The Parthenon
William D Fergus McNeill/iStock
The Parthenon

Places to see

Travel | Travel makes good opportunities to find evidence of God's love, man's fears, and creativity

Issue: "Maximum insecurity," Feb. 23, 2013

As several subscribers were writing to me about summer travel plans, WORLD subscriber Phil Joseph of Milton, Ga., made a request. He read a column of mine ("Halloween's real ghouls," Nov. 17, 2012) that mentioned old Communist prisons I had visited in Eastern Europe and Asia, and wrote, “My work has taken me to many parts of the world, but it never occurred to me to try to visit places like this. … I would love to have a list of [such] places to visit and why. … Suddenly the routine business trip becomes a much more exciting adventure. … The result would be a deepening of my appreciation for the world and everything in it.”

It’s a great idea to add a stop or two to a routine business trip, but a list of the sort Phil wants is beyond my reach. With support from a foundation grant, I’ve written lots of international stories yet have still only seen small parts of 47 countries, so we need “crowd sourcing”: Please send brief travel recommendations to mailbag@worldmag.com. Later on this year we plan to set up a travel forum at Worldmag.com on which individuals can post their recommendations in three categories.

The three categories emerge from a basic question: Why travel? Adventure, for sure—but seeing more of the world (like tracking more of the news) shows us (1) God’s love, (2) man’s idol worship, and (3) the creativity of God and of man created in His image. Some of my Category 1 visits came about through reporting, but non-journalists can also go behind the scenes by contacting ministries and missionaries whom they support. Travel to sites in my second and third categories sometimes require visas but no special permission beyond that. Here are five visits in each category.

Category 1: How God (through His people) shows love in the world

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1. Observe at an Ethiopian cleft palate clinic: Twenty children came to a C.U.R.E. International hospital in Addis Ababa to be appraised by plastic surgeon Saul Lim. He examined them, gave them the good news that he could help physically, and gave a spiritual explanation for his presence: “Jesus brought me here for you.” Patients did not know the financial sacrifice he was making to turn their grotesque faces into ones that would allow them to work and live normally, but I did.

2. Visit a Beijing group home for children with cerebral palsy: A Chinese Christian happened to stay one night at a hotel by a railroad station in northwest China. She found four abandoned tots crying in a cold, moist, dark room featuring a floor streaked with feces. She stayed a month with those children, then spent the next five years creating and running two foster homes for 31 children. She said the refuge helped her to “experience God. The body of Christ seems real to me since I’ve been here.”

3. Hug “untouchable” children at a Christian feeding/teaching program in India: In the thatched-hut village of Manapakkam, 300 children sat on the floor of Praise Evangelical Church and squealed in delight as they took turns reciting Bible verses and performing in skits. They ate rice with bits of meat placed on banana leaves in front off them, but they also wanted to be touched by Christians who saw them not as sub-human inferiors but as God’s children.

4. Head to a joyful church service in the Zambian bush country: Susan and I rode on the back of a flatbed truck with 39 Tonga tribe members exuberantly singing of their faith in Christ: “He is not number eight. He is not number six. He is number one.” Standing behind the cab on the road from Siamusambo was like being at the prow of a ship with the wind blowing hard, with dirt roads tough on truck suspensions taking the place of waves, and thatch-covered, mud-daubed mega-huts acting like islands.

5. Love the unlovable: I found myself one afternoon on a rickety bus in Lima, Peru, with a bunch of teenage gang members. A ministry had invited them to a church party, but that didn’t seem like a good idea when several packed-in guys started pounding each another: Fight night seemed imminent. But then three teens pulled out (from their baggy clothes) charandos, little guitars, and three others pulled out sampore, the Andean pipes. Suddenly they were beautifully playing songs, the music bouncing off the bus walls. It was 10 minutes of heaven, unexpected and wonderful.

Category 2: Idol worship and its effects

1. Grasp the intensity with which Old Testament prophets confronted idolatry by hearing the tap-tap-tapping of idol-makers’ chisels and hammers at seventh- and eighth-century Mahabalipuram temple sites in southeast India by the Bay of Bengal. Get a sense of how the temple in Jesus’ Jerusalem had become a marketplace by strolling the Meenakshi Amman Temple in Madurai or other big ones where buying and selling goes on throughout the day. Gain a new appreciation for biblical worship by visiting Hindu serpent worship temples, screaming women temples, and others.


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