Today, travel is possible to an extent never before experienced by a human civilization. We have mapped every corner of this earth, and have ways to get from just about any “Point A” to any “Point B.” It’s an amazing thing. It has enabled us to see, learn about, and encounter cultures different from our own, and by doing so, stretch our imaginations. It induces us to think about what other people’s experiences have been, how they differ from ours, and how they might see things differently because of it.
When I studied abroad in the Czech Republic, I discovered a world both similar to and unlike the one I had always known. It was the longest time I’d ever spent in another country, from mid-January to mid-May of 2002. The land was full of history, with ancient Celtic henges, Moravian castles, and Bohemian kings like Good King Wenceslas. A Protestant reformer named Jan Hus was burned at the stake there a hundred years before Martin Luther wrote his 95 Theses arguing for similar reforms.
I attended classes at Charles University which, with a founding date of 1348, was one of the oldest universities in Europe. My history teacher had survived the persecution of the Nazis, who would have sent him to a death camp, by hiding underneath a train to escape into Italy. He fought in Her Majesty’s Royal Air Force as a bombardier before being sentenced to five years in a heavy labor camp under Stalin for “being associated with the West.”
The fraught history of the Czech Republic shaped its people with experiences that were completely unfamiliar in my American upbringing. For example, under Communist control from the end of World War II until 1989, informers and secret police were everywhere, listening to everything people said and watching how they acted. This created a cultural “hangover” of not trusting outsiders, which has lasted to the present day. When you feared your very neighbor might turn you in, you learned to keep to yourself.
Cultural differences like these made me think about how environment shapes the way we see the world and how we approach relationships. I came to realize that my way of thinking was not the only way of thinking. This was critical to my spiritual growth, because to understand people who come from other places, other backgrounds, or other experiences, you must first realize that yours is not the only way, or even necessarily the “right” way to think. It is simply the way that you learned, formed by the place where you were.
Travel expands our capacity to understand one another as human beings. Can you think of an encounter with another culture which deepened your understanding of life and relationships? Can you recall a way in which travel opened you up to new experiences which you might never have attempted, had you stayed in one place?
Our God created this world and all the people in it. When we take time to step into someone else's shoes, to see the world from their vantage point, we become more intertwined with one another in a holy kind of way. So go forth and travel this summer!
~ Pastor Abbie Huff