Peter Grier caught the travel bug at an early age. But as he journeyed off to destinations across Europe, North Africa, and the Middle East, he began pondering the relationship between his Christian faith and his wanderlust: Does God really want us spending time and money on travel for its own sake, apart from any missionary or evangelistic motivation? In Travel: In Tandem with God’s Heart, Grier—who works with students at several Irish universities as a Christian Unions team leader—walks through a Christian approach to travel. Andrew Wilson, an avid hiker and author of Here I Walk: A Thousand Miles on Foot to Rome with Martin Luther, spoke with Grier about his adventures abroad and how they have deepened his faith.
What drove you to start exploring the world?
I grew up in Belfast during the 1980s and ’90s. It was a troubled spot with much violence, and I lived through it all. Because so few people wanted to come to a country that was so divided, it was very monocultural.
It was also monocultural in another way: It was one of the largest evangelical Christian populations in the world, certainly in Europe. I grew up in a Bible-believing household, got taught the Bible from a young age, and experienced the privilege of the community there establishing me in my faith. It was only when I went off to university in Nottingham that I started to meet people of different worldviews and upbringings. That was a great challenge and a great turning point in my life of faith. Since then I’ve worked with various Christian unions to help students of faith maintain their belief and explain it to the world.
I was traveling a lot—mostly by car— for my job, and I kept hearing that it was a waste of time to be spending so much time on the road. Which got me thinking: How can it be useful for my life of faith? At the time, I was also living with a final-year student at the university, a great friend. He decided when he was finished that he would fly to New Zealand and cycle back to Ireland over the course of a year. When his parents found out, they called me and told me I had to stop him, that the trip would perhaps destroy his faith, and besides it would be a waste of time. At the same time, my friend came to me and asked me to convince his parents that the trip was a good idea.
And so I suppose I’m writing the book for people like him. I wanted to explore how travel can help our faith.
Where did traveling begin for you?
My first independent travel experience was at age 16, heading off in the summertime with an evangelical mission on the beaches of Belgium. I remember being stopped on the train on the way back by the Belgian police; they asked where my guardians were and told me I wasn’t supposed to be traveling alone!
That was one of the many experiences that gave me the confidence to travel the world. I also have a sister who lives in Africa and just married a man from Vanuatu; another sister has lived in various places including Brussels. I have a heart for mission and try to get away each summer with mission groups, but I also travel on my own to explore various cultures less impacted by Christianity.
Tell me about some of the highlights and disappointments of your world travels.
On one of my early trips to North Africa, I did a home-stay with local family who spoke only Arabic. I was petrified to begin with. But I was able to stay in their house and eat with them. The father ran a stall at the local market, and I got to see the how he interacted with both locals and tourists. Those are the joys you look back on.
I remember a student who stayed with us in Ireland for a month and spent his first eight days hanging out in his room Skyping people back home in Taiwan. I finally knocked on his door and said, “You’ve got one month to explore Ireland: Why haven’t you left the house yet?” He replied, “Oh, I’m waiting for good weather.” That pretty much sums up how I traveled to begin with, waiting for and chasing picture book experiences instead of learning to make the most of every situation. I had to learn to adapt.
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SOURCE: Christianity Today