Everyone has specific characteristics that affect the way they travel. Being a young, solo female traveler, I make choices that large, fearless men would scoff at. Similarly, my religious beliefs greatly affect the way I travel.
Being a Christian abroad can be equally as difficult as it is rewarding. While there are times I reluctantly hide my faith, am mocked for it, or find myself out of my element; I have also been challenged, supported, and encouraged along the way.
Hostels aren’t exactly bursting with backpackers breaking bread and wine–well, at least, not in the same manner as a pastor at mass. Backpackers are wonderful, laid-back people, but a dorm room is not the best place to get your preach on. Every time I’ve announced my faith, I’ve been the odd one out, automatically shoving myself into an awkward position where my comrades don’t feel comfortable swearing, drinking, or basically being themselves around me.
I counteract this by not announcing my faith—not in so many words, unless I’m asked. “Preach the gospel to everyone, and if you must; use words.” Rather than scolding someone I barely know or firing Bible quotes at them, I rest on the truth that actions speak louder than words.
Now, I’m not saying I’m the perfect example (if you’re looking for one, check out this Jesus guy in the Gospels). I swear, I drink, and I make plenty of mistakes. I’m human. But I do my best to love and accept everyone, just as I would want to be loved and accepted as a RTW solo traveler. I have to admit, this is something backpackers are better at than most Christians.
While I’m busy trying to be loving and accepting, I’m careful not to judge. Backpackers do some crazy things, and I wasn’t sent here to be their guardian angel. I’m here to be their friend. One horrible stereotype of Christians is that we’re this uptight breed clutching a cross and wagging our index finger. How unbelievably hypocritical! By being a Christian, I forfeit my right to judge, and leave that up to God.
When I first arrived in Bali, a predominantly Hindu culture, I was nervous about traveling as a Christian. To my surprise, as a white westerner, the majority of the Balinese people already expected me to be some denomination of Christian or an atheist. Out of curiosity, I partook in meditation and prayer every day. I prayed to my own God, and I felt His presence there. I wondered at how different, yet extremely alike, the relationship between humans and their gods is.
Churches have always been a place of refuge. No matter the denomination, location, or aesthetic appeal, I feel at home inside a church. It’s not the physical building that matters—we could meet in a leaky basement with an out-of-tune guitar and I would still be overjoyed. It’s the people.
When I was at church in Edinburgh, I met a lovely family who immediately invited me over to watch the footie match and indulge in a Sunday Roast dinner. After an evening service, I met a young man who brought me to play the strange sport Korf ball. I have enjoyed beers with fellow students after church, been invited to BBQ’s and on coffee dates, and even found a free place to live for two solid months.
As a backpacker with nothing and no one, these small acts of kindness constantly renew my hope in mankind and in Christianity around the world. I have watched hundreds of kids dance at Hillsong Church in Sydney, Australia. I have listened to a choir practise in St Paul’s Cathedral, London. I have even been present at the Pope’s Easter appearance outside the Vatican in Italy.
Whether you are Christian or not, churches are a place you can retreat to for a little sanctuary. Not every church will suit you, so don’t let one negative experience turn you off. I brought five of my non-Christian friends to a Thanksgiving dinner boasting delicious turkey, endless wine, and Calleigh dancing. Needless to say, they decided church wasn’t so lame after all.
Have you experienced religious difficulties or triumphs while travelling? Please share! And as always, happy travels 🙂