Americans can be so small-minded. We can be out of touch with what life is really like in other parts of our land and especially in other countries. We can so easily think that our community and its values are the center of the universe. Or that there aren’t equally good (if not better) ways of doing things in other regions of the world. Or believe that the same level of professionalism we live by is not practiced in other places (especially in Africa, gasp!).
For these reasons and so many more, I believe travel is good for the soul.
Not only is travel a reality check for our prejudge, but it can be one of the best spiritual disciplines we can build into our yearly schedule.
Getting out of town. Seeing something new. Saving our funds for an international trip (if possible). Why? Because our eyes are widely opened. We can not return from travel being the same people when we left.
In our shock we are reminded:
Not everyone speaks English . . .
Electricity or hot water is not always a given . . .
There’s no such thing as fast food on every corner . . .
And in traveling, we see the world as it really is instead of just what we know (especially if we’re operating from a place of privilege).
This week, I’m in East Africa in the process of starting something new connected to orphan care. Something new I can’t wait to tell you all about when the all plans come together.
But for now, this is what I know: the opportunity to travel changes everything about your sight.
Even though Kevin and I spent 3 years on the road as nomads while he held a position at Feed the Children and were gifted to see so much in so many countries, I’ve realized once again that a culture is never something you “know” no matter how many times you visit a particular place.
This trip I’ve learned, as I do every time I visit.
Things like mice can be black (not just white or grey like they are in the children’s storybooks I grew up reading). The cat brought one to the doorstep of where I am staying!
Things like flying ants are creatures that come up from the ground and swarm after a strong hot rain. But they’re harmless and often die by morning (and can be consumed as good protein).
And things like it’s best to be home before the rains come, always. Traffic can be at a complete standstill. Often a standstill that lasts 12 hours meaning you sleep in your cars on the side of the road!
Travel, you see, takes you from a posture of “I know” to “I must learn” (if it’s done right). Travel takes away the arrogance of always being in the right.
What a spiritual life lesson this is! For isn’t God ultimately the One we come to call Mystery? The One who is beyond us? The One we come to understand in the same vein of this Thomas Merton prayer:
“My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think that I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so.”
I know that budgets in many households can be tight year after year, and it is often it is the weekend out-of-town or the vacation that is first to go. But, the next time you have some extra income and you’re faced with the choice of buying a thing and the experience of travel, choose travel, my friends.
Travel will be good for your soul.
For, as you go, you might just find yourself meeting a new friend, tasting a new dish, or learning a new song that will be God coming close.
I know God has been close to me all week. And I’m so grateful.