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!

A time to reflect on travel

For those of you who regularly follow along on here, you’ll perhaps be surprised to hear that there’s still very few people talking about faith and travel. Although we’ve had the rise of the Christian Travelers’ Network from the States, the River Communities worldwide, and other smaller groups across the globe, the conversation as it stands, hasn’t progressed a huge amount yet.

With Covid19, does it really matter?

That’s a question I’ve been given a few times in rhetorical form recently, with people stating that travel does not matter at all, and that such pandemics focus us on what really matters. But with all due respect to those ‘asking the question’, I want to propose that it does indeed matter. And it matters a lot.

Yes, Covid19 would take away travel for a few months, but already countries have opened up their borders again, yearning for economic freedom via tourism. Already, thousands have been counting down the days til they could book flights again (days which have now past, with many having booked their first trips already). And already, measures to circumnavigate the Covid restrictions, have been thought about ten times over. Travel is not disappearing for now, even if many travel companies and airlines, went under. New ones will soon pop up to replace them.

In fact, until collective responsibility for things like the environment, sing sweeter songs than the freedom of individualism, I could imagine that the dream of travel will always remain with us. What a 3 month break did, was allow the traveller some time to regroup, reflect on past travel experiences, and tweak the plan for the journey ahead. For if Alain de Botton is to be believed, part of the travel experience is heightened, by the suspense of the build-up to it, not to mention the kindling of the fond memories of past trips, reminiscing of great days.

The traveller’s delight is not just in feeling the warm rays hitting our skin as we lie in pools of Caribbean sun, but in finding ourselves again loitering in such places, long after we have left, still seemingly enjoying the same rays conjured up by nothing more than the longing heart resting again on an Instagram photo, a firmly lodged memory or a sensual experience brought back up from deep within us where we hide our pleasurable moments we don’t want to release.

So it was with great joy that I found two Australians realising that this is precisely the time we must talk about travel, while we are in a time of reflection, analysing and planning. In fact, there is no better time, before our travel pulses start to beat at an uncontrollable rate, leading us to take off again across borders and boundaries.

“This is precisely the time we must talk about travel”

And in most situations that I’m heavily invested, most topics which my emotions are aroused and most times in life when I’m going through something evocative, I’m not in a good place to take a step back and see things through an accurate lens of whether it is doing me any good, or whether I indeed am falling far short of what I was called to be or do. I’m too invested in certain outcomes.

And so despite the yearnings for travel of this Covid season, and despite the warm fondness in which I scroll Instagram, I still think it is this season that will allow us talk about travel in a far more constructive way than before.

  • How will we re-build the travel industry in healthier forms?
  • How can we make countries less dependent on our (somewhat colonial) travel?
  • How can we make the most of travel, in God’s eyes?
  • Are there sweeter songs we can dance to, than the travel songbook can provide alone?
  • Are there patterns of life or of our hearts, that the last 3 months have challenged or revealed?

[These two other Christians in Australia who I mentioned, joined in engaging with the topic of travel during these days. They too, saw no better time than the present to open up our hearts and see what we’re missing out on. Catch Michael Jensen (Anglican) and Megan Powell Du Toit (Baptist) on the “With All due Respect” podcast here, interviewing SMBC lecturer Stephen Liggins about the topic here.]

Fancy using these next months to think about travel?

As someone who has travelled into a different culture on a gap year, I can really relate to the book. It would have been helpful to have read it before going to Uganda and I would recommend it for anyone going on a similar trip.

Oscar, recent graduate from Ireland

Why not check out ‘Travel: in tandem with God’s Heart‘? And if you want to have a chance of getting a free copy soon, follow me on Twitter or Instagram or IVP Books on Facebook where I’ll have a give-away soon. You can also see an interview with me on IVP’s page on July 29th, as we celebrate the opening of Ireland to travel, following on from the virus season.

How our going to church is destroying the church

How can going to church, be destroying the church? Isn’t it the people who aren’t going to church that we should be worried about?

Let’s take a step back and come with me to the area I have just moved into in Belfast, Northern Ireland.

For security reasons, I’ve made my location slightly unclear, but otherwise this map gives you an accurate picture of my area.

Within 1 mile of my house, we have:

  • 2 Presbyterian Churches (with 2 more just outside the mile walk)
  • 2 Roman Catholic (with another 2 just outside the mile)
  • 2 Church of Ireland congregations (with another just outside the mile)
  • 1 Independent Methodist (with 1 denominational Methodist just outside the mile)
  • 1 Congregational church
  • 1 Baptist
  • 1 independent evangelical church
  • 1 pentecostal church
  • 1 Brethren Gospel Hall (with another just outside the mile)

Without visiting them all, I could fairly confidently say that within a mile of me, at least 7 of these churches would hold to historic evangelical doctrine. 2 would be reformed in their understanding of doctrine and practice.

I go to none of them.

Instead, I choose to drive 6 miles into the city, to a church which has its membership on average commuting similar distances.

What difference does this make to church life?

Dr Carl Trueman in his (free) lectures on the Reformation, famously said that the greatest impact on the church post-reformation, was the invention of the motor car. In our cars, we become the arbiters of churches.

In our cars we can get to churches miles away in minutes (I travel to mine in 12 minutes on a Sunday).

In our cars, we can be tempted to go elsewhere. Many of those who I’ve sat beside in church recently (deliberately sitting beside new-comers where I can), said they’re just popping in to visit from their home church – miles away.

In our cars, church discipline (in the positive sense of the term), no longer is effective, as we can jump in our cars and drive to the next church, where the elders know nothing about our character or actions.

In our cars, we no longer see each other as much, as we all live so far from each other. Scripture has 52 “one-another” actions which the church community are called to practice. Can we do them from distance? Debatable.

In our cars, if we were to do these “one-another” practices, we would spend a good chunk of our time driving, and thus dwindle our time with non-Christian friends (who are unlikely to see the need to drive the same number of miles, past perhaps past 50 other churches, in order to go to one which meets our theological niche or stylistic preference).

Is geographical proximity necessitated by New Testament Church principles?

Of course not! You don’t find Paul stating that the main problem in the church was their lack of geographical proximity. But you do find the New Testament authors giving 52 “one-another” practices they see the Church ought to be fulfilling, whilst living as a missional community together. I could imagine geographical proximity was never a problem in NT times, apart from, for example, Ethiopian Eunuchs passing by, who might need to go and plant their own church amongst their own servants and people.

Take a look at this next picture, in the same city (Belfast) that I live in:

Lots of churches still here, but now the breakdown might be more like:

  • 3 Roman Catholic Churches (with another just outside the mile walk)
  • 1 evangelical church
  • 1 brethren Gospel Hall (just outside the mile walk)
  • 1 Church of Ireland hall (1 Church of Ireland just outside the mile walk)

Here, for a similar density of population, in a Irish Nationalist community, we have only one evangelical church (that I’m aware of). I could imagine some places in West Belfast where there would not even be this.

Is it really a problem?

In some ways, no. Middle class people, due to cars/transport, are not geographically bound anymore, particularly in the cities. Our friends are not our nieghbours (often). Consider 3 scenarios:

  1. If I was to live in London, the people I see most during the week are my colleagues in central London, or my friends I meet with after work. Not as many are bound by the area they live in. Many travel on the Underground 30 minutes to meet for coffee or a pint.
  2. If I was to live in Ballingeary or Goleen in rural West Cork, it would take me over 30 minutes to drive to an Evangelical Church. But many farmers, although tightly knit to their communities, drive this distance to the shops or for other things.
  3. If I was to live in Khemisset, in central Morocco, with a population of over 130,000, I might have to drive well over 1 hour to find an accessible underground church community (given as a local I may be not allowed to attend a foreign-led one). This may be an advantage to me, as I may not want to be seen going to a local fellowship.

But really, is there not a problem?

Could I suggest there are several problems here, which are destroying the church, because of travel. We can come back to each in due course.

  1. By traveling miles to church, when we could go to a closer evangelical (or in my case, reformed) one, we put ourselves at a major disadvantage in “one-another”ing, each other (discipleship)
  2. By traveling miles to church, when we could go to a closer evangelical (or in my case, reformed) one, we put ourselves at a major disadvantage in evangelism because we turn it into an individualistic burden instead of living out authentic community: “that they might know that you are my disciples by your love for one another”
  3. By traveling miles to church, when we could go to a closer evangelical (or in my case, reformed) one, we refuse to keep the main thing, the main thing. We divide over secondary issues and often form our identity round them (great as they may be). In this, we fail to prioritise the most unreached areas, instead prefering our own style or theological nuance.
  4. By traveling miles to church, we are telling some communities (whether linguistic, geographical or cultural) that they must become “other” in order to believe. The trouble is, this “other” isn’t often commanded by scripture.

Now all this I say with two caveats. (1) I am part of the problem and (2) I have no intention of moving house or church right now. I would like to think I’m a bit of a unique case (don’t we all??) but lest I get caught up in justifying myself, I’ll refrain from telling you all about it, and allow my elders and church family to ask those questions, my neighbours and friends to decide how effectively I’m living for Jesus amongst them, and my friends of other denominations to see whether I’m dividing us all by placing too much weight on secondary things or not.


You can read more about these specific issues numbered above, here:

Travelling for weddings

My wedding calendar:
May: London, UK
June: County Tyrone, Northern Ireland
July: County Wicklow, Ireland
August: London, UK
September: Marrakesh, Morocco

And I could go on…

From chatting to other young graduates in the Christian scene, I don’t think I’m unique in getting wedding invitations for each month of the year (though perhaps I am a social creature!). It’s a wonderful thing in many ways, that young people still believe in such radical, counter-cultural principles such as love being a choice that one commits to for life. Love is truly the most liberating freedom loss of all time (even if many of us as millenials doubt it, and struggle to commit – either to God or to a person).

But in other ways, the way the west has individualised and internationalised life and society, means that the way we do weddings baffles me, and our habits of thinking of attending many weddings as a good “Christian” thing to do, also makes me ponder.

I have previously written that in Christian mission, the “good” is often the thing that gets in the way of the “best”, and I want in some ways to say that applies here too regarding weddings in two ways.

Photo Copyright and taken by the amazing www.kristianlevenphotography.co.uk

Firstly, if you’re like me and are always on the road to weddings, and each month are forsaking your home community to do so, there’ll be an impact. You’ll be potentially a quarter less effective or useful in your home church, and it’ll impact your finances. For me who is then away on annual leave, or preaching or visiting family some other weekend of the month, it means I’m not in Sunday church for half the month. (Not a worry to you? Here’s some other posts I’ve written.) But for want of sounding stingey and rather heavy-handed in my implications of community life, let me move onto something that has me thinking more.

Secondly, what is the purpose of attending a wedding?

  1. Because you have to? – yes, sometimes you’re a relative, and relatives culturally often feel they can’t say no.
  2. Because they’re an old friend? – often its being invited to someone who was an influence in your life, or whom you influenced in life in the past.
  3. Because they’re a current friend? – most often we don’t need to travel far to our current friends’ weddings, but sometimes we do still.

So which of these would I consider not going to?

Well, no hard and fast rules can be drawn up, nor should they be, but the vows at one wedding caught my attention:

“Do you as a congregation, before God, promise to uphold and support this wedded couple, in any way you can in the years ahead?”

“We do” came the chant back from everyone enthusiastically.

But did I?

For this couple (a generic, hypothetical couple), they were people of my past life – deep friends from years ago. A couple who were unlikely to ever live in my country, nor to contact me apart from social media. Perhaps if we crossed paths in a city again, we might say hello, but ultimately, I knew things weren’t going to be the same again.

So was I realisitically, before God, going to promise to support them in the years ahead?

a. By prayer? There’s only a certain number of couples, missionaries, individuals and friends I could ever say I pray regularly and meaningfully for. “God bless all marriages” doesn’t quite cut it for me.

b. By contact? Once I’ve prioritised my home church community, my family, and perhaps then my inner circle of friends (non-Christian friends as well, of course), it doesn’t leave a huge lot of time to invest in others in life. I’d want to think twice before promising to God that I’d support a marriage.

c. By not doing anything unhelpful? Well, one could take a very hands-off approach and say that (depending on wording of the vow) that I would be supporting them, as long as I’m not negatively influencing them! But I’m not sure we’d want to be so scrouge with our words as to only allow for this.

Ultimately, I would conclude that weddings that have these vows for the congregation, bring the wedding back to The Church, and ground it in a living community that is geographically located. In some ways, this is very helpful. A wedding is not just a gathering of “people like us” but is a full spectrum of the diversity of Christ’s body, united by Him.

Should I have been there?

Well, again, I don’t think there are hard and fast rules. Christianity is not about creating rules, but our heart response to The Groom (Jesus) as His bride (The Church). These were great friends from my past. But perhaps if I can’t honestly say I’ll support the couple that are getting married, it’s one reason I might consider to not attend, if I’ve a list of 12 weddings in a year!

So could the best Christian thing, be not attending a wedding of a friend?

I would suggest the answer could well be “Yes”! So that it means more for you when you do attend them, so that current church communities thrive without people always being away, and so that it means more to the couple who are having people who honestly support them.

In the big picture of our relationship with Jesus, how important is this discussion? Relatively unimportant! But I hope it helps us think again – it’s often the “good” that crowds out the “best” and hinders our Christian walk.