Have you got any overseas travel planned?
Have you got any overseas travel planned? By Tom Hoffmann - Pastor You would have to be a fairly optimistic person to be mapping out your next journey to a foreign land, wouldn’t you? COVID has certainly restricted our movements, and while for some that isn’t much of a bother, there are travel-lovers who will be raring to go when it’s properly doable! Travelling abroad is great but venturing across borders has not always been thought of as such. In the Ancient Near East, for example, travel to foreign lands was risky, if not downright dangerous – even in a world where hospitality to the stranger was, broadly speaking, a transnational expectation. Journeying to the land of the “different” and the “other” was considered perilous – sometimes for good reason, other times, no doubt, only due to misinformation and judgemental preconceptions. In the Holy Bible there is a famous story of Jesus and his disciples travelling across the Sea of Galilee. In this story, Jesus said to his disciples, “Let’s go over to the other side,” which might as well have meant, “Let’s go to a foreign land.” Jesus’ disciples, being people of their time, would have had serious reservations about plotting this course. The other side implied territories occupied by people of different cultures, ethnicities, religions and so on. So, Jesus’ disciples were likely a little nervous, perhaps even frightened, of the prospect of this voyage. While sailing to that other side, a storm came up and very nearly overwhelmed the boat. The disciples were terrified, all the while their master, Jesus, was asleep in the stern. In their desperation, though, they roused Jesus and he, miraculously, calmed the storm for them. But once Jesus had done that, he confronted the disciples about their fear and their (lack of) faith. He was not at all interested in speaking to them about the shocking power of the wind and the waves or what amazing a guy he was having saved them. His focus was on teaching them something about their fear and their faith. In fact, the way Jesus spoke to them after the storm shows that the weather was not the point of the story at all – journeying to necessary destinations, even through fear, is the point. Do you feel apprehensive about meeting or interacting with people from different cultures or lifestyles? Do you, perhaps, feel a social anxiety even if travelling only as far as your local supermarket if you might have to speak to the cashier? There are many reasons we might be afraid to engage with someone who is other to us. But, in the same way that Jesus of Nazareth rejected fear and opened himself to all people of all cultures and persuasions – taking his ministry to the “other side” – that openness can be our destination too. It may not yet be the right time to head off to distant lands, but we can travel to where X-marks-the-spot even standing right on the spot – by reaching out to people we might normally avoid or hesitate to interact with. We don’t need to travel to experience new things or connect with difference. We can do that right here if we just open our eyes and embrace the diversity that is all around us. While you may not be on the open seas or flying high just yet, the travel guide handy hints remain the same: Reject fear. Be open. Embrace the stranger. That’s what Jesus did. Let that openness be your starting point and your every destination •