Three invitations to adventure…

Having looked around for the last four to five years at what Christians are intentionally doing in the travel industry and, more often than not, what people who love-travel-and-happen-to-be-Christian, are creating, I want to suggest a few opportunities for followers of Jesus who have a heart for travel, and something that may act as a warning and an opportunity at the same time.

[I caveat all of this with the usual footnotes, declaring that I am not able to search all the hashtags in other languages (knowing only French, English and bits and pieces of others), and much as I’ve tried my hardest with networking and asking around the globe, I’ve of course not got exhaustive reach to find everyone. Please, if you know of folk who I should connect with, pass on details or send them this post.]

To do that, let’s take a look at two videos, both produced here in the island of Ireland by (in some ways) very different people. The first we’ll dig into deeply and the second we’ll just throw out a couple of challenges to you if you’re a follower of Jesus and love travel!

  1. A Secular Invitation to travel

What makes a travel video a secular one? And how would travel through secular humanist eyes be different to through the eyes of a follower of Jesus?

Most Christians will happily watch anything that doesn’t have overt and explicit actions of “sin” in it. For example, some might complain to the TV regulating authorities if a narrative involves particular explicit sins (sexual, violent or other). They may try to justify how that is different to watching James Bond (for example) whose treatment of females has often been horrific, and who glorifies particular views of humanity which one might find hard to sustain from a Biblical text. And there are many other actions, emphases and plotlines that Christian morals in the West have gradually excused or got used to that are far from ‘Christian’ but that Christians are quite happy enjoying (rightly or wrongly) as part of a series, show or film.

If we draw these lines for Christian travellers, then nearly everything in the travel industry will be Christian to us, or at least permissable to engage with as Christians. But let’s stop for a minute and see where that leaves us. I present to you video 1 below. Kevin Penrose is the Wild Irish Wanderer on Instagram and has his own YouTube channel. I pick one of his videos to critique, not because I have anything against him, but in fact because he is one of Ireland’s up and coming travel videographers, finding his feet in the trade. Why not enjoy the stunning videography he captures of our island below, but as you do so, ask yourself this:

Is this a Christian travel video? Why or why not? Or could it be neutral?

[Before I say anything, let me say that most of what I frame this discussion around comes stolen from the pen of Dan Strange who wrote a very accessible guide “Plugged In” which helps us think more about all of this.]

So what’s your verdict, Christian travel video or not?!

Well let’s look at the evidence (under headings you can use again in future).

a) Who made it?
For many things, including this one, we can’t be too sure whether the creator is a Christian or not. Here, I don’t know Kevin and have not seen a mad amount of his creative work to say any more. But let’s remember, plenty of Christians have made things that don’t reflect the glory of God or explicitly mention faith, so knowing the answer to this question doesn’t always tell us whether it’s a Christian travel video per se.

b) What does it say?
And not just audibly. What does it feel like? What image does it show us? What narrative does it scream?

Well, Kevin gives us an incredible view of [God’s] world in Ireland. Stunning shot after shot take our breath away. In this sense, one might say there is nothing wrong for us as Christians to be watching this! But listen to the narrative he gives over this. Perhaps you can see some things in the narrative that ring true to the gospel/Bible and we would agree with. Other things are violently opposed to the good news of Jesus. It’s a common narrative that you can find similarly elsewhere in famous travel videos (like this one). I’ve printed some of it here for you to see:

This year was supposed to be different.
We all had goals to accomplish, dreams to chase and plans in place, but it wasn’t meant to be.
Instead, we were taught to slow down, rest and recharge.
Our way of life changed forever. We were given time to think, reflect and appreciate the important things in life.
We always plan for tomorrow rather than seizing today.
You are in control. You can make it happen. We finally have the opportunity to live in the moment. Take that trip. Do what makes you happy. Nobody knows what the future holds. But just remember, the choice is yours. So before we go any further, let me ask you this:

What will it take for you to truly live?

c) Who engages with this video and what is the intended affect?
Sometimes when there aren’t such explicit words to narrate the video or show, the messages can be so much more subtle. For example, there’s another STUNNING film called “Baraka” (part of a trilogy) that is worth getting to see on a big screen. It has no words at all (for over an hour!) but is directed and crafted with the explicit intention to persuade you of pluralism and some western liberal/secular values, all done through the lens of eastern thought and powerful imagery and sequences.

Here things are more obvious. In this narrative, who are we as human beings? What place do we have in the universe? What’s gone wrong? What’s the solution? What happens when we die?

Kevin either believes this message, or thinks we’ll share his video more if he says it: We control our own destiny, should live in the moment and make every second count. The fact that the first half of the message was about Covid cancelling all our plans and showing us we weren’t in control, doesn’t seem to phase him. And besides, with footage like he has playing in the foreground, we don’t really mind what he says, as long as it sounds cool and empowers us, right??

And he’s got us. So many of the things do seem true to some extent. But this, without he or many of us realising it, is anti-gospel. It’s not good news. Us being the prime ones in our life who are in control isn’t good news – life would suck if we were on the throne ruling over our reality – what a limited perspective that would be! And how daunting to feel we had to control it all. Us living only for our immediate happiness will ruin us long-term and hurt us as we all have immature desires that we are glad we didn’t act on, at times!

Some other questions that may help you think through the connections to the good news of Jesus, and the disconnect/confrontation with the good news:

  • How is the message of the media we watch interpreting or reinterpreting God’s good news?
  • Are there things that are beautiful, good and true about what is said?
  • Are there things that are ugly, bad for humanity and false about what is being said?
  • Are there good things (that God gives us) that the creator is turning into ultimate things (when we lose sight of God)?

So where does that leave us?


Well you’ll see that some of the video connects with the good news we know, and quite a bit of it tries to persuade you of a different reality. Should we watch it? Well, personally my conscience allows me to watch it, my context says nothing against watching it, and my character is not predominantly being shaped by such things. So I’m happy. But for others who struggle with lusting after travel, spending all their money on travel or unproductively scrolling YouTube videos of travel all their working days, it may not be wise or helpful to feed their hunger with this (or other travel videos for that regard).

The trouble more lies with the many of us who see no nudity, no blasphemy and no violence in the video and think “Oh, this is completely neutral for me to watch as a Christian”. Video after video gets consumed unthinkingly, and soon we’re just eating a steady diet of secular anti-gospel, and occasionally sticking a worship video in there to be Christian. Now this may not seem like a problem, until we realise just how much it shapes us. If we unthinkingly are listening to these things more than we are gospel voices (the Bible, other Christans etc.), we’ll soon find ourselves swayed from our faith, buying the false promises held out to us in the shiny menu of secularism. Before biting into our food and finding it to be lacking any nourishment or diverse flavour at all.

You’ll see it on dozens of Insta profiles, blogs and travel sites. The word “Christian” will be there, but otherwise it looks pretty much the same as any other. Perhaps it will mention the beauty of God’s world, a Christian playlist to listen to or a short-term mission trip they were on, but otherwise it’s all the same. Similar language, similar desires. And of course some of that is not a worry! But in many ways, we’re just imbibing secularism and sticking our Christian label on top. We need to do some thinking.But before you groan and think we’re going all super-intellectual, do not fear! Thinking does not mean we can’t relax and enjoy videos. It doesn’t mean we need to have an hour after every film to philosophically analyse everything. And like many things we start to be aware of – it comes more naturally the more we get used to it.

  • If you’re wanting to think more about all of culture, media and things you consume, then Dan Strange’s book is a great place to start. It’s super-short, practical and gives a framework that’ll help you with all of life. I’ve linked to it further up in this post.
  • If you’re wanting to think more about travel, travel videos and travel culture and how it both connects to the good news and robs of us the good news, then my book is perhaps a good place to start. It’s got the advantage of being written by a travel-lover, for travel-lovers, so I hope it’s easily accessible.

But now, let me get on very briefly to two invitations to adventure which I will ask you to join me in…

2. A Christian invitation to travel:

The video above is a Christian travel company in Northern Ireland who seek to partner Christians/churches in high-evangelical populations of the world with those church planting in areas with low evangelical populations (or none). Seeing them develop some videos has been fantastic even though they aren’t with the same aim or even the same target audience as would be needed to connect with most travel-lovers. Still, these folks have a depth of theology to them and have really thought through faith and travel.

They are one of many voices that will be needed in the days ahead to lift us out of a shallow mimicking of what the world has to offer us regarding travel. Such a mimicry under the guise of “Christian travel” will simply lure many to chase after travel, make it their heartbeat, and wonder why worshipping God on his terms, doesn’t seem as attractive anymore.

So there’s my first invitation: would you become a traveller who seeks to wrestle with how their faith engages with their travel, and form a theology of travel? If not, you’re missing out. Travelling without Jesus shaping your travels will leave you with a half-hearted vision for travel. And it’ll leave you with a version of travel which hurts others more too.

Would you become a traveller who seeks to wrestle with how their faith engages with their travel, and form a theology of travel?

My second invitation to followers of Jesus is a more practical one: would you become a traveller who seeks to apply their theology of travel to every part of their travelling? We are looking for:

  • Travel bloggers: who are more concerned with what they produce and how they engage with others, than in chasing blog hits or YouTube subscriptions. You will feel the freedom!
  • Videographers: who may develop to share top class videography, but not to make their own name great, to make themselves look impressive to the world or to repeat the many messages that are already out there, but to reflect some of the glory of God (explicitly stated or more likely not) and powerfully capture the goodness of sustainable, ethical travel under the good Lordship of Jesus.
  • Travel company workers: who are not completely ruined by the pandemic downfall in tourism and travel, because their identity is in the Travel-maker, and their hope is not in profit-margins, but in the creator of Travel himself, and helping others meet him.
  • Frequent flyers: who care passionately for the local Church, and shape their life round investing deeply in relationships of discipleship and being present in meaningful ways for both Christians and those who don’t yet know Jesus.
  • Travel-lovers: who shape their life round taking up their cross and following Jesus, rather than maximising their own pleasure in the same way others in the industry do.
  • Instagram-ers: who let God’s word and His voice shape their priorities and desires, over the stunning images which they can scroll through before even getting up in the morning.
  • Ordinary Christians: who have learned the contentment that comes with knowing Jesus, who are daily not just living for their Annual Leave, or the next chance they get to make a break.
  • Community Hosts: who host travellers from round the world either formally (through hostels and other spaces) or informally (through Couchsurfing and other networks) and shape that through the lenses of faith.
  • Travel writers: who write books from a Christian perspective, who write travel devotionals to help stir hearts to worship, who write evangelistically to persuasively introduce fellow travellers to Jesus.
  • Travel Community Leaders: who facilitate geographical communities where Christians can be developing some of the gifts above and working out a theology of travel together as a community.

Would you become a traveller who seeks to apply their theology of travel to every part of their travelling?

And I could go on….

There’s space for everyone at the table. And like everything in the Christian life, we have to start somewhere. So don’t worry about getting everything perfect to start with – we’re here to help each other onwards with that.

Don’t know where to start?

Drop me a line to see if there are others in your part of the world, or gather a group of friends together (while travel is still limited) to read Dan’s book or my own book in a book-group (online or otherwise) to get you thinking. And let us know if you’re already doing some of these things!

Happy travelling!

#TravelinTandem Chapter 7: Extra Material

Image chapter 7
Destination unknown!

BLOG POSTS that relate to this chapter:

Will the world burn? Or are we headed for restoration or a mix? Some borrowed thoughts from 1 Peter here.

Travel: a metaphor used for life

Our travel dreams are too small. Some thoughts that shaped this chapter.

Odysseus and a government monitoring travel

Travelling to find yourself

Someone who paints a far better, more persuasive picture than I do is Glynn Harrison in his book about sexuality “A better story”.

20170814_124919
The misty scenes remind me of the lack of clarity we sometimes feel in trying to find ourselves.

Tangential thoughts somewhat related to the chapter:

As I recently made a reading list of what books I’d read in the last 7 years, I noticed a distinct lack of eschatology (end times) on it. And by that, I don’t just mean end times debates about what will happen, but heart-warming thinking and meditating upon the new heavens and the new earth. And that’s all the worse for me – I’m missing out. So often I get lost in philosophising over what I don’t know, or getting angry and arguing about what precise end-times view someone holds, instead of marvelling at what is to come. It’s where I’ve found Nancy Guthrie’s latest book “Even better than Eden” to be a wonderful start.

FatherTedCarefulNow
Father Ted: exemplary of where conservative culture gets confused with Christianity, and we go round telling people to stop doing things without anything positive.

Feedback from readers on the chapter:

Interestingly this chapter contains the most shared quotation so far: that “Christian culture” should not be our goal – making ourselves comfortable in our own societies (pg. 132). Here’s one example of a review that spoke of it. I find it fascinating that this should be something that the generation of travellers would be passionate about. So why do you think that is?

From living amongst them, and from my own heart, it’s obvious that the culture they react against is the over-politicised, right-wing conservatism, that cares a lot for enforcing “moral laws” (think: abortion, drugs, sexuality, gender etc) but are not as evidently mixing and mingling with, and helping those they are perceived to be campaigning against (often they are not campaigning against them at all, but their lack of engagement on the ground makes it appear that way and implicitly speaks volumes).

And whilst the traveller’s critique is often a fair one, I do wonder whether our own travelling culture needs also challenged here – as we sit creating our own conservative culture in hipster coffee shops, lauding our travel stories to each other from craft-brewing pubs, and going out of our way to know everything about what everyone is doing via social media, without engaging with them. The result, is arguably not much different, in terms of engaging meaningfully with people. Perhaps slightly less influence on national laws, and slightly less public square bitterness towards Christendom. But if we can expect that simply by sitting quietly drinking lattes and engaging positively with the world’s best sights, coffee and news headlines, will win the next generation to Christ, we will be sorely disappointed.

20170419_175241
Looking up, a path is always far harder to spot than looking back!

#TravelinTandem Chapter 6: Extra Material

Image chapter 6
Just before the arrival of our gunman

BLOG POSTS that relate to this chapter:

Cross centred travel

When intentionality kills the dream

Does living “dead” to self mean Flight-free-travel? I wrote a ‘starter’ about the environment here and would love to have included more on this relevant topic, but for space (and lack of expertise), it was rightly given the axe. I’m not yet convinced that personal responsibility of carbon cutting by not flying, is a significant enough thing to stop me visiting my family, or other gospel callings. You can convince me otherwise – I’m open!

When we miss out on joy

Image chapter 6 backup
Enjoying dinner with sublime views

Tangential thoughts somewhat related to the chapter:

One helpful resource that shaped my thinking on this chapter was the Assemblies of God (USA) resource “The LiveDead Journal“. Made by Dick Brogden and team, this helpful devotional journal seeks to shape our hearts into a attitude of worship, even when that is hard. I have copies I’m willing to post to those in UK/Ireland, or for those in America, it’s easily orderable.

dsc_0810
Sunset after the gunman had left

Feedback from readers on the chapter:

“You need to set higher standards of sacrifice Peter. Where you have thrived in your life is sacrificial living but you need to call others explicitly to that. No books are written anymore about sacrifice after your IFES predecessor Howard Guinness wrote his. Why did you not say more about what living dead looks like? You’ve only touched on the basics.” (Reader in Belfast)

The trouble with writing a book about sacrifice on any topic, is that no-one picks up a book on travel, to be told not to travel. Similarly with enjoying any of God’s good gifts to us. But asides from that (which hopefully would not have stopped me), the article I linked to above contains a few reasons I’m nervous about delving far more into what sacrifice should explicitly look like in your life and mine but I might summarise why I didn’t say more in 3 ways:

  1. The Scriptures only say so much. General principles give radical calls to us to sacrifice, but often leave things to be worked out in our own context.
  2. Your life is different to mine – what might be sacrificial to me, may not be anything to someone else. My culture, socio-economic class, language, physical ability, mental capacity and personality will all play into this (though are also often used as excuses to neglect thinking through an area).
  3. We must primarily bathe ourselves in the good news of our Lord Jesus, and who He is – otherwise strict and continual calls for sacrifice will wear us out quickly, point more towards ourselves than to Him, and rob us of a gospel that makes us feel like His yoke is easy and burden is light. The hard thing, is that this “higher life theology” might still be using “Jesus” language.

Someone once said to me, that you can tell what people take away from what you’ve taught, by what (or whether) they pray afterwards. I think that’s been so helpful to me as I’ve led Bible studies and given talks. Similarly, when I get people on both extremes of a spectrum complaining, I realise that I’m probably at a healthy middle-ground, of holding the tensions of scripture (though not always, of course).

My prayer is that at the end of this book (assuming you’re not too overwhelmed by the challenge, to get to the end of the book!), you’ll be overflowing with an awareness of God’s good character in different ways, that will make us all willing to grow in our Christ-like response to Him.

DSC_0794.JPG
To jump the gorge or not to jump?  I said not!

#TravelinTandem Chapter 5: Extra Material

DSCN4493
On a paradise beach with a friend

BLOG POSTS that relate to this chapter:

For those who are keen on travel being mission-centred, I’ve written a 5 part series of posts here, of which many have been reading and responding to recently. I warn you, they go slightly deeper than most, and may take a few minutes to read, particularly when you see the Venn diagram!

Travel in the New Testament (some of the loose thoughts that the book derived from):

20161101_093208
Roman roads….when in Rome

Tangential thoughts somewhat related to the chapter:

I mention “Identification, Persuasion and Invitation” in the chapter, and here are some resources that further expand on that. Well worth listening to over the next while – these principles have shaped me enormously in life.

20180129_111708.jpg
Free lunch time talks in the university put on by the Christian Union, trying to identify, persuade and invite people to believe in good news.

Feedback from readers on the chapter:

Amidst many positive things that you’ve said, your questions mean I must admit that I haven’t been to Vanuatu. Nor a few other places in the book (I tell stories of the friends I mention). Perhaps editing may make it seem like I was in all these places, but for the sake of clarity, I should say this now – not that it affects anything in the book! This chapter originally started with a story of my sister and her husband (from Vanuatu) but was later removed to make the chapter more digestible.

dsc_0942
Miles from “normal” civilisation.  Who will reach the nomadic people here?

#TravelinTandem Chapter 4: Extra Material

DSC_0965
Exploring Arabian deserts

BLOG POSTS that relate to this chapter:

Travel in the Old Testament

DSC_0855
Treading arid gorges in intense heat.

Tangential thoughts somewhat related to the chapter:

Does travel restore our faith in humanity?

Home: a topic that so much more could be said about, albeit a sub-theme of the chapter’s main aim of taking us through the Old Testament. Here’s one way a university in England got people engaging on the topic with talks and free lunches on the theme all week (see video below), but I’d love to hear your thoughts on “home” too:

cisc5
Just like the many visitors  to Solomon, the nations come to our doorstep.  Pictured here, the local International Student Cafe.

Feedback from readers on the chapter:

img_0264
CouchSurfing, Arab-style!

#TravelinTandem Chapter 3: Extra Material

Image chapter 3
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.

Image chapter 3 backup
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

DSC_1077.JPG
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)

IMG_0198
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.]

DSC_0755
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.

DSC_0839
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…

DSC_0754

Fun video to go withthe chapter:

DSC_1051
A Roman Colosseum in better shape and with far fewer tourists than the one in Rome – another beautiful ruin in Tunisia

#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.]

DSCN4283

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.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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.]

Image intro

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

BLOG POSTS that engage with this chapter:

What Augustine never said

 

20170529_193247

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.

18763329_1888620494751527_1308638272_n

One of several dinner-selling friends we made that day

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

20170529_185742

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.

TRAVEL Pull Quotes6

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.

TRAVEL Pull Quotes5

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.

TRAVEL Pull Quotes9

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.

Travel Front Cover