How many stamps do you have in your passport? Are you proud of the number? The variety? Or do you riffle through the blank pages and wonder where everyone else finds the time and money?
If you are a Canadian, you are especially likely to feel travel pride or envy. After all, you are surrounded by travellers. In 2016, Canadians got a bronze in the competition for most international travel, with 897 outbound trips per 1,000 people. Germany and the United Kingdom beat us narrowly and Italy secured a fourth place finish with only half as many jetsetters (Tourism Industry Association of Canada, 2016). On average, Canadian borders see twice as many Canadian travellers leaving as international travellers arriving.
Young Canadians are especially likely to travel. In 2010, about 20 percent of global travellers were between the ages of 15 and 29, and now the number is closer to 23 percent, according to the Canadian Tourism Commission. Research shows that these young travellers are revolutionizing the tourist game – staying away for longer, investing in authentic local experiences and cutting costs at every corner. Travel is no longer about vacation, it’s a lifestyle.
What does Christ call us to in this age of global transience? Thoughtful Christians tend to have one of three responses to our global travel trend. Each response comes with its own set of assumptions and offers some insight into how Christ calls us to live in the world, but not of it.
The Soul Searcher
The Soul Searchers find their inspiration in a host of biblical characters from Abraham to Naomi to Paul, who hit the road in obedience to God’s calling and encountered his presence there. These Christian travelers take to heart Jesus’ words to his disciples “Foxes have dens and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head” (Matt 8:20). They believe that growth happens outside of their comfort zones and that they are most likely to rely on Jesus when they are in the liminal spaces of life. Heading out into the world creates opportunities for personal growth and brings spirit-led encounters with others. Full-time traveler and nomadic missionary Chinua Ford says that many travelers are out there because they are searching for something more and Christians “need to inject ourselves into that mix.” A hostel kitchen, an airplane seat and a guided bike tour are all opportunities to meet others and share the gospel.
The Buddy Passer
You will find the average Buddy Passer legs deep in luggage somewhere near the bathrooms going through her bags for granola bars. These Christian travellers planned their adventure with one goal in mind – relationship building. This too can be a God-ordained reason to travel. The Bible is filled with passages that remind us of the sanctity of marriage and family life: “honour your father and mother” (Ex. 20:12), “fathers do not exasperate your children” (Eph. 6:4), and “what God has joined together, let no one separate” (Matt. 19:6). For some couples and families, traveling together can be the best way to prevent dishonouring, exasperation and distancing. Whether the Buddy Passer is travelling with one family member or 17, travel presents an opportunity to pull away from the demands of routine life, to create shared memories and to reaffirm love for one another.
The Staycationers are critical of our culture’s travel trend and they root their reasoning in the countless scripture passages that point us towards covenant community. Extended or frequent trips abroad interrupt the fabric of fellowship. In Ephesians 4, Paul writes “we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ. From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.” These travel skeptics ask, how are we supposed to be the body of Christ when the hand runs off to Mexico for two weeks every February? This can be a point of pain for many in our congregations who see their callings as locational. Pastor David Salverda, a lover of all things local, puts it this way: “My worry with people who travel a lot is that they don’t really have a clear sense of what their vocation is.” Filling our passports with stamps could mean we’re fleeing from our God-given purpose.
Our faith calls us to think deeply about our reasons for heading out into the world. Are we leaving because we have grown weary of our regular lives? Are we fleeing our calling? Are we restless with the relationships God has given us? Or are we actively seeking God’s will when we are on the road? In Psalm 139, we are reminded that we cannot flee from God’s presence: “If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there. If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there your hand will guide me.” This verse is both a comfort and a way marker for Christian travelers. We are not here for the selfies, suntans and buffet dinners. So the next time you have your passport in hand, ask yourself not “where are I going?” but “why am I going?”