Making the most of your travels…

The call to prayer echoed hauntingly across the tower blocks as minaret after minaret sounded out for the final time that night, far below us.  We stood on the rooftop, watching across the night sky as one by one the lights went out in various apartments.  It was one of the few cool places we could go in the intense heat of the summer, when even at nighttime, it was a balmy 28 degrees.  Sweat was still dripping off my brow as I heard my friend draw his prayer to a conclusion:

“In Jesus name, Amen”

It was all I had heard of the last few minutes as my mind had been captured by the nasal melodies ringing out over the loudspeakers.  He looked over at me.

“How do you feel?”

I wasn’t sure.  I’d never had such stark reminders that this world was not my home, than the “other”ness of the sounds that hit my ears.  But the city before me was little more lost than the familiar bells that tolled in my hometown, reminding me of the empty cathedrals and apathy-filled churches.  Not to mention the “cathedrals” built more recently within a few hundred metres of my doorstep in Ireland, some open 24-7 to shoppers and others just crammed once a week with 70,000 adoring fans.  Although here, I felt like a stranger.  That night a tear fell on my pillow as I rolled over again, trying desperately to sleep.  I wasn’t sure whether my feelings were from spiritual realities that lay in front of me, or just because I was finding normal life utterly different and hard in this heat, or both at the same time.

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The next morning we rose early, each muttering prayers nervously under our breath as we packed our belongings and headed off to a secret gathering of believers at an unknown location.

The windows were closed and the singing was meant to be muted, but when the old songs of the native language started being played, the believers grew in passion, unable to contain themselves to the quiet whispers of joy.

“How do you feel?” he asked me again.

I wasn’t sure.  I hadn’t understood a word of anything that had been sung for the last few minutes.  But yet inside of me, something welled up, unable to be controlled by mere linguistic barriers.  I knew I was with family.  Family that I could find in increasing numbers of places in the world, whether in minaret filled cities, under cathedral dominating skylines or beside where modern day cathedrals forced comfort and apathy upon baying fans.  I knew that thousands of miles from my home, I’d found a welcome of far more significance than any other you could expect from meeting people for a first time.  A stranger had found a family.  And I loved it.

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It’s funny how it takes a trip away from home to open my eyes to things the Scriptures already have spoken about on my own doorstep, as well as the eternal realities that starkly presented themselves in the “other”ness that I met those days.  Firstly feeling a little lost in a world so different to my own.  Then starting to understand it more.  And further down the line, sadly often becoming numb to the reality around me as it becomes normalised just like my home setting.

There’s something about travel that keeps me in a learning posture, reminding me of my place in this world as one in seven billion people, and helping me to live in light of every person, culture and people I’ve ever walked amongst.  There’s something about travel which helps me see the world as only the Bible describes it: as utterly beautiful but at the same time in ruins – a fraction of the glory it once was.  And there’s something about travel that makes me yearn even more for a restoration to come – a new heavens and a new earth to explore, as time after time even the ecstacy of travel only seems like a passing thrill, earnestly preserved by as many Instagram posts and YouTube videos as I can manage.

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There’s so much good in travel that I never realised when I first (rather selfishly) booked that first trip away across the globe.  And looking back at all I learnt about God, His world, His Church, and myself, over those days, I’m not only glad I did book such things, but I now want to stop and think twice before (like in everything in life) I am tempted to tell someone else exactly whether they should or should not be travelling.  What if they could instead, see travel through the same lens that God sees it?  What if they had questions to help them make the most of their travels, and stories of other travellers to encourage and to warn?  What if they could travel, in tandem with God’s heart?


Travel: in tandem with God’s Heart is released on October 18th and can be pre-ordered through the publisher’s website, through my supplier in the UK (free postage to UK) or soon from my supplier in Ireland.  For more details of events near you, please see the events page on this blog, or consider hosting one locally yourself, to help others around you of all faiths and none, think through this key topic.

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Facing a task unfinished: the road ahead

[We come to the final summary post in our series on travelling to Unreached/Unengaged peoples.  We’ve already looked at 5 practical reasons why I think many unengaged peoples remain unengaged.  Number one was largely informative.  Numbers two, three and four were all problems that I haven’t found discussed in many missiological circles.  And number five was a reflection on my own heart and the equal dangers of that.  Finally today we come to the underlying cause of all of them.]


What is it that makes the traveller, travel?

What is it that captures our hearts and makes us lust after more, even though we know we’ll never have our fill?

Something selective in our memory that has us day-dreaming about the ecstasy that has gone before, and forgetting all the dull moments that came with it along the way?

Something able to put aside all the problems of the world, and any connection to any other part of reality, and lose ourselves in the freedom of jumping from the mundane and messy realities, through the picture-perfect travel brochure scene that was lying on our kitchen table, into a Narnia-like fantasy, without loss to anything upon our return.

Desire!

But how then does this ever end?  Surely, with so much to explore, and so little at stake, we’d be forever adventurers together?

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At what moment does the thirty-something-year-old wake up and think “I don’t want to explore those far flung paradise shores” or “A day at the office seems like a wonderful idea” or even more incredibly “oh, how I would love to have some screaming, pooping little creatures running round my legs, creating havoc, while I try to make breakfast for them, wash their messy clothes, change their nappies and get ready for work all at once“!

But for most, it seems to happen.  Our desire to feel at home and connected somewhere eventually wins over.

Perhaps those moments where the loneliness of travel finally gives us its final blow.  The moment we really need someone by our side, and we turn round in one of the world’s most stunning places, to find no-one there to share it with.

Maybe those times when family or friends are suffering or growing old back home and we’ve missed special moments with them.

Or just the lack of connectedness.  You have friends and people you’ve met travelling in every corner of the globe, can speak into soo many cultures and languages to a small degree.  And yet ultimately, those friends who are there for you every day to laugh until you cry and enjoy wine into the small hours of the morning?

Even moreso when you suffer.  The real test of friendship.  The places where older, wiser heads who have suffered before us, can be phoned at 3am and just sit with us in silence.

They’re back in places where the WiFi automatically connects when you walk into their home.  It needn’t be “home” in one geographical place like in the old days, but still somewhere where your shoulders fall an inch as you relax with the familiar sights, sounds and smells of it, and where google maps can be firmly kept in your pocket.

Home.

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But the trouble is that neither travel or feeling at home will ultimately leave you happy.  They will both eat you, if ordered alone as your main course.

And the fires of desire in your heart won’t be put out by preaching a guilty message at yourself either. “I ought to really grow up and take some responsibility in life”.  Somehow your heart doesn’t quite buy it.  It sounds, well, unappetising and ugly.  Like pouring cold water on the embering beach fire when the warmth of the sun has already set.  It leaves you shivering, and exposed.

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Combined with the mundane, messy realities of home life, you come in a full circle, and wonder why you stopped travelling at all?  Was I insane?

And it’s why the opposite of desire isn’t responsibility.  And the answer to unreached peoples isn’t “to care more” or tell me over and over again to “stop making it your idol”.  Desire isn’t crushed primarily by cold commands, regardless of whether I agree with them or not.  We found that out with Odysseus not so long ago.

Surely what I need is contentment, regardless of whether I travel or not.  Contentment, whether I am going to unreached people groups personally or not.  Somehow feed me contentment from when I wake up, til when I go to sleep, and desire will not consume me.

But what then of ambition – crushed by this new joy of being content?  Won’t that give us tame lives that care nothing for travel?  If I was content to start with, I wouldn’t have left my front door!  It seems just as bad as responsibility, if not worse, as it seeks to trample on my desire, not just to take my energy away to other things!

Well, yes.  So let me clarify.  There is a contentment that will work, but it’s quite unique and fanciful.  If it were true, it would be quite the fairytale.

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A contentment because one realises that this world is an undeserved gift to us.  The fact you were born (most likely) in the first world.  The fact you were born into an area or class which gave you a chance to travel.  The fact that health and life gave you freedom to roam this planet.  The fact that none of this was your right.

A contentment also because you realise you have everything life has to offer.  The Maker of the universe calls you to come and live with Him, united with Him forever.  Free!  And you’ve said yes.  And you’ve realised that no matter what happens on this earth, no matter what He calls you to do, or where He calls you to go, you’re content.  Because ultimately you’ve got Him.  What good is having the gift, if you don’t know the giver?  How much better must the giver be to give such good gifts?  If the infinitely chaotic oceans rhythmically pounding on the golden beach shores satisfy us for weeks on end – how much more their maker?  If the diversity of such a funny species as humans are, baffles you and causes you to wonder – how much more our diverse yet united God?

A contentment ultimately because, although truly satisfied in Him, He gives us gifts connected to His very fabric.  A perfect New Heavens and a New Earth to enjoy one day, should we trust His (reliable) words and history’s patterns which have been building towards it.  A beautiful earthiness to explore, not just some harps on clouds in the sky.  A place where we’ll be forever content, yet always growing in perfection.

Content.

How does this not remove my desire?  Well it gives me perspective.  It gives me reason to enjoy His creation, yet reminds me there’s better to come.  It gives me desire to travel to unreached people groups but contentedness that it’s not the be all and end all of life.

It gives context to desire without stamping it out.

It allows the embers of the fire to be fanned into flame more on the beach, but not to ravage as a bushfire, harming all around.

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It lets us enjoy travel, and weep at Unreached People Groups for what they are: gifts that our Good Father allows us to partake of, with Him.  It fans into flame our love for both and increases our right desires about them.

It’s a fairytale that if true, speaks both to our minds and our hearts.  It warms them from our very core.  And it’s beautiful!  The fairytale with a very real “happily ever after” ending.  The reason why all other fairytales dreamed and echoed it.  Like shadows of the flame, flickering on the beach.  They’re there to show us that a real flame exists.

“because of the tender mercy of our God,
    by which the rising sun will come to us from heaven
79 to shine on those living in darkness
    and in the shadow of death,
to guide our feet into the path of peace.’”

(Luke eyewitness account of Jesus’ life, chapter one)

Warmth!  Contentment at last!  Christ!

Intentionality, spontaneity and living in the moment!

Alain de Botton’s book, outlining the secular way to travel, is fascinating, partly because he tries to free us from long-term intentionality in some ways (we’re born to die, so get on with it), yet suggests we should take great interest in learning and intentionally progressing ourselves in other ways.

This video, seemed to say letting go and seeking pleasure, was the only intentional thing worth doing.   As comedian David Mitchell outlines, living in the moment is not as easy as it would sound or seem:

 

It can be easy to think that being intentional about everything in life would be exhausting.  But if you love something, there’s only a certain amount that it feels like effort.  Most things flow from what our heart’s love (our worldview), and the rest takes hard work to cultivate a love in our hearts.  And so even living in the moment will be hard, if you do not love it.

So people ask me, is always having a secondary (or primary) purpose in your travelling not exhausting and robbing you of the very fact you’re enjoying travelling?  And quite honestly for the most part, the answer is “no”.  If it’s my love (loving God, loving others), then it will come increasingly naturally to me as I journey on in my Christian faith.

And for the moments that it doesn’t?  Well as David says, it’s “chores now for jam tomorrow”!  And don’t think for a moment that hedonistic, secular travel is any less chore-some or rewarding!  The glossy travel brochure paints you a false reality.  The 3min youtube video doesn’t show you the hours of bookings, cancellations, mishaps, tensions in relationships, sickness, rainy days and mishaps, not to mention the hours perfecting video footage to make it all seem amazing.

Intentionality can be exhausting, but being intentional for Jesus, is being intentional for a master whose “yoke is light and burden is easy” and who desires us to enjoy the “rest” of a home-coming.  Imagine the feeling of safety; comfort; the buzz as your wifi connects to your home network and messages from friends and family come in; the smell of coffee; and the warm embrace of a housemate.  It’s what coming home is.

But this coming home, can be a finding of yourself, and who you were created to be.  And it can be done on the road, far away from physical home, while you’re living for the moment!  Or it can be done in regular hum-drum rhythms of normal working life, getting up in the same bed as you always do, going downstairs to the same situation that always greets you.  It’s a coming home to your maker, and a realising that it is only living with Him, that will make life fully free-ing.