Some people call travel a luxury, but for me it’s a sacred experience. When I travel, God shows me his beauty–dramatic mountain ranges and oceans vibrant with blue. He also reveals the beauty of his image, refracting off the faces of strangers.
I’ve encountered all sorts of people in my last few years of travel: the man who returned my passport wallet when I dropped it in the baggage claim, the guys who shared a bag of pistachios with me on the train, and a group of pre-teen schoolgirls who rescued me from a European bathroom stall with a faulty lock. Yeah… that happened. While some of these adventures left me laughing, others affected me deeply.
Strangers, or friends waiting to happen
A writing festival brought a friend and me, budget-conscious students, to a west Michigan city. We stayed with distant acquaintances to one of our writing professors, Dan and Nancy, who shared their spare bedrooms and meals with us. The more we got to know each other, polite chuckles gave way to bellyaching guffaws. Our small talk snowballed into passionate discussions about race, women in ministry, and art. Now, a year later, we still keep in touch with life updates and prayer requests.
Dan and Nancy’s joy at providing hospitality embodied Jesus’ words about the blessings of giving versus receiving. Their warm and generous hospitality touched me deeply and left me eager to show that same kind of charity to others.
Sometimes, it takes only an evening
While visiting my sister in Hawaii, she introduced me to her friends, Wayne and Julie, who were locals. We bonded instantly over our love of fried chicken and the rebooted Hawaii Five–0, and their eyes lit up when I said I wanted to eat like the locals. They introduced me to loco moco and malasadas, deep fried pastry balls, golden brown and rolled in sugar. Confectionary balms for my sweet tooth. In Wayne and Julie, I found kindred foodies and a friendship that continues to grow.
Going deep while flying high
People disclose interesting information at 35,000 feet. One bachelor boasted about his love for his girlfriend, especially certain parts of her anatomy, before bragging to me about “banging” her sister the other night. I plugged in my earbuds, warding off any more “dude, really?” moments.
But for other seat-mates, I’ve pulled off my headphones and listened. Phyllis plopped into the aisle seat and struggled to catch her breath. After several minutes, her breathing hadn’t returned to normal and I asked if she was okay. It took her a while to calm down and tell me the news she’d just received. Doctors had given her brother a slim chance of living through the night and she didn’t know if her flight would make it home in time to say goodbye. We joined hands and prayed.
During another flight, Travis apologized for his fidgeting. Once we landed, he would reconnect with the father who’d forced him from their small Texas town when Travis came out as gay. A phone call had initiated reconciliation, but father and son had last seen each other five years ago. When Travis and I said goodbyes at the end of the jet bridge, he threw his arms around me, “I just didn’t know Christians cared about people like me.” I held my tears until I reached a bathroom, then cried like a baby.
When I travel, the Holy Spirit transforms dining tables, Boeing 747’s, and jet bridges into sacred spaces. These grace-filled encounters have shown me that community can happen anywhere, even among strangers. Through travel, God has re-opened my eyes to the beauty of his Earth and the people made in his image.
Originally posted on shannongianotti.com