Pre-order “Travel: in Tandem with God’s Heart” today

 

 

 

The final manuscript has been sent off to the publisher, the printing will start soon, and come October, they’ll be making their way to a bookshop (or online retailer near you!).

For the cheapest price so far, you can pre-order it here (with free postage to the UK)

If you’re an Amazon junkie, it’s available through their normal pre-order system.

Or if you want it on the Publisher’s (IVP) website (free delivery if you buy a couple more to give to your avid travelling friends and family): click here

Finally, I’ll be touring Ireland (with a few UK stops too) with a “Travel Experience” event this academic year, so you can buy reduced price copies at all of these events.  Details tbc.

Here’s what others have been saying about it:

I have been travelling internationally for 45 years. I wish I’d been able to read this book years ago – it would certainly have made me travel more thoughtfully: it’s a travelogue; it’s theology; it’s cultural education; it’s mission challenge all rolled into one. A fascinating read.

– Peter Maiden, International Director Emeritus of Operation Mobilization and former Chairman of Keswick Ministries

Loved it! What a marvelous journey through the stories of Scripture (and the author’s life) that will challenge, encourage and widen your perspective, not only on travel, but also on the amazing One who created it all. In a world where it is easier than ever to work or study abroad, this book deserves to be widely read.

– Sinead Norman, International Student Ministry Administrator at International Fellowship of Evangelical Students

Peter Grier gives us excellent, fresh ideas for honouring God with our travels, and helps shape perspective on mission, tourism and the meaningful welcoming of international students.

– Alan Tower, National Director of Friends International
If you’d like to help me spread word about the book, host a “travel experience” evening to get people thinking about the topic, or have me to speak, I’d be delighted to consider any invitations.
Thanks in advance!  Happy reading!
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Travelling “In Search of Ancient Roots” (Book Review, Stewart, Apollos Press)

On my annual leave this year I travelled to some of the ancient Christian sites of the Bible (in Athens) and of the early church (in Egypt and North Africa).  Experiencing such reminders of history, of the global Church and of ancient roots, was a powerful thing that got me thinking.  Is what I believe now, what they believed then?

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Reading this on Areopagus Hill, looking up at the Greek Acropolis.

Living in a fast changing, post-(Roman)-Catholic Ireland has its challenges.  I could imagine that when any culture comes out of a period living under a particular way of life, that it takes a while for people to stand on their own two feet and consider where they are going next.  All the energy was poured into divesting ourselves of the old way, without much thought to where we’ll go now.  And much as we like to think we’re rational creatures, always logically assessing what to believe and how to act, I think we’d be hard-pressed to paint that picture.

Some are very perceptive in that way.  One student who met me last year said

“I’m on my way to becoming an atheist.  That’s where I want to be, because of what I’ve experienced of the [Catholic] church, but I haven’t honestly done enough thinking to defend my position.”

And equally that’s what we find when we come to churches as well.  Thousands have decided that Catholicism is not for them but that they still find Jesus attractive and true, and want to worship Him.  And so how do they do that?  Well they start their own church.  And start it with everything that Catholicism was perceived not to be.

Was it perceived that Catholicism had too much structure?  Start a church that claims to have no structure and is just led by the Spirit!

Was it perceived that Catholicism didn’t allow room for questioning?  Start something where you can question everything.

Was it perceived that Catholicism had such a majestic view of God that you could never know Him?  Start something where Jesus is very personal and the intimacy of the Holy Spirit is emphasized in all the services.

Was it perceived that Catholic doctrines of infant baptism, the Mass and liturgy were too much like institutionalised religion?  Get back to the “early church” and have baptism upon belief, breaking of bread round meals and informal worship in houses.

And so that’s what we’ve had.  Tens of new churches popping up in this city, all who look to correct the ways of old.  Perhaps before moving on to say how this book is very helpful at speaking into that situation, we’d do well to note one final cultural thing that plays a great weight in this setting.

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Exploring what the ancient pillars of the Church were, and how to stay in line with them.

As individuals decide to start new churches (many claiming Divine mandates), many of them will refuse to look outside themselves to do it.  Traditional denominations like Anglican, Baptist, Presbyterian and others are perceived as foreign (and in some cases, are culturally foreign, given most of their leaders are trained abroad in a very different culture and some struggle to differentiate between culture and gospel).  And so much of the resources in the English speaking world, do come from British culture (and America).  But partly because these cultures are different, and partly because we, as Irish people, have our hearts set against learning from those who ruled over us (whether perceived Catholicism or British rule), we struggle to do anything but experiment with our churches.  We would rather do this, and see what works in Ireland (pragmatism) than learn from others.

Now there are some advantages of this.  But also, we’ve hit some pretty major problems.

In our experimenting with claiming its the Holy Spirit who leads us (outside of human means), we’ve let church leaders get away with poor leadership, abuse and have seen churches where the priest-like-figure has just become another personality or extremely gifted individual.  Church discipline is no-where to be seen.

In our reacting to a system that struggled to allow room for questions, we threw the door open to everything and start to question everything without limit.  You’ll find some leaders who don’t think God is sovereign over the future, some who expect Heaven to be realised now on earth, some who claim to be above Doctrinal statements, some who think they have found the keys to reforming the church that no others have found before and others who think they can emphasize that God speaks to them in so many ways outside of scripture, that scripture takes a back seat.  Heresy is rife, and largely under the radar of most of us, who all see the great heart of those making such statements.

In our wanting to escape a picture of God as a grey haired old man in the sky, who had little to do with everyday life, we’ve sought to make God entirely comprehensible and relevant, bringing him down to our own image, worshipping Him as if He was our best mate sitting beside us at the GAA and shunning anything that seemed too grand or majestic.  That was the old way of life.  We’ve got a new covenant personal Jesus now.  The creator-creature distinction in our theology, that emphasized how “other” God is, how mysterious some of His being still is to us, and how above our way of thinking His purposes are, is now lost.  Every service, we have lost a sense of His majesty and our finite nature.  We are on the same plane, in a way we never ought to be.

Finally, in our desire to run from institutionalised sacraments, we have bolted to the only other extreme we thought there was.  Instead of saying baptism has some influence on our salvation (as Catholicism does), we declare it to just be an outward symbol for one service where we invite all our non-Christian mates in to hear our story.  Instead of receiving grace (for salvation) through the Mass (as Catholicism teaches), we abandon any relevance of the Lord’s Supper, pretend they are only symbols and even mull over whether they need to be bread and wine at all (why not baked beans and banana, in a meal together at home?).

Given we’ve come to this “reactionary Christianity”, it’s no surprise to me that many who seemingly came to faith are falling away from it, and that so many who abandoned the Roman Catholic Church actually come back to seeing its extreme advantages compared to the experimental fellowships they’ve encountered since.

To those who’ve encountered any element of this shallow “evangelicalism” (which I would argue is no evangelicalism at all), I can recommend reading Kenneth Stewart’s book “In Search of Ancient Roots”.

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Kenneth starts out by outlining the perceived beauty of a system (like Catholicism or Eastern Orthodoxy) that purports to believe the same thing throughout all ages, across all nations.

His main points in the book to me, were that:

  • such systems aren’t really as united as they appear at all, across all parts
  • such systems aren’t really united across history in what they have believed
  • there is great historicity in evangelical doctrine all the way from the early church

Now given how complex a topic this is, I’ll not delve into how well I fell Stewart makes his case here.  You can grab a coffee with me for that.  But it’s well worth the read, particularly for those of us in our Irish setting.  It does however, come with the warning that it’s not for the faint hearted.  It’s a meaty book with many a juicy morsel that will kickstart an interest for you in reading church history, if you haven’t ever had one before!  But don’t be put off.  Why not let it challenge you, let it raise questions for you, and let it provoke you to worship a God who has always been faithful throughout history, even (and especially) through a messy Church.  Why not grab a friend and read it together?

Not all those who wander are lost?

[Guest Post: Alex is a small-town extrovert who loves to travel and meet people with the hope of building genuine relationships to the glory of God. He lives in Louisville, KY, USA with his wife, daughter, and son, where he drinks coffee, makes too many references to Middle Earth and Hyrule, and prays for a future ministry of equipping redeemed repenters for the ministry of the saints throughout the world. 

If you would like to Guest Post, I’d love to hear from you.  We take all sorts of angles on faith and travel, as long as they stay within the rough ethos of the blog (you don’t need to agree with me on everything!!)]


When I was attending university, I noticed a trend in social media and popular culture where people who loved to travel or experience the great outdoors were posting, tweeting, or even wearing the phrase, “Not all those who wander are lost.” At first I was excited, thinking that I had suddenly discovered a host of kindred spirits who shared my affinity for High Elf culture. I was disappointed to find, however, that most of them did not realize the egregious error they were making (to my eyes) in taking that passage woefully out of its original context in J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings. The full excerpt is actually:


All that is gold does not glitter,

Not all those who wander are lost;

The old that is strong does not wither,

Deep roots are not reached by the frost.

From the ashes a fire shall be woken,

A light from the shadows shall spring;

Renewed shall be blade that was broken,

The crownless again shall be king.

The Lord of the Rings, p. 170 (emphasis mine)

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Photo (C) mine.  Carlingford Lough, February 2018

What popular culture was using to exalt an often self-seeking version of wanderlust was actually a poem about a man whose family and kingdom were stripped from him yet spent his days patrolling and “wandering” the land in order to protect people who didn’t even recognize their own fealty to him, all because this man believed in a prophetic poem, a poem that promised he would one day sit on the throne that was rightfully his and dispel the shadows that oppressed his domain. This excerpt is not an advertisement for hiking in your local park but is a phrase about trust and perseverance being rewarded with a rightful inheritance. In fact, it reminds me of another passage about a man and a promise:

By faith Abraham, when he was called, obeyed and set out for a place that he was going to receive as an inheritance. He went out, even though he did not know where he was going. By faith he stayed as a foreigner in the land of promise, living in tents as did Isaac and Jacob, co-heirs of the same promise. For he was looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose architect and builder is God.

Hebrews 11:8-10 (CSB)

Abraham, too, was a man who wandered, “even though he did not know where he was going.” He did this because God told him to leave the land of his fathers for a land where he would become the father of “a great nation” and he would receive blessings from the Holy Creator God — in fact, “all the peoples on earth” were going to be blessed through Abraham (Genesis 12:1-3). He left the comforts and joys of his homeland because he faithfully believed in the goodness and mercy of God, not even dwelling within permanent buildings or walls because he was looking forward to the City that only God can design and build. His wandering was one of obedience and service because he not only followed God’s command to sojourn in a foreign land, but he also blessed people along the way by his sheer proximity. Sure, his travelling blessed people financially, but every time someone joined his household they were brought into the spiritual blessings of God (Genesis 17).

Like Abraham, we ought to travel while recognizing that we are only able to do so because we have been blessed financially and spiritually by God. Without the providence and provision of God Almighty we would not have the means to leave our front doors, let alone our countries. Every cent in our bank accounts is there purely by the grace of God. On top of that, He has blessed us spiritually so that now we are free from any self-seeking desires to “escape” the hum-drum rigor of daily life in pursuit of romanticized greener lands. We can enjoy our travels through the lens of Christ, knowing that all those who confess that Jesus is Lord and believe that God raised him from the dead are now foreigners in the world, citizens of a Kingdom still to come, and are being upheld by the promises of Jesus to be with us always, “even to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:20b). We can enjoy and appreciate the gifts of grace found in meeting new people, trying new foods, and the countless “sub-creations” (to borrow a term from Tolkien) of image-bearers of the Creator without becoming enslaved to those things. What’s more, we can share that same freeing message of the gospel with people in other countries.

I am not arguing that your salvation or sanctification and growth in godliness is directly proportional to the amount of travel miles you have stored on your credit card. While I do encourage others to travel and experience new cultures and countries, I recognize that it is simply not feasible for some to take time off from work or dip into their savings accounts to travel the world in pursuit of broader horizons. And I am not suggesting that we should “sanctify” our holidays abroad by making them into evangelistic events (Peter wrote a post addressing that kind of mindset here).

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Photo (C) mine.  Belfast Bible College, February 2018

I would like to suggest, however, that we broaden our definition of travelling: instead of relegating the word only to transatlantic trips or cross-continental excursions, we can view travel as any means of moving from one place to another. Since this world is not truly home for Christians, we are effectively spending our lives at a hostel called Earth, which means that we too are constantly travelling and living in temporary housing like Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob before us. We do not have to leave our towns in order to possess a theology of travel because those same truths are evident to us wherever we lay our heads. But once we do have a theology of travel, then every trip that we take to the store, every holiday we take to Spain, and every Saturday we spend at home with the family becomes a part of our mission to genuinely love and serve the people around us. When our love is sincere, then making disciples of all nations is not a spiritual checklist for clergymen but a natural, authentic, and long-term outpouring of our hearts, wherever we may find ourselves that day.

Whether we leave our homes or stay where we are, we should remember that e are still sojourners in a foreign land, working and waiting for our King to return and fulfill his promise to take us to our true Home. If we hope and trust in the return of the Light to chase away the shadows in this world and in our souls, we too can wander and not be lost.

Resources for the traveller: help needed!

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Thankfully I was able to combine travel writing with a few strategic mission planning retreats with my work (IFES).  Here, we prayed for the world from near Nice, France

Please ‘scuse the short break from posting.  I’ve been off on my travels and travel writing and just wanted to be focussed on that for a while.

In addition to this great work that Stephen Liggins wrote, I’m writing an (hopefully) accessible theology of travel (called something far sexier) for IVP UK with lots of juicy stories and practical questions, applications and thoughts from many wiser than me.  I guess busses always come at the same time, eh?

Have any thoughts on faith and travel?  Do get in touch using the contact page or by commenting below.

But equally what I’d love your thoughts on, is a resource that myself and a few others from The River Communities are dreaming up for the seeking traveller (or any traveller for that matter).  Something that they can use on their travels to help them experience God and to break into their way of seeing the world.  Travellers are often seekers of something, and many of them are open to new thoughts and experiences.  Away from home, people will try anything once, if they meet a friendly face.

If you’re interested in this project, it’s in VERY early stages, and we’d love you to be involved or to chip in.  Again, please do drop me a line – I won’t bite!

And finally, if you’re not so sure about the whole book/resource thing, but want to keep online connections going, why not write a guest blog post for me or a series like Marie-Louise did?

Thanks to you all for reading!

Love and prayers,

PG

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Just one pub that I got to spend a few hours writing in, while I wandered the streets of London for a week over New Year.  I normally care little for my surroundings, but I’m trying to teach myself that God’s glory can be displayed in inner city things, as much as in the wilds of nature.  C’est vrai?

10 for travellers to read in 2018

I’m a big reader.  Partly because I do think readers are leaders.  You could spend worse time and money then learning from the best of thinkers and practitioners round the world.  And so here’s 10 (mostly recent publications) that I got for Christmas, that I think you might like!

Journey: an illustrated history of travel

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This coffee table book is a dream for the traveller!  Tracing the history of travel from several millennia ago, its pictures and bitesize format will lead to hours of fun facts and stories you may or may not know about travel.

For the more serious historian or reader, there’s enough to whet your appetite, and enough to send you off down a hundred other rabbit trails of things you want to investigate further.  At £25, it’s not cheap, but I intend it’ll get every pence of value sitting in my living room for others.

Is Shame Necessary? (Jennifer Jacquet)

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I’ve written before about how much of the world we see through our own cultural lenses.  Understanding shame/honour culture I think is key to understanding so much of history, world politics, religion and much more of personal interactions in our lives.  While those from such cultures will find this little book humorous and highly entertaining to see a westerner approach such a common sense topic (to you), it is however needed for us over here who have never thought the world could be seen that way!

The Strange Death of Europe (Douglas Murray)

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I was quite nervous of this treaty on immigration, identity and Islam, but it was recommended to me by those across a spectrum that I respected, and so I have started reading a book that appears to be a Conservative treatment on a topic I tend to take a more liberal stance on.  Whether Islam or secularism will dominate Europe in the decades to come will be a question that will not leave us for a while, and this, regardless of your opinion, is a well researched book.  Travelling Europe without thinking these questions could be blind travelling.  I can feel my pulse racing…

The Qur’an (Nicolai Sinai, Edinburgh Uni. Press)book4

A tsunami is coming!  After several hundred years of rigorous historical criticism of the Bible, this work has drawn together where we are with historical criticism of the Qur’an (just starting).  It’s a brave work to some extents, given what happens to those who suggest the Qur’an might not be the revealed message of Allah, but on other levels it will only be the start of fierce, western dragging of the text through critique in the decades to come.  I’m not sure how much westerners doing this, or how much us pretending Islam is a text-based religion will take affect, the way Biblical criticism did, but it’s a key read if you’re interested in the same discussion as the book above, or are travelling any Islamic state.

book5Zero Waste Home (Bea Johnson, Penguin)

Given the environmental impact on the world that travelling often makes, I would hope that most of us who travel, would be conscious of this, and looking to cut down our negative impact on the world, and on future generations (should there be future generations).  Bea Johnson is one of the leading voices over the years on cutting out waste from our lives, while still living normal lives.  I could imagine travellers will relate to her life of simplicity and absence of “stuff”.  The consequences are large enough, if put into action, that I’d suggest reading this one with a friend (to chat it through) or taking it slowly.  (And yes, I’m aware it’s ironic I’m buying a book on reducing waste…but I do want others to borrow it from my library, and that’s easier than Kindle!)

book6Cork Folk Tales (Kate Corkery)

Because every country/region has a rich story to tell, and folk tales are often what grab the imagination and help us see the mundane with a splash of colour.

Determined to Believe? (Prof John Lennox)

I’m a big Lennox fan.  I helped to organise his tour of Ireland recently, have sold hundreds of his books over the years.  Having said that, this looks like a polemic against a straw man Calvinism, veering many miles away from where Lennox is best: science (and faith).  I read it reluctantly while praying and longing for the day that the protestant/evangelical church will see that reformed/arminian distinctions don’t need to bitterly divide us.

“[insert Calvinism or Arminianism] will be the death of the church in [insert country/place]”.  No, no it won’t.  And if you think it will, your God is quite small.

JI Packer wrote a marvelous uniting book, speaking into a Christian Union situation in the UK that was divided on the topic.  I hope I’ve not judged this book by its cover.  Why for travellers?  Free will, determinism, compatibilism (and other variants) shape every culture, country, and thing that we do.  To understand culture well, you’d be wise to look at such questions, philosophical as they may be.

The Silk Roads (Peter Frankopan)book8

It was a bestseller of last year in many charts and one that is key reading to those who had western-centred history lessons.  “The region of the Silk Roads is obscure to many in the English-speaking world. Yet the region linking East with West is where civilization itself began, where the world’s great religions were born and took root, where goods were exchanged, and where languages, ideas and disease spread.”  Fascinating!  Things that will shape your travels in many places.

The Westminster Assembly (Robert Letham)

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Perhaps the most abstract and oldest on the list, I’m reading this to get my head around why the Church wrote some confessions of faith, what context they wrote them into and whether they are relevant for today.  Not inspiring to you?  Well stop just for one second.  We all have s system of beliefs, much as we like to say “I just believe the Bible and follow Jesus”.  The question is whether your system of beliefs matches what the weight of scripture teaches, freeing you to live in the best way in life: Jesus’ way?  I’ve found these truths to be invigorating in general life but also life-giving as I travel the globe, but am still wrestling with whether my reading of them was what the original authors had in mind!  If you’re not reformed in theology, I might suggest that you read up on it anyway, so that when you critique it, you’re reacting to the best of it, and not the worst.  A good rule anything you critique in 2018, in fact.

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Because Jesus has given me a love for all things, and my mother has given me a love for what she loves: birds.  And this book to identify ones will be fun when I’m walking the banks of the Lee in Cork, or travelling to far flung places with tropical birds.

But don’t be put off by long lists:

  1. Your passions will be different to mine – don’t feel constrained by what I like!
  2. One chapter a day will get you readings a huge number of books this year.  Build it into your routine, or grab others to discuss what you read.
  3. I’ve deliberately not mentioned all the regular books I read to warm my heart with the good news of Jesus.  I always try and prioritise Bible reading and these, over anything else I read.  Academic views will change, but the Word of God will never change.  However, these titles may help us better understand the Word of God.

Travelling in light of eternity

Marie-Louise Disant writes her final post in her series on a female perspective of faith and travel.  You can find the rest here.


“But why are you so bothered about it, if you believe in eternity?”, asked my “Workaway mum”.

She was right too. I was sweating the small stuff. In light of all that is yet to come, and who I will be, it was not all that important; and yet, it was taking up more space in my mind than it should have.

Belief dictates action

Knowing that I was created for an eternity with my Creator changes things. It changes what I do, how I do it, where I do it etc.

As a daughter of Christ, I’m sent to make disciples of all nations (Matthew 28:18-20). He sends me in the name of the most powerful ‘trio’ ever to exist (verse 19). Though travel isn’t necessarily a fulfilment of this mission – increasingly, the nations are coming to us – this is a big part of why I travel. But my Jesus doesn’t just give me a mission to fulfil, He walks it out with me, standing right by my side every step of the way (v20).

As I walk out this plan that He has for my life, sent in His name and accompanied by Him, I also need some basic guidance to help me do so. If I decide to accept His good gifts and live my life for Him, instead of just for myself, His Word is the best place to figure out how.

Sometimes, we are the Pharisees.

In the days of Jesus earthly ministry, there was a strict Jewish religious sect called the Pharisees. They were completely obsessed with living ‘perfect’ lives according to the Law of Moses. They became so focused on obeying these laws that their hearts grew cold for God. They longed for public recognition of their piety instead of God’s grace and mercy.

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Fota Botanical Gardens, Ireland 2016 © Marie-Louise Disant

One day, one of them, a lawyer, asked Jesus what the greatest commandment of all was. His goal in asking this question was to determine who had ‘right’ interpretation of the Law – the Pharisees, or the Sadducees whom they despised. Jesus told them that first, “you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind” and second “You shall love your neighbour as yourself”.

Sometimes, in the pursuit of an outwardly-looking ‘perfect’ life, we forget about what really matters. Sometimes, we are Pharisees. We become so focused on living a life that looks organised, beautiful, productive, moral and ‘successful’, that we forget why we live at all.

You may ask, “but Marie-Louise, why bother living a life like that? I have faith in Jesus as my saviour, then that’s enough (Ephesians 2:8), right?” My dear friend, you and I are not saved by some stroke of good fortune, or by our own intelligence, but by God’s gracious gift of his Son (Ephesians 2:9) in order that we would then go on to do good works (Ephesians 2:10). True faith in Jesus results in good fruit (Galatians 5:22-23) out of love for the One who loves us first and best. Why? So that all people will know that we are His disciples, by the love we have for one another (John 13:35).

Even though the expression of my love for Jesus is often quite faulty and marred by sin, I still want those around me to know about him. What’s the best way for those around me to know about him? By loving them. Unfortunately, that’s not what my life proclaims to those who know me best. Those who are closest to me, see my faults, my brokenness, and choose to love me anyway. What a beautiful proclamation, and a wonderful example of Christ’s love for us!

Love is…

“But Marie-Louise! Love is just an emotion, you love pizza, family and life with the same word!” Perhaps! … but only if we believe what our society tells us about love.

The bible, in yet another countercultural plot twist, tells us something a little different:

“Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends.” – 1Corinthians 13:4-8

Love, in new testament scripture, is usually translated from the Greek word “agapé”. This term refers to benevolent actions toward another person, rather than just to feelings for another person, as is evidenced in the passage above. We can love like this, only because He showed us his love first. Christ’s sacrificial example of servant leadership and love, is the best example of all-encompassing love that I can think of and the only one I would strive to replicate in my own life. Every other example that comes to mind, falls short. Though I will never be perfect in this life, I would much rather follow a perfect role model, than an imperfect one.

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Umbria, Italy 2016 © Marie-Louise Disant

Scandalous grace + unending love

“But Marie-Louise!” (What? More protest? Gosh – you are one hard reader to please!) “That’s a ridiculously tall order! I can’t be perfect, and neither can you, you just said so! I certainly can’t love perfectly either!”

My dear, dear friend: our weakness is the point.

No matter our struggle, whether it is to love or to let go, to work or to relax, to overcome addiction or to find structure; our inability to do so is the point. We are not called to live this life alone, struggling to measure up to some immeasurable self-imposed standard. We are created to glorify our Creator and enjoy a relationship with Him! Like every relationship, it’s not always going to be a perfect, happy one. But unlike every other relationship we have or will ever have, this relationship is with the One who embodies perfection itself.

He embodies Love, and patience, and kindness. His love does not envy, or boast; His love is not arrogant or rude. His love does not insist on its own way; His love is not irritable or resentful; His love does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. His love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. His love never ends.

We are offered scandalous amounts of grace, in order to enjoy a relationship with our perfect Creator. Our Jesus doesn’t give us all these commandments to follow and then leave us alone in that struggle. He does it all Himself first, showing us how. Then, hands held out towards us, he offers to walk it out with us, if only we’ll accept His gift.

Our God doesn’t give us all these commandments without a) fulfilling them Himself first and b) walking them out with us, every step of the way.

Travel in light of His calling, His gift, and our acceptance

In travel, just like in life, how I behave reflects what I believe: about myself, about others, and more importantly, about my God.

He has called me to love Him first, and then my neighbour. He has offered relationship and love, and showed me how to do both.

He has shown me that without the hope I have in Him, I am lost.

I no longer need to travel to find out who I am or who He is. Now, I can just travel out of love; love for those I travel with and to and love for the One whose message I carry.

No matter where or when I will chose to travel to next, I know that I am not alone.

Where there is a will, there is a way.

But where there is my God, there is infinite possibility.

“God’s work done in God’s way will never lack God’s supply.”

― James Hudson Taylor

Travelling Beyond Tourism

Marie-Louise Disant writes her penultimate post in her series on female travel.  You can find the rest here.  Thanks for reading!


“Will you remember me?”

Those four words hit me like a freight train.

No language barrier could confuse it; her eyes overflowed with hope in a brighter future, love for the One who would give her it and peace in the assurance of it all. “P” and I had met only a few minutes earlier. She was sowing together a beautiful formal top, to go with a matching skirt. Here we were, in her native country, hours from her hometown, yet hidden away. She was studying sowing in a fish-farm/sowing-school moonlighting as an educational facility for Christians who, in this country, were widely persecuted.

With her basic English and my even more basic knowledge of her mother tongue, we had managed to communicate to one another that I worked as a nurse and couldn’t sow half as well as she could, and that after her education here, she would go back to her village and hopefully earn a living to support herself and her family. She told me she was progressing well and nearing the end of her first and final trimester of training. “Will you remember me?” she asked, as our conversation neared it’s end. I looked back at her quizzically. She repeated her question, “will you remember me?”

In reality, it’s not just travel that changes us, but life, and the people we encounter throughout.

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What catches your eye first; the signs for guided tours of a city, or the people of the city?
Here, what catches your eye first; what’s on the outside, the attractive, luscious greenery or what’s on the inside, the marks of a laborious but fruitful education?
South-East Asia, 2017 © Marie-Louise Disant

Rocking the boat

When we let the Lord into our lives, we see life and all that it encompasses, in a whole new light. In the eloquent, wise words of C.S. Lewis,

I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen: not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else. 

If we allow those we meet on our travels to broaden our views, question our opinions and observe our traditions through a fresh lens of inquiry, we might just learn a thing or two. When we allow God to rock the boat, He makes the ordinary Extraordinary.

Those whom I’ve met on my travels, like “P”, or travelled with, like “M”, have shown me this in a very practical sense; sharing a beautiful meal with me when they had little to share themselves, or opening their home to me at a very unpractical time for them.

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A glimpse into a South-East Asian fish farming setup…
What greater purpose can our small businesses and workplaces serve? How can we glorify the Lord and serve Him and His people in our respective, secular jobs?
This fish-farm trains persecuted pastors and their families to ensure that they might provide a continuous and stable living for themselves. 
Radical, by David Platt, really helped me work through this question.
South-East Asia, 2017 © Marie-Louise Disant

Travelling beyond tourism

Travel isn’t just about tourism. Travel, I believe, is more than just ticking the boxes on our bucket list or fulfilling our lifelong dreams and desires. It’s more than seeing the sights, tasting the local cuisine and wandering the walks.

Travelling beyond tourism, to the people, has taught me much about life, and most importantly, about my God. It has taught me about who He is (His identity), and where He is (everywhere, from the top of Ilha Grande in Brazil to the depths of the Shehy Mountain valley in Ireland) and what He is (His character). The Lord has taught me these things through His word, but also through His people, and those I meet that are not of Him.

In the beauty of His Creation, I see Him.

In the restoration of His fallen, broken people, I see Him.

In His unending grace, travelling mercies and offer of relationship with us, I see Him.

We will all experience travel to some degree, though some more than others. How we experience travel however, may well differ greatly from one person to the next. We will travel for different reasons and in different seasons, but at some point, especially in today’s world, either we will become travellers, or the travellers will come to us.

As others travel more and more, most of us will encounter different cultures and worldviews at some point, even on our very own doorstep.

Are we willing to look past the veneer of obvious but lacklustre tourist attractions, to the people, their worldview, their culture?

“P”, with only four words, had managed to turn me upside down and inside out. Suddenly filled with emotion, I found my entire view of travel challenged. Was I mostly going to remember the fish-farm, the cities and towns, the night markets; or “P”, those I had met in the underground churches and the missionaries that worked with them?

What will you remember from your travels?

Who will you remember?

How will you remember them?

Stepping outside of the Bubble

[Marie-Louise Disant has been helpfully guiding us through a series on travel from a female perspective.  You can find the rest of her posts here.]

As a Christian, it’s so easy to be engulfed into a Christian “bubble”. Although I cherish the moments I get to spend with people I love, it’s very easy to just relax into that context and not question it anymore. Spend a significant amount of time with anyone and just like rolling two different colours of Play-Doh together, you’ll see that the two become harder and harder to distinguish from one another.

Although there most definitely is value in spending time with other Christians, sometimes you need to step outside of the bubble. I would argue there is equal value in spending just as much time with non-Christians, perhaps even travelling with people with a worldview different to our own!

Quality over quantity

After trying the travel-for-the-sake-of-travel, stereotypical backpacker-in-hostel method, I found that I wasn’t really connecting with all or even any of my dorm-mates (bar the odd exception, like that night in Berlin with the bouncer’s dodgy directions and the pretty back-alley garden bar. Or the night with the giant salad and the crazy Brazilian. But those are stories for another day…). Travel can be such a wonderful opportunity to connect with people from such different walks of life, if only you put a little effort and intent into it.

As this didn’t seem to be a good fit, I decided to go for an option that may bring less new friends my way, but rather ones I might really get to know: CouchSurfing! One such rencontre was with my dear friend M.

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Friend at first word

M.’s CouchSurfing profile immediately struck a chord with me. What’s the equivalent to love at first sight for wanting to befriend someone at the first word you read of theirs; friend at first word? She was looking to learn more about food, something I love and know a good deal about. I wanted to learn more about sustainability, something she loves and knows a lot about. It seemed like the perfect match for the seasons we were both in! We exchanged a few messages and before I knew it, I was knocking on a perfect stranger’s door.

Learning transcultural and transcontinental friendship

Fast forward 5 years and we’re still in touch, and have travelled together on two different continents and shared more than I could ever have imagined! Nurturing a long-distance friendship can seem hard, but it’s often just about the little things; a call at important times of the year, a postcard from a place you’d talked of seeing together (actually going together to places you talked of seeing one day), a handwritten letter every now and then…

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M. brought me on my very first “fin de marché” experience. We collected all the unsold fruit and veg at the end of the local farmer’s market and wade ourselves a delicious, zero-waste, local, free meal! 
France, 2015 – © Marie-Louise Disant

I may not always succeed in being the friend she needs, but if you aim for the top rung of the ladder, you’ll at the very least reach the halfway mark. I hope I’m at least a little closer to being the friend she needs than if I didn’t try at all. Travel in any form will bring scores of opportunities to meet new people; young and old, from all cultures and walks of life. It’s then up to us to make the most of those opportunities, and decide with whom we will be more intentional about maintaining a solid friendship long after we first meet.

When opposites attract

M and I may have completely different views and opinions, but it turns out these very differences are what led us to the plethora of wonderful experiences and conversations we have shared so far. What started off as an exchange on our respective eating habits and knowledge on sustainability, progressively lead to an exchange on our unique cultural and spiritual experiences.

Sometimes, a little meeting with Ms. or Mr. Different is exactly what we need.

Sometimes, seeing someone else’s viewpoint helps us better understand our own.

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Another adventure M. brought me on, lead us to an island off the coast of Brazil. 
Without her, I may never have gone to South America – a wonderful experience that broadened both my taste buds and my worldview.
Brasil, 2016 – © Marie-Louise Disant

Engaging with M.’s worldview brought me to question mine; why do I believe what I believe, rather than what M. believes? What if her worldview explained life better than mine; what if she had better answers to difficult life questions?

The questions she asked on my worldview lead me to research the historical evidence for Jesus, and the cultural context of the various epochs referred to within the Bible, amongst other topics. They helped me reaffirm my faith in Jesus and who He is (John 3:16), know better why I believe what I believe, and explain more readily why I believe what I believe (1 Peter 3:15).

Our friendship (and others similar to it in diversity) has helped me stand more firmly on my own two feet, regarding my faith, and the reasons for it. She has reminded me of why I follow Jesus and strive to keep Him as Lord over all of my life.

Do you or would you spend time/travel/live with someone with a completely different worldview to your own? Why or why not? In the words of this blog’s author, let’s grab a pint or a cuppa sometime, so you can share your thoughts on this too!

Travelling the world to share…

“I shared the gospel with someone tonight as I travelled through China”

Ah, good, I guess.  Well done!

There are a few reasons why I’m never generally jumping up and down at such statements evangelism while travelling.

Why?

Well by “sharing the gospel” people from my circles generally mean this:

“whatever short summary of the good news they have rote-learnt from memory and just divulged over someone in six sentence summary format”

For everyone that will have limitations:

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  1. Cultural

For many westerners, they come from cultures which delight in direct communication.  Does my bum look big in this?  Well, yes, yes it does (ok, that’s an extreme but…).  “Telling it straight” to someone will evoke a sense of truth and in many, pride.

But to those who do not come from a “direct” culture, they are often deeply offended at such directness and pressing them to respond individualistically to a set of western-orientated presuppositions.  Particularly when it is in front of a group – the honour of their intelligence, worldview, friendships and whole way of thinking could be at stake.  It makes them recoil from even considering what the person is talking about, because the means embodying it is so shameful.

2. Theological

Many protestant cultures also are shaped by a guilt/innocence worldview where we describe our short summary in terms of God creating us, us doing wrong, feeling guilty, Jesus being innocent, Him taking our punishment, dying on a cross to make us forgiven and legally right before God, and Him coming back again for those who how have His righteousness.  Other western ways of sharing things might be along the lines of “Two ways to live” or “Four Spiritual Laws” or others such thinking.

But what about someone who has never thought too much about guilt or innocence, but is steeped everyday in the shame of not living up to familial, social, and cultural expectations or is craving the honour of the elder person they really respect?  That guilt/innocence presentation will have completely not connected with them, most likely.  In fact, it might take them one step closer to thinking God has little to do with their life and problems.

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TRAPPED!  In our cultural way of thinking.

Despite both of these, I would want to make two push back points:

Don’t let these negative experiences of short pithy gospel presentations push you into silence.  So often I can be so judgemental of how others do things, that I never speak, or never thank God that He uses (and has used) me even in my frailest of moments and stupid actions, to work for His glory.  Surely that is the Bible’s emphasis and should be our emphasis.

Gospel summaries are fab!  And I encourage all my students to learn one or more, so that they can snappily summarise what they think and believe.  It helped me spiritually, more than I’ve ever been able to share it!  But like anything in life, they’re not the golden bullet.  They all have weaknesses, all fail to convey lots, and depending on who you’re standing before can be (my old supervisor used to say,) like:

Frodo in the Lord of the Rings coming into an Ethiopian café when the football is on TV.  He shouts “Come Celebrate with me!!  The ring that was lost is now found and we are on our way again to Mount Doom where it can be destroyed and we can all be free!  Join us on our journey.”  To the Ethiopians, they have either no concept (or twisted ones) of all of those words/phrases, haven’t a clue what weird creature is excitedly speaking to them about this strange thing, and wouldn’t know what the journey looks like anyway.  And so they go back to watching football on the TV.

You see, Christ’s Lordship cannot be communicated in six sentences!  The everlasting and infinite God has chosen (in His wisdom) to reveal Himself using the frailty of human words, spoken into a particular culture at a particular time.  He has done it at that length and meant to do it so, because He knows best.

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And it’s wonderful.  The fact that He is Lord means that regardless of what I am talking about or doing, that a gospel of His Lordship is hovering over it.  I am as close to His Lordship as I am talking about brushing my teeth, as I am when I share my six sentence gospel summary.  Because ultimately He is Lord over teeth-brushing!  I am either doing it for His glory, or I am doing it from duty (good or bad) or legalistically doing it out of service to another god.  He is returning to bring us to a land where no decay or tooth-brushing will be needed!  Cheesey, but an example of how close things are to everyday situations that people can relate to!

So what does this look like in reality?

Well, let’s get this straight.  I don’t want to say that we must learn every culture and their way of speaking and acting, so that we become experts to all cultures.  Some gifted evangelists may think that’s what being “all things to all men” (2 Cor 9) is about but I think I disagree.  It’s impossible.  You can’t expect everyone to have cultural awareness of every culture.  Perhaps to specialise in knowing one cultural background, maybe.  But not that everyone will master everything.  Why do I say this?

Well, in me moving to Cork, I was moving from a British guilt/innocence culture to an Irish shame/honour culture (not to the same extent as Middle Eastern, but still massively moreso than British).  Now I have one of two choices: stay living in guilt/innocence culture, or try and get used to shame/honour culture.  And whichever I choose, I will alienate others and resonate more deeply with some.  It’s a choice that take a lot of time normally.  But I can’t live out both worldviews, unless I segregate relationships and all of my life.  I can be culturally aware of the clashes, but I cannot live both.

I am naturally inculturated.

I cannot sit above culture.

I am human.