And so it was that all were brought safely to land.
The Apostle Paul had a lot of travelling adventures, perhaps none more harrowing than the shipwreck episode in Acts 27. As Paul and other prisoners are being transported via boat from Caesarea to Rome, they encounter a fierce storm, followed by the boat running aground in a reef, resulting in passengers having to jump overboard and swim or ride pieces of wreckage to land. Everyone makes it to dry land (a miracle!), where the adventure continues. Paul survives a bite from a poisonous viper (miracle again!), heals the father of the island’s governor, then heals the diseases of others on the island. After three months he gets on another boat to complete his journey to Rome, where prison awaits.
Paul’s adventures — whether surviving a shipwreck or escaping out a window in a basket — are part of a long biblical tradition of travel adventures: Noah and his family surviving history’s biggest storm in an ark, Abram leaving his home Ur for a land he knew little about, Moses and the Israelites escaping the Egyptian army and surviving for 40 years in the wilderness.
Movement, travel, journeying: these are central motifs in Scripture, as they are in the Christian life. Why? One reason is that these things jolt us out of what is comfortable, requiring us to step out on faith into the unknown and uncomfortable. In travelling we are stretched, humbled, matured, and reminded that the Christian experience is not meant to be one of “comfort zone” safety and self-reliance, but of faith and dependence on God.
I’ve never been in a shipwreck in the Mediterranean, but I’ve had my share of travelling escapades: sleeping on a bench in Osaka and getting woken up by Japanese cops; getting accosted by drunken soccer hooligans on a train from York to Edinburgh; trying to sleep through all sorts of disturbing things in a Parisian hostel. Though my life was never in danger in any of these situations, they were experiences I wanted to quickly escape. Once I did, the exhilarating mix of “I’m safe” and “what just happened?” ingrained each occurrence in my memory, lessons in gratitude and reliance on God.
Another way travelling adventures can enrich our faith is simply by showing us new facets of God’s exotic world, confronting us with its gloriously peculiar variety and terrifying power. Whether hiking in the Patagonian Andes in Argentina, getting drenched on a boat underneath Iguazu Falls in Brazil, or dodging jellyfish on a Malaysian island beach, I’ve been lucky enough to experience God through thrilling encounter with the diversity of His creation.
God can be encountered anywhere, it’s true; even in the safe confines of a gated community in the suburbs. But when we encounter Him on the road, in a foreign land, in cultures and landscapes utterly alien to us, we can know Him in a different way. We can also see ourselves more clearly: as fragile and transitory beings, smaller than we thought, sojourners in a land that’s not our own, called forth like Abram and Paul to leave the familiar and walk on in faith.
Originally published in Issue 19 of Converge Magazine.
Photo (Flickr CC) by Geraint Rowland