Sunday, September 13, 2009

Tafiya ya fi Zauna

(written Friday morning, Sept 11)

I used this saying from the Hausa culture (the dominate language where we lived in Northern Nigeria) in my sermon on the last Sunday before beginning sabbatical. Loosely translated it means that traveling about is better than staying at home. In planning how I would invest this sabbatical time, my counsel was that on the front end I should take some time to unwind, relax and do some things that I enjoy. When I first heard this Hausa saying years ago, I understood it. Doris and I have always enjoyed travel and have found it refreshing. So we decided (or maybe I did) that at the beginning of my time off, we would do some traveling.

Travel is not new to us, of course. In the early years of our marriage we took a number of road trips with the kids, often connected to attending the Church of the Brethren Annual Conference (which rotates around the USA). That, in addition to preaching and teaching assignments in over a hundred congregations, took us (me) to all but, I think, four of the fifty states. During the last twenty years, we have done a considerable amount of international travel, some of it related to our mission work in Nigeria, so that we have spent some time in a dozen countries on four continents. Just this past June, we were privileged to visit the Dominican Republic (my second time, Doris' first) and help with leadership training for our pastors there.

So when it came to sabbatical, I was feeling like it was time to see some more of the good old USA. In my meandering cyber space, I hit on the Seaway Trail, a combination of roads that skirts Lake Erie, Lake Ontario and the St. Lawrence Seaway, from the Ohio/PA line to Massena, NY.

Thus far it has been great. And I was wondering this morning as I woke up "What is it about traveling about that brings refreshment to the soul?"

Part of it is the lack of schedule. I can feel myself unwinding and relaxing. There is no pressure to be anywhere at any specific time, other than I call ahead each evening to make a room reservations for the next night. (Knowing we have a place to stay helps take the pressure off.) This is giving Doris and me uninterrupted time together, and that is another benefit of traveling with someone else.

Part of the refreshment, for me at least, comes from experiencing new places and cultures. Granted, on this trip, the culture is not that much different from back home. And yet, it is different. This kind of road trip allows us the time to meet people along the way. Almost exclusively we are staying at privately owned, mom and pop, motels or B&B's within sight if the water, and eating at local places rather than national chains, and the proprietors at these places are great people. In a time when there is so much increased violence in our world, it does my soul good to meet and chat with everyday working Americans who share the goodness of their hearts with you.

And there is the beauty of this land that God has so graciously given to us to call home. As Doris prayed yesterday morning, she thanked God for the beauty of the world. It is a window into his nature and his heart. Everywhere we have been, not only on this trip, but on every other one, has held wonderful beauty. Seeing and experiencing it, stretches our hearts as well. In all of this, there is also the realization that darkness and evil exist. Wednesday we arrived in Alexander Bay and spent the night there and part of yesterday. As soon as we arrived in the town, I began to feel oppressed. By dinner time, I understood that it was some kind of spiritual darkness that gripped the community. I said something to Doris and she had been feeling it too. The darkness was evident in the somewhat shabby nature of the town, unlike most of the communities along the St. Lawrence. It was weird. From there we traveled the few miles to Clayton, and immediately felt a different feeling. This too is part of the experience of travel, and it confirms for me that there are spiritual cultures that exist in places. The church's mission is to share the Gospel so that darkness is lifted and the Light of Jesus descends, not only on individuals, but on communities as God transforms our broken world.

And last of all, a road trip has to be taken in a car. In this case, we are traveling in the MR2 I resurrected from near death a few years ago. A mid-engine, two seater sports car does not allow for much storage space, so that means we are traveling light and are not able to accumulate much stuff along the way (not that there is anything we need). I am getting a lot of satisfaction from cruising about in a car that I have nearly completely disassembled and rebuilt. It is a sweet ride.

Here are a few pictures to close out this post:

The car, of course, in front of the Tunkhannock railroad viaduct in Nicholson, PA

Sunset over the St. Lawrence from our hotel room, near Massena, NY

Ogdensburg Lighthouse, Ogdensburg, NY