Over the past year, I’ve traveled more than 60,000 miles. Life lessons emerged as I paused to reflect.
We humans are an interesting bunch. Our stories vary but common threads weave us tightly together. In no particular order, here are a few observations jotted down while 30,000 feet over the Atlantic Ocean.
1 – Cultures develop uniquely, place-to-place. Yet we tend to view our personal culture as the “right” culture. We project the ways that we grew up onto other people. We compare things based on these personal standards. When traveling I have heard comments like, “The potatoes taste weird. They should mash them,” and “These people are always late. They need to hang clocks,” and “Meters and kilometers?! What’s wrong with feet and miles?” My question to them: Why travel if you want everything to be like home? Let’s remove the critical spirit of the 24-7 evaluation and enjoy the diversity.
2 – Women work hard. They rise early and care for many people across generational and familial lines. They are bent over an open fire pit in Guatemala, balancing a large bundle on their head in Zambia, and splitting bamboo for walls in Thailand…all with a baby strapped to their backs. No, I don’t recall seeing women lounging on porches.
3 – Religion exists everywhere. The intersection of Christianity with global cultures has especially brought beautiful expressions of faith. Miraculous new life in Christ is represented as a lotus flower in one culture and a butterfly in another culture. Widow’s pre-dawn worship in Zambia precedes the coming day of labor and the wall-less church in rural Costa Rica is always open to worshipers. The Spirit is on the move! And…one not-so-great observation: all people also struggle with idols. Some carve images and set them on an altar. Others, like us, develop idols of the heart that distract us from the Lord as effectively as any stone carving.
4 – Can you hear me now? Communication is vital. Without translators, the world would cease as we know it. Sounds, letter-shapes, gestures, and tones merge together to allow conversation. Amazing! Instead of allowing the languages to divide us, I found many people in developing countries who are bilingual and even trilingual. Tengo que aprender más español.
5 – The more removed people are from the land, the more isolated they become. Glass windows and locked doors close us off. We become less aware of the needs of neighbors. Our own issues tend to magnify. Grocery stores further separate us from the land. Shrink-wrapped meat and canned veggies remove our connection to the land AND our understanding of how to care for the land. I need to plant a garden. Bonus: People who work the land do not need a gym membership.
6 – All people chafe at being told what to do. We yearn to be our own boss and do things on our own time. The rebellious American teenager has much in common with a tribal elder on the Thai border. We crave independence while expecting dependence from others. But then, this is not new news. The Bible describes this common trait of human nature here, here, and here.
7 – Clothing identifies and unites. Colors and shapes vary infinitely among the peoples on our globe. However, many tribes and families embrace distinct textile patterns that they weave into garments. Each pattern is unique from one to another but is identical within their own people group. The clothing says “I belong.” In this, the grunge-dressed NYC urbanite and the traditionally-dressed Guatemalan have much in common.
8 – And, a confession: I have a problem with bags. I love them. I cannot walk away from the latest offerings at any market in any country. Colors. Patterns. Pockets. Zippers. Oh my. Still working this one through…
Travel and new experiences helped me to break away from the day-to-day routines. They enabled me to marvel in the sights, sounds, and possibilities around me. The wonder and awe of God’s hand became evident in every new place.
With an open mind, we can learn new stuff. I can now wrap a chitenge, shape a tortilla, cook over an open fire, and even split bamboo. I’m humbled. With an open mind, I’ve grown to appreciate the diversity and creativity of people in many cultures. I’m blessed to know their names and call them my friends.
What life lessons has travel taught you? How has it changed your perspective about people and about God?