What do people like to do after they reach retirement age? The statisticians are quite explicit about it: They like to travel. Where? Anywhere! Tourism is a gigantic, thriving global business, and we retirees are the ones who keep it going.
But what do retired Christian people do folks who don't care either for certain types of entertainment, or for a boring, boozy social environment? They do like to travel, for to Christians this planet is a beautiful place, created by the Supreme Artist for His own pleasure and the enjoyment of His creatures. They study the travel folders with their gorgeous pictures of palm trees and curving beaches, and would like to see more of it.
Should any Christian young people read this page, I would advise them: If your vision includes exploring the planet, now is the time to do it. Don't wait till retirement. Discover for yourself the magnificence of the Christian world mission,
and if the opportunity presents itself, scale Mount McKinley, swim the Suez Canal, sail the Tasman Sea in a dinghy, hike the Appalachian and John Muir trails, ride a raft down the Zambezi or the Yangtze, traverse the Sahara in a dune buggy, check out the Pacific Islands.
If you wait until retirement, the options (if you can afford them) may be limited to a Sceni-Cruiser bus, a luxury ocean liner, or a chartered jet. Christian travel tours do offer an enjoyable alternative, but even among the saints it's not all Paradise. For one thing, what happens to your witness? For another, eight or ten hours of rubbernecking can be tiring, and the pleasures of continually feeding and pampering the body soon pall. Connections can be confusing, and luggage can be lost. It is also a fact that to the jaded older tourist all places soon begin to blend together. Souvenir shops appear identical, no matter what the country or the continent. Islands, mountains, waterways, docks, airports, waiting rooms, food trays, traffic, panhandlers all seem the same; only the language is different. Many tourists find excursion travel to be deadly dull. The mind (which is where we live) gets little exercise on expensive tour holidays.
Others find them anything but dull. They run into revolts, insurrections, coups d' état, and palace takeovers. They put up with contaminated food and water. They find themselves stranded in midocean. They are held up at borders. They become acquainted with cockroaches.
One really pleasant way to travel is in your
own car or van, independent of groups and tour directors. North America is after all a fascinating continent, and one is free to roam it without many of the restrictions that apply abroad. Ruth and I have made several trips together through the western states and provinces from Canada to Mexico, and we plan more. The total effect has been a resounding success.
If I may offer one suggestion, it is that when the traveler is forced to stop and ask strangers for directions, he or she should always get a second or even a third opinion. After our last trip I compiled a list of comments by local people from whom we sought information regarding roads, weather, food fuel, lodging, and other basic essentials of travel. What we got sometimes turned out to be misinformation. Here is what we were told en route, and here is my rather tongue-in-cheek evaluation of the same:
It never rains here this time of year. Really? The Bible has a word for such punditry. It says, "Behold, I shall do a new thing."
They've been working on the road, but it's supposed to open today. That means STOP! Turn around! Go back! Take any other route but this one.
Just keep bearing to the right. Of course if you do, you will soon find yourself back where you are now. That is a mathematical certainty.
It's sandy in spots, but you don't need four-wheel drive; I came through it yesterday in my pickup. He's right, you don't need a four-wheel drive. All you need is a tow truck to pull you out of the sand.
You can make it in an hour easy if you just stay between sixty-five and seventy. On a two-lane road? Tell that one to the highway patrol.
It's about a five minute wait. Not at lunch time, it isn't. Dig out that novel you were reading; you'll probably have time to finish it.
There's a restaurant at the top of the chair lift. But he forgot to mention that the restaurant is closed until the skiing season. By the time you get back down, it will be two-thirty and they will no longer be serving at the bottom of the lift either.
From here it's just a ten-minute walk. That means you should allow an hour to hike there, time for rest, and then another hour to hike back.
Look, you can't miss it. Of all the misinformation disseminated to the unwary traveler, this is the most deceptive. Naturally you'll miss it. Why wouldn't you? They gave you wrong directions.
You can almost see it from here. But it will take a tankful of gas before you finally do see it, I can guarantee that.
There's a shorter way, if you want to make time. My brother-in-law always takes it. Unfortunately the brother-in-law went off the road last week and is in the hospital, but you weren't told that.
It used to be a chain, but it's under new management; I don't know who's running it now. Be careful! The new people may well make better holes than they do doughnuts.
Someone took your cooler off the picnic table? It had to be the bears; they come around every night. Up here people don't rip you off. The sheriff will give you a
more accurate answer. If it was indeed a bear, it was a young one with a thirst for beer.
You made a reservation for a campsite at Twin Lakes? Twin Lakes doesn't take reservations. Here it's first come, first served. So good luck to you. It seems your reservations were for another campsite of the same name, fifty miles away.
Sorry, we only serve groups. How many in your group? Two? Try the breakfast club across the street. But you already did try the breakfast club. Their cook is off today.
There's a cute little place in the next block, kind of hard to find. It's an arty shop but they serve espresso and they make up deli sandwiches. Drive on to the next town.
You can have a campfire, but you can't gather any wood. That is straight from the Forest Service, but it sounds like something out of Alice in Wonderland. Of course you can always burn up your boat trailer.
Take nothing but pictures; leave nothing but footprints. More governmentese. Thanks, Mr. Ranger, but I'll leave the pictures to you and take my footprints home.
I don't think you can get there from here. Now that is the one statement whose veracity can be counted on.
Coming home is of course one of the great joys of travel. In a sense it is a foretaste of what arriving in Heaven will be like. But now that you're home, if anyone asks you where the nearest gas station is, try to be helpful. Remember, they are strangers. Just point vaguely in some direction, look at them solemnly and say, "You can't miss it!"
Having examined the downside of the travel business, it is only fair to state that for most people the positives far outweigh the negatives. Millions of older people who can afford it are finding tourist travel a most pleasant way to spend their retirement years. Even tours to Antarctica are beginning to prove popular, and who knows how long it will be before excursion trips to the moon are available?
For committed Christians I would like to suggest another approach to retirement travel. We who have spent our working years serving the Lord, whether in careers or lay ministries, are not exactly thrilled over the prospect of leisure, which is another word for idleness. Billy Graham says, "Nobody retires from the Lord's work," and he is right. We would like to keep on serving Him, but not in precisely the same capacities as before. And we wouldn't mind enjoying a temporary change of scenery. Since God has blessed our lives, we would like if possible to see Him enrich the lives of others.
We would like to be a part of such an effort both in word and deed, if we thought we could do it without falling sick, creating a riot, or otherwise upsetting the status quo.
This chapter will not attempt to list reputable organizations that are prepared to help retired Christians find useful outlets for their desire both to serve and to flex their travel propensities. My suggestion is that such persons consult their own pastors. They know where to turn for such information. A pastor also knows the places on
the mission field where older Christians' presence would be welcomed and what advance arrangements should be made and safeguards taken in visiting those places.
Advance arrangements! They are the key to a truly Christian journey. Suppose you are contemplating a visit to a part of the world that was formerly closed to Christians, but is now beginning to open up. As you plan your itinerary, you can learn what the needs are at your points of destination and take something with you: a shipment of Bibles, perhaps, or clothing, or medicine or staple foods. You can become an envoy for your church or Christian organization. You can sign up for a short-term teaching or medical mission. Do you speak English? You may be able to teach it through an interpreter. Are you a systems analyst? You can improve the communications equipment at a mission station. Are you in the building trade? You can help erect cheap housing for people who have no place to live. Are you an author or poet? You can instruct freelance writers in how to write for publication (I have taken part in such courses on six continents) and you can send back feature articles to your local newspaper. Are you an engineer? You can improve the local water supply and derive great satisfaction from so doing. Or you can join your church in an evangelistic mission to another part of the world, and instead of listening to sermons on winning souls, become a soul-winner yourself!
Without the vision and the call, the traveling
older Christian may fall victim to all the afflictions of his worldly counterpart: boredom, ennui, fatigue, impatience, querulousness, and dissatisfaction with the weather, the food, Montezuma's revenge, the tour directors, the traveling companions, the delays, the long-winded instructions and half-baked historical explanations, and above all the expense of it. But when equipped with a purpose, a mission, and a goal, the retired Christian can embark on a whole new, exciting way of life. As for the inconveniences, he can take them in stride and laugh at them, just as I have done.
Are there sights to be seen? Great! Are there experiences to have, such as riding a camel or an elephant, or parasailing over water, or spelunking, or visiting a natural wonder? Why not do it? To be sure, they are only by-products of the Kingly calling that keeps the Christian on track. But let's say they are incidental joys that God sometimes provides for those who are committed to fulfill His royal mission.
What is that mission? To inform the world about what the Lord Jesus Christ has done for all of us, and will do for anyone who puts his trust in the Savior. To proclaim His atonement for our sins, His resurrection from the dead, His sending of His Spirit into His Body the church, and the promise of His soon return. And where God opens the way, to spread these glad tidings of great joy everywhere and meanwhile do all the good one can. To bear witness to ordinary folks that a Spirit-filled Christian is not some kind of
odd religious spook, a solitary skinful of self-made holiness, but rather is himself or herself a commonplace, warm-blooded human being, an ordinary person with an extraordinary God, one who genuinely loves his fellows and is ready to help when needed.
If that is your aim as a retired Christian, I propose to tell you about a few interesting places to stop over on this planet that I have had opportunity to explore over the past sixty-odd years, most of which are on the roads less traveled. Granted, there are many sights in the world I have yet to view. Granted, the most popular tourist attractions (some of which you and I have visited) are not mentioned in this brief list, not because they are not worthwhile, but rather because everyone knows about them.
So here is a scenario: You and your spouse are Christians, and you have a vision, a calling, and a purpose that leads you to travel. Are you interested in doing something more than indulging your own pleasure? Yes. Do you wish to travel under the auspices of a particular ecclesiastical organization? Not necessarily.
Then let me name just a few off-the-beaten track points of interest in the United States and some in other countries. These are mere samples intended to get you started thinking; if God wills, you will soon be building your own list. I could add many exotic and wonderful places, but have no desire to turn this book into a travelogue.
Inside Our American Borders
ST. LAWRENCE ISLAND: The real last frontier. A place within sight of Siberia with no automobiles but lots of ski-mobiles. Eskimo population, whaling industry. Site of a genuine revival in 1980. You might contact evangelical churches in Savoonga and Gambell for possible ministry opportunities, particularly among youth.
INSIDE PASSAGE: Still a spectacular boat ride through the Southeastern Archipelago to Skagway. Christian missions among the Thlinget Indians have had a great heritage since the days of William Duncan and S. Hall Young. To investigate possibilities contact Sheldon Jackson College, Sitka.
LAKE HAVASU CITY: A charming stopover on the Colorado River between major cities in Arizona and southern California. Site of London Bridge and an English village. Contact the churches for ways you can help. Among spiritual needs we noted: a student ministry to hundreds of young people who arrive for a holiday during spring break.
THE DESERT: Still largely uninhabited and unevangelized. See it for yourself; opportunities for ministry are there. Worth visiting: Death Valley Scotty's Castle; Palm Canyons in Palm
Springs and Borrego Springs; fields of poppies and lupines east of Bakersfield, and also in hills near Pinnacles National Monument and San Luis reservoir. Many small churches exist in the desert; visit them and learn for yourself what the needs are.
District of Columbia
THE VIETNAM VETERANS' MEMORIAL: For our generation this is without question the most eloquent monument in Washington, a city brimful of wonderful historic sites and statues. Don't leave it without offering a prayer to God for the families of over sixty thousand young men who didn't come back. Such a visit may lead you to contact families of military personnel who were casualties of the Iraq War.
IAO NEEDLE: A short walk on the island of Maui will take the visitor to the foot of this peak, one of the most interesting formations in the islands and one of the least known. Hawaii is largely a Buddhist state, but has some young, lively churches that are making an impact on local culture. Seek them out. Great revivals took place in Hawaii in the nineteenth century. It's time for another one.
CAPE COD: From Plymouth Rock to Provincetown, Cape Cod is a charming place to visit, filled with quaint houses and delightful people,
and replete with historic interest. What is needed is an infusion of Spirit-filled Old Ageism to counteract some of the recent effects of New Ageism. New England could use another explosion like the Great Awakening of 1740.
PEACE ARCH STATE PARK: This noble tribute to peace at Blaine, on the Canadian border, honors one of the longest and most peaceful international boundaries in human history. Turn off I-5, stop your car, walk around, and thank God for good neighbors. Church attendance in Washington is below that of most states; the field is open. What can your witness do? "Let the redeemed in the Lord say so!"
Retirees can enjoy a quiet, pleasant summer afternoon drifting on an inner tube down the picturesque (and safe) Apple River, starting at Somerset, the "floating capital of the world." Many retirement homes and colonies exist in the Upper Midwest states. Why not offer to spend a week teaching the Bible in some of them? At least you can inquire.
Beyond Our Borders
For American Christians who went to Sunday school, visiting Israel is like going home. The one
indispensable site is the Garden Tomb in Jerusalem, formerly known as "Gordon's Calvary" after a famous British Christian general who "discovered" what many now believe was the authentic location of both the Crucifixion and the Resurrection of Christ. If one is looking for unquestioned site authenticity, of course, I would recommend a boat ride on the Sea of Galilee and a stroll through Hezekiah's tunnel in East Jerusalem (see 2 Kings 20:20). For the latter carry a flashlight and wear shorts; the water is hip-deep.
Ayers Rock heads the list of sights to see. Of course you can climb the world's largest monolith. Never doubt it! Other fascinating places well worth your visit: Stanley Chasm, near Alice Springs; Katoomba, in the mountains outside of Sydney; the restored Ballarat gold diggings in Victoria; Port Arthur in Tasmania. The evangelical Christians of Australia have the gospel. They are wonderful, committed people, but they face an uphill battle. They could use a fresh visitation of love such as came with the Billy Graham crusades in 1959.
Among many places to see in this beautiful country Ruth and I would recommend the Bay of Plenty, Rotorua National Park and Hanmer Springs. American Christians will find a friendly welcome in New Zealand, especially from the warm evangelical family of believers. There are
spiritual needs; a visit to Challenge Weekly Christian magazine in Auckland can supply you with information. It is up to you to sort them out and, if possible, respond to them.
Enough has been said perhaps to encourage retired American Christians to get out into the world and find places where they can make contributions. Places of extreme physical need, such as Ethiopia, Bangladesh, and parts of India, also desperately need our contributions, but usually require younger help for effective service in the field.
Let me close by adding a few locations that are my personal favorites round the world, and are accessible to retirees. For further information consult your pastor or your travel agent:
Italy: The Mamertine prison in Rome, where Paul once wrote many of his letters
Greece: The Temple of Apollo and Olympic stadium at Delphi
Samoa: The Congregational Christian church in Pago Pago on Sunday morning
Virgin Islands: Snorkeling at the famous beach on St. John Island
Switzerland: The charming town of Brienz on Lake Brienz
Mexico City: The murals in Chepultapec fortress
Germany: Raphael's masterpiece, the Sistine Madonna in Dresden
Egypt: The King's and Queen's chambers inside the Pyramid of Cheops at Giza, near Cairo
Ireland: Carrickfergus Castle in Belfast
Scotland: The Bottle Dungeon in the Bishop's Palace, St. Andrews
France: The Rose Window in Rheims Cathedral
Canada: The cabin of poet Robert W. Service in Dawson, Yukon Territory
England: Land's End in Cornwall
Brazil: The chair lift to Sugarloaf in Rio de Janeiro
Taiwan: The Jade Valley near Hualien
Philippines: The Rice Terraces and Villa Escudero
Here at home (lest I forget): Riding the Lava Falls in the Grand Canyon of the Colorado.
Chapter 17 || Table of Contents