I’ve done quite a bit of traveling lately, both international and domestic. I love to travel, and look forward to these opportunities with great anticipation and joy. For me, the adventure in travel comes even before arriving in a new country, region, or city. Call me crazy, but there are few places I enjoy more than an airport terminal. There are a plethora of restaurant choices, all within walking distance; large windows with magnificent views of aircraft; unlimited (albeit expensive) coffee, and people all around. What’s not to love? Airport terminals are a people-watcher’s dream come true. I typically arrive earlier than my flight, just to soak in this unique waiting experience.
This week, however, I had a very different experience. The seasonal storms beating down on the Southeastern US caused a major delay in all flights into and out of this international hub. No flights could land, and no flights could leave. Thousands of people were stuck in transition; stuck waiting for hours. First, the restaurants and bars filled up, with every seat taken. Then each gate seating area filled up. With all the chairs occupied, many travelers make space on the floors. The crowd overflowed from the gate area onto the main hall. I felt terrible for the family whose only seat was next to the men’s restroom entrance.
The longer I waited, the more aware of my privilege I became. A sobering thought resonated through me: My typical first-world travel experience, providing me entertainment and luxury, is vastly different from the way the rest of the world travels. I have been so conditioned to expect certain extravagancies afforded by the influence of the hospitality industry (including timely, safe flights), I was grossly out of touch with the global community. Even my motivation to travel for personal or professional gain was born of privilege, unlike those seeking political or social freedom, traveling out of necessity.
In my wait, I opened the Scriptures and read of God’s compassionate heart for the traveler, the sojourner, the transient, the migrant, the homeless, the itinerant, the displaced, the vagabond and the refugee. I reread a few of the hundreds of stories where God sends people from their homeland to journey, and where God meets the traveler along the weary road. I recalled Christ’s warning to would-be followers: “Foxes have dens and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head” (Luke 9:58 & Matthew 8:20).
In the uncomfortable, overcrowded space of unknown waiting in the airport, literally between here and there, I recognized just how far displaced I was from Israel’s story; a story of slavery in Egypt, wandering in the desert wilderness, captivity in Babylon and refugees of the diaspora.
Many of us will use these summer months to travel. Perhaps to vacation with family, visit friends or sight-see somewhere new while the children are out of school. Whether it’s to the lake, Disney World or a sandy beach somewhere, I encourage you all to remember Israel’s story. Show patience in the uncomfortable moments, for our traveling conditions are far better than most. Show mercy to other travelers; you do not know their motivation for travel. Welcome the stranger, greet those at rest stops or restaurants with a kind smile or buy a cold drink for another on the road, for in their company you may commune with Christ.
Above all, be mindful that we as Christ-followers are perpetually in-between. We occupy space in the current age and the age to come. We wait in this space, working faithfully for the inbreaking of the Kingdom of God into our here-and-now. In this space between, we are to share the redeeming love and healing grace of our Lord Jesus Christ.