In May last year, Ross and I sold our bed, couch, and chest-of-drawers, loaded our belongings into boxes, and packed our suitcases for a long journey which wound around the United States, over the Atlantic, to Tanzania, and thought East Africa…and we’re still traveling. In the last month, Ross and I have been from Tanga to Mwanza, Arusha, Rondo, and Mtwara. Along these journeys throughout the last year, I have learned to pack for a month in a 2 ft long by 1 ft wide backpack, become an expert at washing laundry in hotel sinks, and can fit all my personal hygiene accouterments in a small toiletry bag which has hung in many a home and hostel. Songs like “King of the Road” and “On the Road Again,” have risen to the top on our Most Played List on our iPod. As our journey draws to a close (we will land in Mtwara–our “home”–finally in April), I have been thinking about God’s view of traveling and wondering why he has had us on the road for so long.
Although my generation’s beloved agro-saint, Wendell Berry, had me sold on the idea of a “placed person” and “knowing the land” as a means to true spiritual and ecological wholeness, lately, I’ve been doubting the idea. Mainly because I can’t find many “placed persons” who are examples of faithfulness in the Bible after Adam and Eve. Right off the bat, God asks Abraham to leave his home and take up the tent life on a journey to an unknown destination. Jacob flees from his brother Esau, and wrestles God at the side of the road where he lays down to rest with a rock for a pillow. Joseph is sold to a slave caravan which carries him far from the home to which he never returns. The nation of Israel is delivered from slavery into a 40 year sojourn. The night before Israel leaves Egypt, God asks them to eat the first Passover meal with their skirts tucked into their belts (ready to move) and their bags packed. Israel settles for a few generations in the promise land, and God disperses them again so they will get their act together. Later, Christ is not marked by home or land, but as Isaiah says, the fact that “He has no place to lay his head.” We hear just enough of Jesus’ house throughout the gospels to know that he does not stay. Although he never takes any international flights, Jesus and His disciples are always on the move: to Galilee (through Samaria!), Capernaum, Canna, Jerusalem, and where there is the Sea Galilee, He crosses to the other side. His last words are not, “Make homestead,” but, “Go into all the world.” Paul’s ministry is marked by three “missionary journeys,” and all the Apostles are eventually dispersed widely thought the world.
Eat, Love, Pray may have infected many with romantic notions of travel to exotic places, but traveler’s beware, often the new vistas come with bed bugs, dirty showers, limited food options, delayed flights, illness, and a general feeling of being unsettled. Traveling is often a wonderfully mind opening, world-view expanding experience that changes a person, but it also can also be very uncomfortable. I have come to the conclusion that perhaps this is why God asks his people to pack their bags so often–traveling puts our hearts in a posture to receive God. When traveling, you can’t hold on to too much, or you won’t go anywhere. Now Jesus’ words in John, “Whoever leaves homes…or lands…” hold deep meaning for me. Giving up the idea of a “nest” or a “home” is difficult, and the American dream is a true foil to God’s sojourning saint. Even when Ross and I eventually settle, I’ll hope I’ll always be on call, ready to grab my bags and go in answer to the God (of the road).