French writer Jules Verne published “Around the World in 80 Days” in 1873. In this classic adventure novel, a wealthy Englishman named Phileas Fogg accepts a challenge to circumnavigate the world in 80 days. Accompanied by Jean Passepartout, his French valet, Fogg sets off on the adventure of a lifetime and unwittingly completes his journey with a day to spare. Verne’s popular story came to mind last month when I completed 80 trips around the world.
I started traveling in the days when trip planning was a challenge. I recall how excited I was when I was able to use a fax machine for the first time to plan a trip to Ukraine. I thought I was in technological heaven. I can’t imagine trying to plan a trip today with nothing more than a fax machine to coordinate all of the logistics of taking a team overseas. The advent of email, e-tickets, and Skype have certainly made trip planning and travel so much easier than when I started my global treks.
Like Fogg, I have been privileged to meet countless interesting people along the way and to see most of the world’s bucket list destinations. And I have also dodged some dicey situations in some of the world’s most difficult places. Over the years, I have established a vast network of friends in almost forty countries, wonderful people with whom I still stay in contact. As one Ukrainian friend shared with me years ago, as Christ-followers we have family all over the world who will extend hospitality to us. He was right!
In reflecting on my 80 trips around the world, I have listed 8 out of the many things that have had a profound impact on my life. This list is by no means complete or exhaustive, but it does reflect experiences that have shaped my thinking and decision-making about reaching out to a world in need.
8. The geography of our birthplace matters. | The geography of my birthplace made it possible for me to have access to the gospel and to resources that enable me to live with a relatively high measure of comfort and security. Not so for many in our world. For some, the geography of their birthplace means that life will be difficult and dangerous. I have a responsibility to be a good steward of the blessings I enjoy because of where I was born and must not neglect the welfare of those born in difficult places.
7. Worldview impacts everything. | Among all of the worldview issues that impact whether people live in fear or with hope is the matter of the sanctity of human life. I have seen what can happen to people who live in cultures that devalue human life. From the displacement camps of Darfur to the narrow alleys of Kolkata where Mother Teresa rescued the destitute and dying, worldview impacts whether people live or die. I have a responsibility to live out my worldview regarding the sanctity of human life both at home and abroad.
6. Injustice is a reality. | Knowing that there are approximately 27 million people in the world today who live under some form of slavery is mind-boggling. A statistic like this can easily anesthetize us to the painful realities experienced by the individual people who make up those statistics. It’s one thing to hear that there are 27 million people held as slaves, but it’s another thing to personally meet someone who has been rescued from such a hell. Charts and graphs can give us insight into the magnitude of a problem, but meeting a victim can compel us to become a part of the solution. I have a responsibility to fight against injustices like human trafficking.
5. There is no place where God is not at work. | While there are fields around the globe that are unquestionably white unto harvest, there are also places where God is quietly at work. God loves the nations and wants them to have knowledge of Him. I have met many people in closed or restricted countries (perhaps these should be called creative access countries) who have lived a lifetime without access to the gospel but whom God prepared to receive His message by speaking to them in a dream. Amazing stories like this and others I have heard have convinced me that there is no place in the world where God is not at work.
4. There are kind people everywhere. | The evening news can easily lead us to believe that many nations beyond our borders are filled with nothing but angry and violent people. I have in fact met more than a few people on my travels who fall into that category. However, I have also met the kindest people in some of the most dangerous places I have visited — people of all faiths who have extended their hospitality and protection to me. These persons of peace have embraced me with the same spirit with which the Gentile centurion named Cornelius embraced Peter in the book of Acts.
3. National partners make all the difference. | Over the years I have met and worked with numerous national partners who are passionate about the spiritual and physical welfare of their own people. Many of these serve at great risk to their own lives. A handful have lost their lives for the sake of the gospel. The sacrifice of these individuals who have counted the cost or paid the ultimate price for following Christ keeps me sober-minded. I count it a privilege to pray for them, encourage them, and assist them with their efforts to reach their own people.
2. Many in our world are still waiting to hear the good news. | Years ago while in Ukraine, a friend shared the gospel with an elderly woman who had grown up under Communism. The woman embraced the gospel and then asked, “How long have you known about this good news?” Our team member replied, “All of my life.” The old woman then asked, “Then why didn’t you come sooner?” I have heard others ask that same question many times over the years. In April 1901, John R. Mott challenged students at a meeting of the Student Volunteer Movement with these words: “To have a knowledge of Christ is to incur a tremendous responsibility to those that have it not. … What a colossal crime against two-thirds of the human race to withhold this surpassing knowledge.” We must continue to go and we must continue to tell the good news.
1. We must attempt great things for God. | William Carey, the father of the modern missionary movement, said, “Attempt great things for God. Expect great things from God.” We can neither attempt great things nor expect great things unless we have the courage to go beyond the line that defines the farthest we’ve ever been and the most we’ve ever done for God and His purposes. Unless we are willing to put ourselves in a context where we must depend on God, we will never reach our highest potential in Christ nor will we make our greatest contributions to His work. I remain committed to going beyond in order to become and to accomplish all that God has for me.