Sunday, June 04, 2006

Transformational Travel (Part 1)

Travel transforms us in ways we may not expect when we set off on the journey.

The first time I traveled was with my family growing up. We visited missionaries in Long Island, friends across America, many who had been students with my older brothers and sisters at Harding University. I remember like it was yesterday standing at the bay window of our house waiting for Mom and Dad to come home from a mission trip and seeing the lights of their car coming down the gravel road. Even their trips to Italy and Trinadad, though I didn't go, were formative to me. I listened to Mom's vivid descriptions of people, their poverty, the way Mom and Dad would sit and talk and get to know a handful of Tobagoans. I looked at the photos of the Rastafarian they'd met and the tropical places I'd never visited before.

Family vacations were annual events where we crammed seven of us in large 70s model sedans, one of which was a Continental like the one Kennedy rode in with the death doors. Playing with the door handle, I managed to open the door on the fly and my sister, Terri, grabbed me before I was roadkill. In those days you had flats and broken water pump hoses and fan belts and broken a/c and it was part of criss crossing the country. We visited the Grand Canyon, Washington state to see my Mom's brother--Uncle Bud--and Aunt Karen, their three boys and two cousins who were staying with them. Later they moved to Oklahoma and we became cousin-brothers with Mark, Brooks, and Clint, who moved in next door to our Grandmother Davis.

We visited Disneyland before I was born and Disney World after I was born and one of the most vivid memories of that trip was being sad one night at Disney because my brother Brent had to return from the trip on an airplane for a golf tournament. I'd never ridden an airplane at that point and I was scare for my older brother to ride one of those birds and missed his presence on the last days of our trip.

I suppose that's how my children felt after we'd covered 3,500 miles in two weeks, and I had to fly back for work before the family made the last leg of the trip. We'd traced a huge circle starting in Tulsa with stops in Rochester, Michigan, Niagra Falls, Utica, New York and New York City, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Washington D.C., Knoxville, Tennesee and the Smokies, and Nashville, then back to Tulsa. I missed that Nashville to Tulsa leg, and I know the children must have felt the same way about my leaving as I felt about my brother leaving that trip thirty years ago.

My first time to live in another state other than Oklahoma was after leaving for college when I was 17 and moving to Arkansas, where I met my wife, Jill. Both of us traveled to Harding University in Florence, Italy (HUF). HUF was my first exposure to the larger world, Europe in particular, and this was where I first worshipped in a language not my own. Having taken two semesters of Italian, many of us were able to sing and enjoy praise in that ancient Latin-based language. I remember thinking how incredible it was to realize God spoke so many other languages besides English and English was a very new language. HUF, like early family vacations, was another transformational travel experience.

In 1988 and 1989 we met Mark Berryman and Monte and Beth Cox, who all led us to think seriously about visiting Africa in the summer of '89. Ten days after Jill and I were married, we went to Kenya for an internship, a six-week short-term mission meant to transform the travelers and expose us to experiences that will change our lives and help us interact with another part of the body of Christ across the world, and finally to open our eyes to the possibilities of living in such a place long-term.

Before I discovered the term "Transformational Travel" from Beyond Borders, the internship we did had that kind of life change and world view explosion as the goal. Internships challenge college students to a mission bigger than themselves, to stretch them with a view toward the possibility of one day making a long-term commitment. One of the most important aspects of the internship is the bonding experience. This is a six-week stint in which short-termers are taken to remote African villages and placed with local Christian families. Since few if any of the villagers speaks English, the interns must learn how to communicate. They play with
children, work in the gardens, ride bikes to local markets, peel potatoes, and eat
foods they’ve never had before (like roasted ants!). The bonding experience is usually the most dreaded six weeks of the internship. But afterward, short-termers nearly always say it was the most meaningful aspect of their experience. Some even go so far as to call it the most profound and life-changing event of their lives.

Like my family vacations and HUF, the internship Jill and I experienced in 1989 was transformational travel.

More on transformation travel tomorrow.

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