This August entails an unusual amount of out-of-state traveling for me. Much of it is related to strengthening ministry, and some for vacation. At the beginning of the month, I spent three days in Techny, Illinois, just outside of Chicago attending Parker Palmer’s Center for Courage and Renewal at a guided, ecumenical retreat entitled ‘Habits of the Heart: Liberating the Voice of Courage.’ I am currently in Evanston, Illinois, just up the street from Northwestern University and Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary attending the United Methodist Church’s School of Congregational Development. Next week our family will drive my son from New Jersey to Alabama, where he will begin his sophomore year at Birmingham Southern College. While there, we will spend a few days with my mom. Finally, the last week of the month I fly to Houston for the Global UMC Clergy Woman’s Gathering and World Methodist Conference. I will only spend 14 days in New Jersey this month.
I confess this travel not to be a burden experience for me but indeed a blessing. Travel is liberating and exciting because it offers opportunities to enjoy different cultures and build relationships with people who are experiencing the world differently than I am. Weaving these experiences into the fabric of my life and understanding of the world enriches and invigorates me not only intellectually, but emotionally and spiritually. I have been blessed to live in and experience many different cultures, and I can truly say that I believe connecting with those different than ourselves is part of living abundantly. I also believe that as people of various ethnicities, races, and cultures come together, they usher in God’s kingdom. It’s a foretaste of the glory divine spoken of in Revelation 7:9 when folks “from every nation, tribe, people, and language” are described to someday all be together worshiping before the throne of the Lamb.
The most enriching preview of such glory I have experienced was over a particular three-year period as part of a small groups interdenominational Bible study program. I lived in Paris, France and up to 65 people met every Thursday morning at St. Joseph’s Catholic Church on Ave. Hoche. We represented at least 18 different countries spanning six different continents, 12 different ethnicities, and spoke easily upwards of 15 different languages. There were also over 20 different denomination or faith tradition backgrounds represented as well. We came from all walks of life. There were political refugees from African countries, fashion models, ambassadors’ spouses and family from Hong Kong and Liberia, American flight attendants, French professors, jazz singers, former prostitutes, an American CIA agent, homeless people, Russian grandmothers, nannies from New Zealand, housekeepers from the Philippines, and upper middle class stay-at-home moms and their children from all over the world. That’s just what I can remember.
We worshiped, fellowshiped and studied the Bible together as we broke into small groups. We shared our understandings and life experiences with one another through the lens of Scripture. We ate meals together. We prayed intimately for one another. We went out in mission together. It was an extraordinary and invigorating time as we learned from varied understandings and faith. The most excitement was generated in times when we discovered that in spite of our many differences, we were all experiencing the same Jesus Christ. As someone from Sydney would share about a “God moment,” others from Sao Paulo, Manila or Miami would chime in and say “Yes! I know exactly what you mean,” or “Yes! That has happened to me, too!” or “I’ve thought the same thing.” Our sameness and difference through Jesus Christ enlivened each of our faiths.
For a host of reasons, our world is indeed getting smaller. Many of us live in communities that are changing, becoming more diverse. Praise God! We have opportunities to experience great “road trips” right at home. As leaders in the Church, we have a fantastic opportunity to offer more enriched faith-building and discipling experiences by intentionally inviting those who are different than ourselves into small group experiences. I encourage you to make such an effort. You will be blessed.