Everybody travels these days. The question is, most often, not whether we will travel overseas, but where we are thinking of travelling to next.
It’s hard for us to recognise just how historically novel this experience is. And it can be hard for Christians to realise that, like every other aspect of our lives, our travel plans need to come under the lordship of Jesus Christ.
In this episode of the podcast, we hear the very useful insights of Stephen Liggins, author of a new book on Christians and travel—in fact, the only book on Christians and travel that, to the best of our knowledge, exists!
Links referred to:
Runtime: 25:21 min.
Stephen Liggins: And the thing I actually have found—I did a bit of a survey at our church one night. I think we had about 180 people in our evening service, and I said, you know, “Can you put up your hands if you’ve been travelling overseas recently or you’re planning on going overseas in the not-to-distant future?” And maybe 170 out of 180 hands went up. So a lot of people are doing it or planning on doing it. And I said, “Could you put up your hand if you’ve ever heard a talk or read an article or a book which have helped you to think about travelling Christianly?” I think five hands went up.
Tony Payne: That’s Stephen Liggins, our guest on today’s podcast. And you’ve got to say he has a point: everybody today is travelling. It’s just a norm. It’s expected. And yet, who is writing or thinking or speaking about what it means to travel as a Christian—to think Christianly about that aspect of our experience and our lives? Good news is that Stephen has done something about it: he’s written a book about Christians and travel, and we’re speaking to him about it on this episode of the Centre for Christian Living podcast.
Hello, I’m Tony Payne and welcome to episode 13 of the Centre for Christian Living podcast, coming to you from Moore College in Sydney, Australia. Our aim in this episode and, in fact, in everything that the Centre for Christian Living does, is to bring the framework of the Bible and its theology to our experience as Christians in the world—to bring biblical ethics to everyday issues.
And as I’ve already said, the issue we’re going to be looking at in this episode is travel and the Christian. And our guest?
SL: Yeah, I’m Stephen Liggins, I work as an Anglican minister up in the Blue Mountains, just outside of Sydney. I’m married with two children. And I’m a graduate of this esteemed college—Moore College: I finished here in 2002, and since then, I’ve done a Masters and a PhD here as well.
TP: Stephen, Travelling the World as Citizens of Heaven is the title of your recent book about Christian travel. Why write about Christian travel?
SL: I guess for a few reasons, Tony: I’ve had the opportunity to travel overseas a number of times over the last few years. And I’ve found it to be a real plus and benefit for my Christian life. But I’m also aware that often when people leave their shores, it can be quite a challenging time for them and their faith. And so, I realised that there’s almost nothing written on the topic to help, you know, normal Christians just think about in a Christian way heading off overseas and some of the opportunities they may come across, and some of the challenges and dangers they may face. So I felt there was a bit of a gap. I had some experience and I’d done some thinking on it, and so I put pen to paper.
TP: When you talk about travel, what do you mean by “travel”? What’s the defining characteristics there?
SL: Yeah, I guess I’m thinking of, I guess, leaving your—where your live. Particularly going overseas. So it could be for all sorts of reasons: it could be for a holiday or a gap year or a—you might have a study term overseas or a work transfer. Or a—some sort of educational trip. Whatever. But the idea is you’re leaving your comfort zone—where you normally live and exist—going somewhere else for whatever reasons, but then how to, I guess, make the most of it and avoid the problems.
TP: You’re mentioning positives and negatives—things that have been beneficial for you personally—but also challenges that people find. What are some of those positives and negatives?
SL: Oh, there are many benefits to travelling overseas. It can be, you know, stimulating, relaxing, enjoyable. It can be an adventure. You can learn a lot about the world. You can learn a lot about yourself. But also, I think, one of the best things about travelling is not just seeing God’s incredible world, but it’s the people you meet. And so, when you go travelling, there’s great opportunity to meet Christians, so you can encourage, or you can try and encourage. But also you often find you meet non-believers—particularly if you’re travelling in a relaxed context—who are fairly open to talking about beliefs and faith and things like that. So you can often find yourself in some great conversations as well.
TP: Can you give an example of something that you yourself experienced that was a real positive of overseas travel?
SL: Oh, I could give lots! I said that one of the best things about travelling is the people you meet, and one of the things I’ve tried to do when I go travelling, or when I’m overseas on work, is I’ll usually pray each day when I can that God would either lead me to Christians I can encourage or non-Christians to whom I can have some sort of helpful conversation. And there was one time when I was just backpacking through Africa and over a four-day period, I run into four different Christians. I was staying at a youth hostel and ran into a German backpacker there who’d just been converted recently. I had a good time chatting to her. Sitting in a park around about the same time, I met a local Zimbabwean man who was a Christian. Next day, I travelled into Botswana and I ran into a girl at an accommodat—where we were trying to get some accommodation one night. She’d just been converted a few weeks earlier at a Billy Graham crusade in London. Had a great chance chatting to her. And then I ended up on a really wonderful place called the Okavango Delta, which is up in the north-west of Botswana, and I pitched my tent next to two South Africans, and became friendly with them, and it turned out that one of the guys was a Christian, one of the guys was a non-believer, and so I had a good chance to, I guess, encourage the Christian guy, be some sort of witness to the non-Christian guy. Hopefully I helped rather than hindered the Christian guy there. But, yeah, just one incident after another. And I often find that if you pray that God will lead you to people and you’re open to opportunities, the relaxed environment, I guess, of recreational travel, if that’s what you’re doing, can really throw up these sorts of situations.
TP: It’s remarkable how often God answers a prayer like that: “Lead me to someone to talk to today, Lord, that I can be of help to.”
SL: Yeah. And it’s not just, you know, non-believers; I was—once when I was in Greece, I was reading my Bible in a café one afternoon and having a coffee or something, and then I met up with some travellers later on in the day. The following morning, the English guy came up to me and said, “Oh yeah, I saw you reading your Bible yesterday afternoon. Yes, I used to sort of be a Christian, but I, you know, fell on hard times, and now I’m thinking of making a comeback,” and so I had a good chat with him. But I guess that’s just a few of the sorts of things you can come across if you’re looking for opportunities and you’re open for them.
TP: Do you think you’re the kind of person who is like that here in Australia, and so, in your home town, you’re the sort of person who likes to encourage and talk to people, so that you’re also the kind of person who pretty naturally looks for those opportunities as you travel? Do you think there’s a connection between the two?
SL: I think there probably is. But there’s something just about being outside your comfort zone, I’ve found, which makes you more … obvious—I tend to think I actually think about God more, perhaps, when I’m out of my comfort zone, because I realise that I’m more dependent on him. And I’ve often found that I’m just, perhaps, even more open to looking for opportunities. But, yes, I think I am a person who likes having those sorts of chats, and I take it overseas with me. But maybe it gets sort of amplified slightly.
But as I said, I am aware that some people have gone away and it’s been a disaster for their Christian life.
TP: What sort of ways can it be a disaster? What are the negatives?
SL: I guess you’re outside of your comfort zone, familiar contexts, support structures. And so sometimes people find that if they go away, they fall out of routine, they stop reading their Bibles and praying the way they may be in the habit of doing when they’re at home. Also, you’re away from people who keep you accountable. So if you’ve ever thought in the back of your mind, “Boy, I’d really like to … get into these sorts of things, which I wouldn’t here back in Australia, but, you know, away from people who are keeping an eye on me, I might have too much to drink or have inappropriate relationships or smoke a bit of whatever.” If your support structures are removed, sometimes people can make some foolish, unwise decisions, you know: “What happens overseas stays overseas. No one will ever know.” That sort of thing.
So that can be a problem, and I often find also that sometimes people can move somewhere for an extended period of time, but they don’t get involved in a church. And so they’re losing the opportunity to, I guess, interact with other believers, hear God’s word preached, that sort of thing. So I guess it’s just the change of environment: it can be a real plus; it can be a real minus.
TP: Towards the end of the book, you have a really interesting chapter—I thought a very good chapter—where you weighed up the pros and cons of travel, and especially the question of whether it’s a good idea to travel in the first place, for whatever reason that you have in front of you, because that’s a question that we don’t even often ask ourselves.
SL: Yeah. I mean, as I’ve suggested, I think there are lots of good reasons to go travelling if the circumstances are right: it can be a wonderful experience. But I think that we need in all areas of our life to put everything under the lordship of Christ and think, “Is it a wise decision to go travelling?”
And so, I guess, partially based on experience and biblical reflection, I sort of suggest in the book that you sort of ask yourself three questions. So the first one would be, you know, “Do I have good reasons for going travelling?” And I think good reasons for travelling are, you know, rest, recreation, visiting a family, visiting friends, perhaps work, perhaps study—that sort of thing.
Some poor reasons for going travelling, I think, are: “Well, I’ll go overseas because everyone else is.” Or “It’s the thing to do.” Or “I feel my life isn’t complete unless I do it.” Or some people might even think, “If I go overseas, I can get engaged in the sorts of behaviour, which I wouldn’t do back here. You know, opportunity to sin, or whatever.
So I think the first question to ask is, you know, “Have you got good reasons for travelling?” And I think it’s perfectly legitimate to say, “Oh, I need a bit of a holiday. I’d like a bit of a break.” Or “I want to catch up with some friends or see some new things.” So that first one: have you got some good reasons or are they bad ones?
The second question of which I think is an important one for Christians to ask: “Are we being good stewards of what’s given us—God’s given us?” You know, are we using our time wisely? Are we using our money wisely? Often, obviously, travel takes up time. It costs money. And so I think that what we need to do is to prayerfully think through, you know, “Is this a good use of my time and monetary resources?” And that’s not an easy question to answer sometimes. But I think if you pray about it, you look at your circumstances, perhaps talked to a few older, wiser Christians, you can come to a good conclusion. So, for example, when I finished university, a lot of people when they finish university when I was a bit younger headed off overseas for half a year or a year. And I thought, “Well, I’ll do—might do the same.” But then I thought about it as a Christian: is that a good way to spend the money and time? And so, to cut a long story short, I ended up going away for just over two months, which I felt comfortable with—well, pretty comfortable with financially and time-wise. But, you know, I tried to think about it Christianly. Now, I’m not saying you shouldn’t go for longer than two months; I’m just saying that that’s the way I thought it through.
Now if we think that we’ve got, you know, we’re being good stewards of our time and money in travelling, I think the last question to ask is, “How would my being away impact, you know, important relationships in my life?” So, for example, if you’re married, you’re hardly likely to go on a holiday by yourself overseas for half a year. I mean, at least, I’d suggest that would be unwise. You know, you may have a sick grandmother, and it may not be the time to go overseas. Or you might just be dating someone. Now, I can imagine if you were dating someone and it’s fairly serious, heading off overseas by yourself for a recreational holiday for a year might suggest something about the relationship. You know, if you were going overseas for half a year to study, that might be a different kettle of fish. But I think you want to think, “How does this affect key relationships?”—one of which, I think, is your actual church. So if you’re, you know, a youth leader or a Sunday School teacher, or a Bible study leader, you know, is your being away—how’s that going to impact that? Is there someone who can cover for you? Are you leaving your church in an awkward situation?
So I guess the three things I’d think of: “Have you got good reasons to travel?”, “Are you being wise in the use of time and money?” and “How does, I guess, impact key relationships?”
TP: Do you think there are some … circumstances in our life or life situations which might render it unwise for us to go? So, for example, if we’re—I guess, a variation of the kind of things you’re saying, but it occurs to me if, for example, I’m a brand new Christian—
TP: —and I’m just getting my legs under me as a Christian, maybe not the time to cut myself off from support, discipleship, follow-up and go off for six weeks. Or if I’ve just suffered some kind of significant traumatic event in my life: the loss of a relationship or the loss of a friend or some deep disappointment, or a personal illness: maybe that’s not the greatest time to cut—to remove myself from the normal and healthy systems of support and encouragement that I have.
SL: That could very well be the case. So I think that it’s—particularly if you’re a new Christian, it can be really helpful to get the advice and counsel of a—someone who’s been a Christian for a longer period of time.
One of the things I write about in the book is, I guess, how to travel, and one of the—I think—the main consideration I was trying to look at there was, well, you know, given where you are as a Christian, is the way you’re travelling likely to help or hinder? So an example might be that if you’re a new Christian and you book yourself onto a group tour of Europe for 18-35s or something like that, you’re part of a group, you’re new to the faith, it’s very hard to go against the group situation like that if you’re just a new believer. You know, are you going to be able to stand up to it?
I had a couple of friends of mine a few years back who went on one of these tours: they were both Christians; they were in their 20s at the time; and they just said, “Right, while we’re away, we’re going to have our quiet times each day together,” and so while they were on the tour, they were—they’d have their quiet times either in the hotel room or on the bus. And they got on well with everyone on the tour because these two guys are pretty friendly sorts of guys. And near the end of the tour, they got to Amsterdam, I think it was, and the tour leader said something like, “Ah yes, when you’re in Paris, you go to the Eiffel Tower, and when you’re in Rome, you go to the Colosseum, and when you’re in Amsterdam, you go to a sex show. So tonight we’re going to go to a sex show.” And my two friends sort of thought, “We’re not going to do that.” They decided they wouldn’t. Obviously they had the support of each other. And the interesting thing was that they’d had such good relationships with people on the tour that they managed to talk the entire tour group out of going to the sex show. And the only people who went to the sex show in the end were the tour leaders!
But, you know, if you’d been by yourself in that situation, and the group had been going along, is your Christian life at such a point where you’d be happy to say, “Look, no, I won’t go, guys. You go; I’ll—I’m going to do something else.” Or would you be caught up in it? So that’s one of the things you want to think about.
So if you’re travelling overseas, you know, some issues are: would it be better for you to travel by yourself or with a friend or a Christian friend or in a group. You need to sort of weigh up how you’re—the way you’re travelling is going to impact, yeah, your quiet times, your behaviour, that sort of thing.
TP: And that involves a realistic view of our own fragility and fallenness, right? A realistic view of our capacity in—if the circumstances are right—to do the wrong thing.
SL: Yeah, I think—yeah, you know, it’s good if you have a bit of self-awareness or if someone can give you a bit of self-awareness. And so, look, you know, I have my many failings. But I tend to be fairly self-disciplined as a person. So I’ve found that when I was travelling overseas for whatever reason by myself, I’ll usually still had my quiet times. If people are getting drunk, I’ll think, “Nah, I’m out of there.” And that sort of thing. But some people I’ve learnt are, you know, may not be quite as self-disciplined or haven’t had the background and the good teaching and training that I’ve been fortunate enough to get, and they can struggle.
So let’s just say if someone was a new believer and they thought, “I’d like to go travelling,” and they think, “Oh, how will I go by myself?” They might decide they could go travelling with a Christian friend. Or there are Christian tour groups you can go away with. I was talking to a female friend of mine, and she said that when she went travelling as a 21-22-year-old, she went on a Christian tour with a Christian tour group, and that was a really good context to do it.
So I think, I guess, you just want to think, “What is going to be helpful for me? How can I avoid unnecessary dangers and problems?”
TP: Well, we’re just about to dig into the practical advice—the details of what Stephen would say to a Christian who’s thinking about travelling. Before we do that, and before I forget, I just want to tell you where to get hold of Stephen’s book, Travelling the World as Citizens of Heaven. If you go to our book special page at matthiasmedia.com.au/ccl/, you’ll find all the details of Stephen’s book there.
I really recommend you get a copy. In fact, I recommend you get more than one copy, because it’s the kind of book that you’ll be wanting to put in the hands of people—especially young people—who are thinking of travelling and, perhaps, haven’t really thought about the issue from a Christian point
of view at all. So get hold of Stephen’s book at that link—matthiasmedia.com.au/ccl/
And while you’re online and browsing around on the web, if you’d like to navigate your way across to iTunes and to their podcast section, and to the Centre for Christian Living podcast and give it a rating—I guess it’s going to be a five-star rating, of course—that would be really great. The more ratings and reviews we get on iTunes, the higher we rise up the rankings, the more people see our podcast and the more people can enjoy and benefit from this conversation.
And also, please just do share the podcast as it’s released each time—on Facebook or on Twitter or on whatever your social media platform is. Let other people know about what we’re doing so that they can benefit from bringing biblical ethics to everyday issues as well.
But let’s dive back in and dig into the details of what Stephen would say to someone who’s thinking about travelling as a Christian.
SL: I’ve got into the practice in the last half-year or so that when people from the church in which I’m working at are heading off overseas, I’ll usually try and catch up with them, and I tell them two things. And I can do that ’cause I’m a minister, so they’ve got to listen to me. But the first one is, “When you go away, make sure you have your quiet times.” You know, “Have you thought about that? Have you planned that?” There’s a young lady who I know who I have the utmost respect for as a young Christian lady, and she’d been travelling fairly recently, and I said to her, I was talking to her about her trip, and afterwards I said, “Oh, you know, how were your quiet times while you’re away?” And her head just dropped. And she said, “Oh …”
SL: “Not really good at all!” I know she planned the itinerary for her trip, but she hadn’t planned to have her quiet times. It really surprised me ’cause she’s a fine Christian girl. But just, I guess, the change of routine and moving out of where you normally are.
So I encourage people to say, that, “Make sure you read your Bible and pray, you know. Take something with you. Have a bit of a plan.” And the second thing I suggest to people is, you know, “Why don’t you actually pray at the start of each day that God would lead you to Christians who you might be able to encourage and non-Christians who you might be able to, I guess, point towards Christ in some culturally relevant appropriate way?” And so I give that to people, and most people sort of seem to appreciate it, and some people sort of think, “Oh, yeah, I hadn’t really thought of that.” You know, it’s not something people tend to think about a lot of. And so, they’re the short things.
I could mention one or two other things as well, depending on where they’re going. I mean, we’re looking—when we travel, we’re looking at God’s world. It’s a ruined masterpiece of a world, but it’s still a masterpiece, and I think when we see incredible things, we thank God for them. And we think, “Wow, look what’s God’s created! Or look what human ingenuity, which God’s given people, has produced, you know, in beautiful buildings and things.” So we—I think we want to thank God for what we see.
And the other thing is, because we live in a ruined masterpiece of the world, when we do go travelling, often we will see some horribly depressing things, depending on where we travel. You know, you can see poverty, you can see crime, you can see the sex trade, you can see horrible stuff going on. How’s that going to impact us? And so I think one of the—particularly if someone’s going to the developing world, it’s good if someone’s thought through the question of suffering or something like that. It can be helpful to have a bit of a few thoughts on that so that when you do encounter, really, the ugly side of life, which is in your face, that you can sort of—it’s still shocking, but you can at least, I guess, understand it a bit better.
Another friend of mine who, once, a number of years ago, returned from India, and before her trip, she was apparently a Christian, and not long after the trip, she apparently wasn’t a Christian. You know, it seemed to impact her a lot. And I wonder whether a bit of preparation may have helped. It’s hard to say.
But yes, so I’d suggest that as well. But the two big things I think are, “Have your quiet times” and “Pray that God would give you opportunities to encourage or witness.”
TP: It’s a strikingly simple and helpful description of the daily Christian life. That is, wherever we happen to be in the world—it’s a—it’s perhaps a striking and challenging description of what our everyday lives should be like—to be in God’s word and responding to him in prayer regularly as a normal rhythm of life, and to be praying that God allows us and gives us opportunity to love other people through speaking with them—whether they’re friends in Christ who we want to encourage or whether they’re people who aren’t Christians that we want to talk to and interact with. Feels like—in fact, it feels strikingly similar to the little diagram that used to be on the back of evangelistic tracts that describe the Christian life, which said you—it consisted of four arrows, you know: down to God from us in reading his word; up from us to God in prayer; and then outwards in both directions to other Christians and to non-Christians.
TP: It’s a striking description of the Christian life that you’re giving, really.
SL: Yes, I think those two things would apply wherever we are. But I guess the thing is that, I think, that sometimes when we move ourselves out of our home culture, we can just sometimes forget and be a bit lost—less conscious about some of those sorts of things.
TP: And that fits with what you were saying before about travel almost being like this compartmentalised subject that we don’t discuss and don’t think about in Christian terms. We might think about all sorts of other aspects of our lives Christianly—work, family, love, all sorts of stuff—society, politics. But somehow travel has come into this kind of hermetically sealed compartment over here, and we don’t think of it as an exercise of the Christian life, or something that we can live and do as a Christian.
SL: Yeah, I think that’s right. We can have our Christian areas of life and then just other areas: I sometimes think the same thing about sport that sometimes people will put … they don’t think about their sport Christianly. I think more people are thinking about their work Christianly these days as there’s a lot of, you know, good thinking being done on that and talked about. But, you know, our Christian life encovers—covers everything, including sport, travel, movies, books, work, how we talk to people, that sort of thing.
TP: So in a lot of ways, Stephen, you’ve given us a kind of sneak peek of the kind of things you write about inTravelling the World as Citizens of Heaven. What are your hopes for the book? What are you hoping that it will achieve?
SL: I’m hoping it will be—oh, I guess, of interest to people, but I’m really hoping it will be a very practical tool. My hope is that if someone who is a Christian is thinking about going travelling, they would read it and think about it wisely. If you’re Christian parents and your son or daughter is thinking of going travelling and they’re a believer, that the parents might say, you know, buy it and give it to them and say, “Have a look at this.” Christian ministers and, you know, young adults ministers and the things like that, when people under their charge are thinking of going travelling—I guess I’m hoping it will be given to people—bought for people and given to people—who are thinking about it so that they can make good, wise, godly decisions about whether to travel, and if they do go travelling, to prepare for it well and do it in a way which is going to be best for glorifying God, best for others and best for them themselves. So I guess I’m hoping it will be used as a very practical tool. As well as being, hopefully, an enjoyable read.
TP: Well Stephen’s book is a practical tool, and a very enjoyable read. And to get hold of a copy, as I said, zip over to matthiasmedia.com.au/ccl/ and you can find all the details there.
Well, that’s all for this episode—episode 13 of the Centre for Christian Living podcast. Thanks for being with us. I hope that you’ll subscribe. You can do that at iTunes or Stitcher or Overcast, or wherever you get your podcasts. And I hope, too, that you’ll get in touch and let us know what you’re thinking about in regard to the Christian life—the topics you’d like us to deal with here on this podcast or in the other things that the Centre does, and that you’ll give us some feedback on how the podcast is going.
Thanks for being with us! I’m Tony Payne. ’Bye for now.