A Call to Travel Sufficiently Far from Home

Reprinted with permission from Dan Miller’s book Spiritual Reflections.

Have you come to prize the importance of journeying sufficiently far from home? To illustrate negatively, do you not bristle at the thought of a privileged young woman, growing up in a mansion, residing in an exclusive suburban neighborhood, attending posh private schools, who never leaves her comfortable surroundings? Would not this woman be aided by the experience of volunteering to scoop soup at a rescue mission, or by distributing medical supplies to refugees in a war torn country overseas, or something? If this member of the privileged class never leaves her comfort zone—never witnesses poverty and suffering firsthand—will she not nurse in her mind a distorted view of the world?

Conversely, consider a poverty stricken inner-city youth whose neighborhood is crawling with vice and whose chances of ever leaving his environment are bleak. Do we not readily commend the opportunity for such a youth to visit a rural farm or to attend a youth retreat in the Rockies, or something of the sort?

We seem to intuitively understand that it is inherently valuable for people to periodically enter an orbit that is not their own. Yet, as readily as we perceive this benefit, we also naturally resist it. There is a strong tendency for most of us to be quite comfortable to never leave our comfort zone—to never journey beyond the limits of our late twentieth century world. I don’t mean physically, necessarily (although that is a boon), but I mean in our imaginations.

I know this is a tough swallow for comfortable, technologically rich Americans. But I propose that if you aim to have anything that resembles a well-rounded perspective on life, you must read yourself into different worlds.

I cringe to think of the number of twentieth-century Americans who have never had a conversation with anyone living in another century or on another continent. Who among us knows firsthand about living amidst widespread societal suffering? What do we know about famine, war-torn cities, or even life without the ubiquitous aid of electricity? I cannot immediately create such settings, nor do I necessarily care to. On the other hand, I can choose to enter into such strange worlds by reading the words and acts of people who have been there. In fact, I desperately need the balance provided by traveling sufficiently far from home.

May I offer a simple illustration—an anecdotal gemstone from another time? We won’t travel far, just back to nineteenth century England, September 19, 1853, to be exact.

There are no airplanes in this strange world; world travel is by ship. We find ourselves at the bustling seaport of Liverpool where a young man named Hudson has boarded a vessel destined for the far-off land of China. Hudson’s purpose is to proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ in a land where that message was seldom heard and even less appreciated.

Hudson Taylor had dedicated his life to this arduous task. He had trained as a medical doctor in London, but turned down the opportunities for wealth and fame that his education may have so readily provided. The austerities of his life were chilling by modern standards. For months on end he ate only bread and water. He rejoiced in an evening bowl of thin gruel. By means of rigorous physical suffering and immense personal sacrifice, a spiritually prepared Hudson Taylor stood, at last, on the deck of the ship that would convey him to his mission in China. The personal cost had already been greater than most twentieth-century missionaries will ever experience. That cost would continue to rise.

Hudson’s journey would take almost sixth months. As was custom among nineteenth-century missionaries, he planned never to return to his beloved England again. He was fully resigned to die and to be buried in China in the service of his Lord.

Keeping this context in mind, the following excerpt comes from Taylor’s diary as he recounts the moment of separation from his mother. Please consider that it is a scene our technologically rich world would never permit. It is thus a scene whose benefit for us is immense.

My…mother had come to see me off from Liverpool. Never shall I forget that day, nor how she went with me into the little cabin that was to be my home for nearly six long months. With a mother’s loving hand she smoothed the little bed. She sat by my side, and joined me in the last hymn that we should sing together before the long parting. We knelt down, and she prayed—the last mother’s prayer I was to hear before starting for China. Then notice was given that we must separate, and we had to say good-by, never expecting to meet on earth again.

For my sake she restrained her feelings as much as possible. We parted; and she went on shore, giving me her blessing; I stood alone on deck, and she followed the ship as we moved toward the dock gates. As we passed through the gates, and the separation really began, I shall never forget the cry of anguish wrung from that mother’s heart. It went through me like a knife. I never knew so fully, until then, what “God so loved the world” meant. And I am quite sure that my precious mother learned more of the love of God to the perishing in that hour than in all her life before. (cf. John 3:16-17)

I have been greatly helped in my spiritual journey by the biography of Hudson Taylor. I encourage you to take similar journeys into the past. Such visitations can prove immensely beneficial, providing essential ballast for the contemporary soul and new vistas into your understanding of God’s love and power.

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