It was December 2011, and I was sitting at lunch with John, the senior pastor of a large church and a well-respected community leader, when he said to me, “I have not taken my pastoral staff on an educational outing in almost a decade. This is what I want to do: I want to take them to Turkey to study the Churches of Revelation, and this is what I want to pay for it.” At that point, John quoted an unrealistic price for this trip he envisioned to Turkey.
Shocked and without thinking, the words rolled out of my mouth, “John, if you think that trip is going to happen at that price, you might as well start praying for a miracle right now! You can’t even get an airline ticket for that price.”
To his credit, John did understand the travel business, so he asked me to keep a watch out for bargain airline tickets. “If you find any, I’ll bring a check and pay for the flights that day,” he promised.
I did find those bargain airline tickets and was able to offer a trip close enough to his price point, and so began the journey that took John and his pastoral staff of 10 on a dream trip to Turkey. I was not rewarded financially by this trip. In fact, I broke even only because the exchange rates happened to swing in my favor.
However, I received the real reward when John invited me to his staff lunch to hear trip participants share their stories, stories that sparked an internal joy in me. Luckily, those stories didn’t end at the lunch.
While in Turkey, the staff had decided they would spend the summer “Talking Turkey” as a way to share their travel experiences with the rest of the congregation while preaching about the Churches of Revelation. When fall came, other congregants asked John to take them to Turkey, too, so I planned another trip to the country for the following year—a trip of fellowship, bonding and learning that went beyond what one could learn in church on a Sunday morning. Moreover, that was the first of what became an annual trip to places like Greece, England, Germany and Italy.
John is retiring from the pulpit this year, and he recently wrote to me. His note read, in part, “As a pastor I found it immensely helpful to travel with my congregation to places of biblical significance where I could tell them something of the rich Christian history of those nations. It has been a faith-building experience for me, my wife and my flock.” Without a doubt, these international trips to biblical places prove the value of faith-based travel.
Recently I was struck by the impact of faith travel in an unexpected place. My wife and I were visiting our friend Frances Manzitto of Visit Clarksville in Clarksville, Tennessee, when she shared the story of a local pastor whose life had impacted others in a profound way. By genuinely loving people regardless of their position in life—rich or poor, Republican or Democrat, business owner or laborer—Pastor Jimmy Terry had lived out his Christian faith every day. The story of this humble servant and his dedication to others was as meaningful as any sermon I’ve ever heard, and his impact on the city of Clarksville was evident.
It struck me as a travel professional that throughout our country and world, there are many similarly powerful stories to be discovered. I realized that while history, art and music—as well as prophets and places like Greece, Turkey, Israel and Rome— testify to my personal Christian faith, so do the miracles and examples of more ordinary people in lesser-known places like Clarksville, Tennessee.
There is value in faith-based travel, wherever that travel takes you.
Larsen is board chair of the National Tour Association, an active member of the Faith Travel Association, and owner of Rochester, Minnesota-based Ed-Ventures, Inc. Reach out to him or go to ed-ventures.com to learn more.
Top photo: James River Church and Lutheran Cemetery near Carrington, North Dakota
Photo by Mary Lou Tastad