Category Archives: Europe Trip 2015

Christians, We Are Not Tourists

You would think we’d be more alike.

Growing up homeschooled (and 2 ¾ years apart), my brother and I spent most of our waking hours together. We did our schoolwork across the table from each other, racing to finish so we could dash off to one of our rooms to play. Every meal we fought over who would put silverware on the table and who would fill all the cups with water. We know each other in ways no one else can.

A couple of years ago, he went off on an adventure to study abroad for several months. Not wanting to miss this opportunity, I visited him in Germany for a week.

So there we were. We had been in the US all of our lives and had only traveled without our parents once or twice, but now we found ourselves navigating intercontinental flights and exploring on our own.

And wouldn’t you know it. We traveled differently.

As we walked down historic German streets together, I tried to document our entire trip for our parents and anyone else. He would mentally observe his surroundings and describe them in detail later (long after I had forgotten those details).

My brother and me. Being tourists.

“Stop taking pictures,” he would whisper to me as I tried to get a better angle of some random restaurant. He wanted to blend in with the locals and his main goal was to not look like a tourist. I was very comfortable in my identity as a guest and didn’t mind if other people knew, too. (And I figured it was probably obvious – at least with me.)

We were traveling through the same places. But differently.

Not Like in the Old Days

The first mention of “travel” in the ESV Bible is in Exodus 13, the story of the Israelites’ exodus from Egypt. It was a wait-on-the-Lord-every-moment kind of expedition, a cloud-by-day-fire-by-night leading to the Promised Land. This was not a joyride. Not a vacation. It was a journey, full of danger and deprivation and more danger. The Israelites would walk for miles every day through the Middle Eastern wilderness, all for the goal of the destination. The Promised Land.

“When Pharaoh let the people go, God did not lead them by way of the land of the Philistines, although that was near. For God said, ‘Lest the people change their minds when they see war and return to Egypt.’ But God led the people around by the way of the wilderness toward the Red Sea…And the LORD went before them by day in a pillar of cloud to lead them along the way, and by night in a pillar of fire to give them light, that they might travel by day and by night. The pillar of cloud by day and the pillar of fire by night did not depart from before the people” (see Exodus 13:17-22).

This intentional, difficult traveling is not what we think of when we plan a vacation. These days, we travel in relative ease and comfort, without the fears and frustrations travelers would have faced centuries ago. We usually have less of a goal in mind—while we have chosen a specific destination, we go there to visit and not to forge a new life.

Maybe it’s easy for us to forget that this modern 21st-century life is not intended to be a joyride. We are on a journey, too.

And sometimes we travel differently.

Here to Try It All

While I walked many miles on that trip to Berlin, my goal was to take in all the sights and sounds and experiences I could while I was there. To live in the moment.

I wanted to see and hear and taste and smell and touch and feel everything I could. I wanted to get up early and stay up late. The time was short and I will likely never pass that way again—I had to fill my time with as much as I could while I had the opportunity.

As Christians, we are called to live with purpose and wisdom wherever God has placed us for now (see Ephesians 5:15-17). We are to seize the moments of each day and fill them with obedience, leading to an eternal reward. Not experience. Not fulfilling our senses. We are not tourists in the journey of life.

To live with the goal of temporary experience or pleasure is to miss all the eternal treasures God holds out for us, if only we will reach for them. How are we getting to know Him better every day? How are we seeking Him? What has He taught us and shown us during the moments of our days? He is with us every moment of our journey, bringing eternal purpose to our daily experiences. If only we could always see that.

Just One in the Crowd

My brother, on the other hand, wanted to blend in and pass as a German. He wanted to be seen as someone who belonged there, someone who knew what they were doing and had learned to live in that culture.

But he didn’t belong there.

The Israelites were different from the people around them because their God was not like the other gods. We may be a few thousand years later, but we are different from people around us, too. Because our God is still not like the gods of this world.

We usually won’t fit in. And as others see how often we stand out, they will venture closer to see why we are different. Therein lies our opportunity to share with them why we are here and where we really belong.

All the Way There

We are called to persevere even when it’s hard, not to seek out only the pleasures of the moment. We are called to be “sojourners,” “exiles” (see Hebrews 11:13, 1 Peter 2:11)—we aren’t going to look like the locals.

To be sure, there is a balance to this: On the one hand, we don’t need to be unnecessary killjoys. It’s admirable to try to adapt to the culture we are living in as long as we don’t compromise our identities in the process. On the flip side, we don’t want to set unnecessary obstacles to the gospel in front of others—we shouldn’t be so preoccupied with living in the moment that we forget why we’re really here.

Even when it’s hard (it will be), even when we feel like the only traveler in a world of tourists (we’re not), and even when we fail miserably at finding the right balance (we will so many times), we will continue on. Because we’re going Somewhere. And God, our guide through every moment, will lead us all the way there.

“This Hill, though high, I covet to ascend,
The difficulty will not me offend:
For I perceive the way to life lies here;
Come, pluck up, heart; lets neither faint nor fear.”
John Bunyan

What Corrie Would Have Told Us

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The ten Boom family living room

I’ve never been one to have a bucket list. But if I did, meeting Corrie ten Boom (or getting as close to that as I can) would be on it.

It all started with a book. “I should read that,” I thought, wondering how I graduated high school without reading Corrie’s classic, The Hiding Place. So one afternoon I started into the first chapter, and I would finish the last page that night while the rest of my family slept. The ten Boom story floored me, and I have revisited those chapters many times since. Their example of faithful work and love in a time of horror illustrates so well how Christians are to live in a world that opposes the very idea of God. As we face an increasingly hostile society today, we are encouraged by remembering the faithfulness of people like the ten Booms in harder times than these.

So I was thrilled to visit Corrie ten Boom’s house last spring.

One crisp June morning in Haarlem, The Netherlands, my brother and I entered the kitchen door right by the window with that telltale Alpina sign. I was seeing the family living room. Climbing that impossible staircase. Feeling the tweed fencing around the railing of the roof, built to hide illegal guests while they savored a few minutes of fresh air. There were space limitations in the cramped house, and we could only be in the house while on a guided tour, but I lingered as long as I could in each room, trying to be the last one to leave, taking one final look.

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Our guide was Aty, an older Dutch woman who shared ten Boom stories I hadn’t read in any books. Over 800 people were saved through the work of the people in that unassuming little house. “This is a story about the family ten Boom, not about heroes,” Aty told us. “This is a story about God…who still works today like He did in the past.”

Poetic. Like she’d read the book.

It was something Corrie would have said, too—and she did, many times. The ten Booms filled their days with feeding guests, cooperating with other workers, and serving strangers. It was God who orchestrated the details and led them along the path they had no map for. And Corrie knew that. That’s the story she told.

The medicine bottle that didn’t empty. The world-renowned architect who quietly and without any recognition built their secret room. Fred the meterman and Rolf the policeman, who used their unique positions and skills to meet specific needs.

“That night Father and Betsie and I prayed long after the others had gone to bed. We knew that in spite of daily mounting risks we had no choice but to move forward. This was evil’s hour: we could not run away from it. Perhaps only when human effort had done its best and failed, would God’s power alone be free to work.”1

Nazis. Bombings. Hunted people. It was an epic time with epic problems and epic heartaches. But the struggles Corrie and the ten Boom family faced were not isolated to desperate times.

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The only picture I have of our tour guide, Aty (you can just barely see her on the other side of my brother). I so wish I had taken a better picture with her!

Forgiveness. Courage. Love. Service. Day after day after day. Through epic circumstances God was present in her life, working in her heart, writing a story we only know in part.

In my less-than-epic life the same is true. I am slighted by people who see things differently than I do. I meet people who base their life on things I know won’t last forever. I am surrounded by people who have hurts I may never know or realize. I’m faced with others’ needs when I feel I have enough of my own.

Forgiveness. Courage. Love. Service. And we’re called to do it all again the next day.

My brother and I sat in the living room not of a legend or hero of the past, but a child of the King. One who followed Him in the muck and mire of earth and now praises Him in glories unknown to me with others who have gone before us.

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The visitor in front of me disappears into the hiding place through the secret entrance.
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The secret door from the inside of the hiding place.
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Six people hid here for over 47 hours.

As Francis Schaeffer said, “there are no little people and no little places.”2 Not when God is there. And He is. Here. Working in and through us like He did (and does) through Corrie, the ten Booms, and Aty the tour guide. Whether or not our dreams are realized or bucket list completed, He still works. And that’s where the real story is.

“This is a story about God…who still works today like He did in the past.”

  1. The Hiding Place, Corrie ten Boom
  2. No Little People, Francis Schaeffer

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