At one time or another, you may have been told that traveling is dangerous. Kidnappings and terrorist attacks get a lot of news coverage, though they are really one-in-a-million events. Abroad, just as at home, there is more danger from traffic than violent crime. But while staying home may seem like a good way to stay safe, it leaves us vulnerable to a different, more subtle danger: isolationism.
Friedel and Andrew stopped at a phone booth as they were cycling through the countryside. They were calling to get visas for the next few countries on their itinerary, but it was not long before a driver pulled off the road and offered his cell phone. The local pay phones were notoriously unreliable, the man explained. Soon another Good Samaritan stopped, and another, until there were five locals with five cell phones. Which country places such an importance on hospitality that its citizens would offer this kind of help? Friedel and Andrew were in Iran.
When at home, one way to keep connected with the world is to practice being a Good Samaritan like the ones Friedel and Andrew encountered. We first heard about Yavuz when we saw an announcement in our church bulletin: the high school across the street from our church had an exchange student who needed a place to stay. If they could not find a place for him, he would have to go home to Turkey. Our hearts went out to this 18-year-old; he came to live with us from October until June. While Yavuz made more friends at church than at school, he was and remains Muslim.
After he went home to Turkey, Yavuz asked us to visit. I had special instructions to bring an empty suitcase—his parents were so grateful for our hospitality to their son, that they wanted to fill it with gifts as a “thank you.” To my surprise, when I arrived at the airport, I found that they had arranged and paid for my local flights around Turkey.
My family’s experiences abroad have fostered good friendships with people whose lives—on the surface—seem very unlike ours. Nizam was our guide on a recent trip to Egypt. A tall man with a grizzled beard, he was a fount of knowledge as he led us to ancient sites and modern marketplaces. He taught us to spot the names of ancient kings like Ramses and Ptolemy, and spoke candidly about modern Egypt and some of the problems it was facing.
A few months later, we saw pictures of Egyptians taking to the streets to protest against their government. We tried for weeks to reach Nizam, but could not confirm that he and his family were safe. Eventually we learned that he had not been able to return our correspondence because he and his family were in Tahrir Square. They stayed in sight of the Egyptian museum we had toured together, taking part in the protests. Nizam’s cousin was injured when thugs tried to break up the demonstrations.
There are voices in the United States that talk about the world as if it were filled with enemies. But even if that’s the case, Jesus clearly calls us to love them. In this globalized world where we increasingly rely on many other countries, I see the world as a place filled with neighbors, whom Jesus also calls us to love. I have met tribesmen and shop keepers, businessmen and students, guides and laborers—all neighbors. Most have similar wants and desires as my family and me. They want a safe place to live, food to eat, clean water to drink, a way to earn a living and a future for their children. They are not so different. And they are not so difficult to love.
Traveling directs our vision outward—away from ourselves. Mark Twain said “travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness.” Jesus said “love your neighbors.” So come meet the neighbors. I think you will like them.