a healthy communing with Him.
Despite this, I was comforted that Stephen on his travels obviously was someone greatly used by God and a real person with a love for other humans, no matter who they were. One doesn’t often get a letter back from a woman who said (pg. 122):
Lovely to hear from you again. I can clearly remember that boat trip. It was a time in my life when I had strayed away from Jesus. I was fascinated to meet these two guys who were full of the joys of life and liked travelling to discover new places as I did. I remember being somewhat surprised when you said you were training to be ministers. This blew my perception of what a strong believing Christian was like, completely out of the water. You seemed so normal and alive [and] seemed to get on with everyone on the boat….I often thought that meeting the two of you was a pivotal point in my coming back to Christ.”
What marvelous warmth of faith and personality that meant that this was just one of many stories in the book! And things like that made me confident that regardless of what I disagreed with culturally and in emphasis, that this was a book that I would happily give out to my students and my travelling friends to help them and me as we travel this world together. Much more could have been put in such a volume, but I’m very thankful that this author has opened the door for far more thinking on this topic at an understandable level! May the conversation continue…