*All names and places have been changed in this article so as not to incriminate anyone, and stories may be mixed together for security and have happened over many years. For real accounts, please speak to me in person.
It was 45 degrees Celsius and we were escaping the city for an location unknown to me. You don’t choose such places for pleasure. We were wearing trousers so as not to culturally offend, but as the temperatures only got down to 28 degrees at night-time and there was no air conditioning, we remained bathing in our own sweat for most of the trip. The warm trickle from the shower gave temporary relief each morning, but we were soon back roasting again, a few seconds after stepping out of the shower.
“I want to see churches multiplying across the land”
But it was all worth it to hear words like the above. These were the bold words of one person, as we sat in an underground gathering of young believers in a secure location as the call to prayer rang out from the minarets across the land, reverberating on every street corner, in a country known to persecute people who were wanting to see growth of the Church. We’d turned our phones off so we couldn’t be tracked but even that would raise suspicions if someone was keeping an eye on our phone activity. Sitting in a training session with them all, and hearing them sing in their native tongue, native songs, was a powerful experience, as they shared their heart for their lives, their country and the nations. The feeling in the room was one of weakness and fragility, but the prayers were bold ones.
In many trips to very different cultures, this was my first experience like this on holiday, and I hadn’t even planned it. Nor would I know who to contact or where to go should I want it. It just can’t be arranged.
And that was generally what I thought about authentic experiences in general whilst on holiday. Meeting local people is one thing, but it is a rarity to be invited into anything meaningful in their lives, even if you’re around for a while.
But this once, it was different. I went on a one week holiday with a company who arranged a cultural and linguistic package for us, so that we could spend hours a day with local people who loved to share life with us and speak English (and teach us our first baby steps in their language too). Ranging from a top university professor telling us about the local history, sociology and anthropology, through to a simple teenager who wanted to further his career chances by picking up English, and several local business owners who shared about how they went about their businesses – over half the week was spent with around 40 local people, partaking of all sorts of fun activities.
It’s the type of thing you can’t find in many places for a holiday. And for many people, it wouldn’t be a holiday they’d want to go on at all. But as soon as its a regular package offered by a company, the experiences doubtless get less genuine, and the locals grow weary of endless streams of people who aren’t there to invest in the area longterm. So it felt like a privilege to be there on a taster package and it left me with many more questions that I had before I went, while still teaching me vast amounts, despite having been in the region before, and having read about it. It was one of the richest experiences I’ve had on holiday.
Just a few of the questions I continued to mull over after these trips:
- how is business run differently in our culture to another culture?
- how do you start a business in another culture?
- what type of business should an immigrant (us) start that would empower locals?
- should westerners accept random invitations from locals to Christian underground events without endangering them?
- how can we be sustainable in our tourism?
- how can English be used as a medium for trips, without colonialism becoming an issue?