A few months ago (February 9, 2010) an interview in the Christian Century was made with a travel agent/writer who reflected upon the blessings of travel. I found a lot in his thoughtful piece that lined up with my own travel experience.
First, I love travel but I do hate airports. Go figure. I have just grown weary of these places and the hustle and bustle of the busy, security tightened, way of modern flying. Getting miles is OK but in the end I would rather go some other way. But if I am driving more than four or five hours I still prefer to fly.
Second, in the Century interview author Rick Steves said, “The less you travel, the more likely that media with a particular agenda can shape your viewpoint. Those of us who travel are a little more resilient when it comes to weathering the propaganda storms that blow constantly across the U. S. media.” I am not sure how much travel does this itself but meeting people from different cultures, backgrounds and perspectives surely does. If travel allows that to happen then it is to be valued as a means to an end.
Third, Steves says, “When you travel to places new to you, you understand more, and you fear less.” I think this is probably right. I feel my understanding of the world has grown exponentially through my travel, especially to other continents. I am far too ethnocentric and comfortable. Travel tends to push me out of that comfortable posture.
Fourth, Steves talked about being a pilgrim rather than merely being a tourist. I like that and thus urge Christians to not be mere tourists when they travel. If all you do is say in 5-Star hotels and do Western things then you miss the real value of the place. To go somewhere new, to advocate something different, is to learn something valuable.
Tourists come home the same but travelers are forever changed. They see systemic problems, like those presented by the large numbers of poor people outside of America, and they usually come home asking the hard questions. This causes real pilgrims, travelers as Steves calls them, to get personally involved in issues that can make a difference, e.g. micro-business loans, affordable housing, basic health and clean water.
I urge you, if you have retired, do not sit at home. See the world if you can do it. Travel on a “real” mission team and invest something of your nest egg in seeing things that might change your world. It can only make you a more interesting person with a bigger vision of Christ’s kingdom and your part in it.
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Having actually lived in Uganda, Kenya, the Philippines, and Ukraine, I strongly resonate with what you’ve written. My view of the world is so different from that of my many friends who’ve never spent much time outside of the United States.
In some ways, my experience of living overseas has strengthened my appreciation for the United States. I’m very grateful for the many benefits of being an American.
But my 14 years of residence in other parts of the world has also helped me to understand that the United States isn’t necessarily the greatest nation on earth in every possible way. There is much we insulated Americans might learn from other cultures and societies.
Furthermore, spending time in other parts of the world has helped me better differentiate between being a Christian and being an American. To all too many well-meaning Americans, the two often seem almost synomymous.
So to your other readers I say, take advantage of opportunities to travel to other parts of the world — and strive to be a world Christian.