“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts,” asserted the famous American writer Mark Twain.1 In more recent decades countless journalists, bloggers and travel devotees have eulogised the many (alleged) benefits of going abroad.
And I confess—I love travelling! I love the preparation: researching the trip, purchasing essential items, anticipating what lies ahead. I love the airports: melting pots of culture with departure boards full of promise and possibility. I love the travel itself, with the chance it gives me to sit and talk or simply fall asleep. I love arriving in a new place: working out the lie of the land, discovering cultural nuances, dealing with the unexpected, exploring natural wonders as well as products of human ingenuity. I love meeting people: fellow travellers and locals, people who share my beliefs and those who don’t. I love the opportunities for Christian fellowship and ministry, as well as the chance to talk about my faith. Afterwards I love reflecting back on a trip: the photos, the new friends, and the opportunity to pray for and respond to needs that have come across my path. Most of all, I love the fact that God has been there with me through all of it, teaching me things and in his mercy using me.
I am very appreciative of the opportunities that God has given me to leave my country’s shores. But now for the controversial bit—despite what many people say, you don’t have to travel! It is not a need or a right, something to which you are entitled. It is not essential to your personal development. While there may be very good reasons for a Christian to head off overseas, there may be very good reasons for them not to.
At this point I can anticipate two sorts of response. At one extreme: “Of course, I’ve always thought that! Christians today are too worldly, spending all their money on self-indulgence.” Or at the other: “Oh no, here comes another judgmental Christian who suspects that someone somewhere is enjoying themselves and is determined to stamp it out.” In my view, neither attitude is helpful.
In previous pieces I have discussed the fact that if we travel we should travel with God, as well as addressing the question of how to travel from a biblical perspective. Here I want to consider the ‘why travel?’ question by taking into account biblical priorities and applying them to our personal circumstances.
If you (or a Christian you know) are contemplating a trip overseas, I suggest that you ensure you are walking closely with God (John 15:1–8) and living in consistent fellowship with other believers (Heb 10:24–25). Then you might like to work through something like the following three-step process (perhaps with the assistance of a wise Christian believer you respect).
Step 1: Are you considering travelling for good, godly reasons, or are you more influenced by worldly reasons? Some good reasons to travel are: for leisure, to deepen and maintain particular relationships, for education, for work, and to do ministry. Some lousy reasons to travel are: because everyone else is doing it, to find the meaning of life, to escape life’s difficulties, and to feel superior. If you think you have good reasons for traveling, proceed to…
Step 2: Do you think that your travel plans constitute good stewardship of the time and money God has given you? There is no sure-fire formula for determining this question, but we ought to do our best to use our resources in accordance with biblical principles. My personal view is that that one might invest more time and money in a trip that is undertaken for reasons of relationships, education, work and/or ministry than a trip undertaken purely for leisure.
Step 3: Have you considered the impact of your travel plans on key relationships? Key relationships would include those with your family, friends, and church. For example, if you are married with children, you will want to limit your time away from your family. If you grandmother is very sick, you may decide to postpone your travel plans. And some of the most significant things we do in life are our ministries at church. How will your absence impact those ministries?2
My first trip overseas involved living in London for five months and playing a lot of cricket. (While there I took the opportunity to poke around the UK and Europe as I had the chance.) I was 20 years old at the time, a Christian, and hoping to become a professional cricketer—something I thought could be good for the kingdom of God, as well as being an enjoyable and challenging job. A season in England would be just the thing to develop my skills. I had prayed, I felt there were good Christian reasons for the journey, and my parents and various cricketing mentors were supportive. So off I went, and in the process grew closer to God, joined a church, and sought to live out my faith.
Three years later, when a career in cricket had not transpired and I’d finished university but hadn’t yet started work, I had the opportunity to embark upon another extended overseas trip. Many of my peers were heading off for long periods of time, but I found myself thinking and praying long and hard about it. As a Christian, was this a wise use of my time and money? What about relationships at home? In the end, although I could have gone for much longer, I decided to head off for nine weeks and budget-travelled through Africa and Europe before dropping in on my eldest brother, who was then living in Texas, on my way home. Others may have resolved the situation differently, but that’s what I did.
Since then I’ve gone overseas a number of times now for reasons of leisure, work and/or Christian ministry. There have also been times when I have considered travel abroad but did not think it was a good idea. Travel, wisely undertaken, can be of great benefit to the kingdom of God, to others and to you and your spiritual life, as well as being a great joy. The key thing is to put our plans under the lordship of Christ.
1. Mark Twain, The Innocents Abroad, General Books, Memphis, 2010, p. 325.↩