On February 25th fifteen representatives from Central will travel to Thailand and Burma to learn the ways of God in Southeast Asia. While our visas will record us as “tourists,” we really go as pilgrims. Being a “tourist” is usually a private pursuit and does not pursue the well being of the host community. As Susan Thistlethwaite has contended, the tourist “can pop in and out of exotic locations with very little time expended and observe without participation. Far from being transformative, the tourist helps to keep the status quo by reenacting dominance.” [Beyond Theological Tourism,14-15].
Going on pilgrimage is a very different pursuit. It is a spiritual and physical journey that seeks to experience God more deeply through encountering holy places and graced persons. The pilgrim who finishes the journey is a different person than the one who began. Early in the Christian movement, the faithful sought to draw nearer to God through visiting the places where Jesus and the early apostles proclaimed the inbreaking of the Reign of God. The earliest recorded Christian pilgrimage to the Holy Land dates from the fourth century, but most likely the practice started soon after the resurrection of Jesus. The motif of the journey of pilgrims is frequent in the classic portraits of Christian spirituality, e.g., Gregory of Nyssa’s The Life of Moses or John Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress. It is through purposeful contending with the unknown, weak flesh, and spiritual obstacles that one’s faith is purified and one’s witness is strengthened.
As pilgrims, students and faculty will learn of the ministries among Burmese refugees in Thailand. We will worship in the oldest Chinese Baptist Church in Thailand, the Maitrichit Church, where friend of Central Dr. Thawesak Mahachavaroj is a prominent leader. We will encounter other ways of faith, primarily Buddhism, and learn how faithful Christians in Myanmar have sustained their identity as a religious minority since the time of the Judsons, nearly two hundred years ago. We will learn from seminary students and faculty members how to read the Bible contextually in Myanmar, how to sustain vibrant congregations amidst great financial need, and how to engage church state issues in a country where certain freedoms are severely curtailed.
I invite you to pray for our pilgrimage. We trust that God will transform us as we learn how God is at work in Bangkok, Yangon, Bagan, Mandalay, and points in between. We earnestly desire to return as different persons, formed more nearly in the image of the Triune God.
Molly T. Marshall
For more information about Central, our faculty, students, and community life, please visit www.cbts.edu