In a little over a week, create students and faculty will be going to Thailand and Myanmar (Burma) once again. We go with anticipation of being transformed by encountering faithful Baptists, other Christians, and those who follow another pathway of worship and service. We are deliberate in the language we use to describe this global immersion opportunity. Rather than calling this a “trip,” we name it as pilgrimage, a spiritual quest.
The legacy of the Judsons is ever in our minds as we prepare to depart. In February 1812, Ann and Adoniram Judson sailed on the Caravan, headed to India and eventually to Burma. Sea sick, home sick, and sick of the threat of war, they departed from Salem on the last ship to get out prior to the War of 1812. It was a missionary pilgrimage for them; they were changed even as they brought the light of the Gospel to new realms. How does being a pilgrim differ from being a tourist?
· Pilgrimage is a holy pursuit, a spiritual practice that endeavors to encounter God in a new way.
· A pilgrimage 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.
· A pilgrimage requires respect, humility, attentive listening to God, and openness to new vision.
· Pilgrimages differ from other types of travel in that the physical demands create a strong and unique camaraderie with fellow travelers, as well as the opportunity to viscerally connect with your surroundings and engage in a spiritual discovery.
· A pilgrimage is not only the exploration of the destination, but the very personal and internal exploration of the individual.
· Being a “tourist” is usually a private pursuit and does not pursue the well-being of the host community.
· As pilgrims we go seeking to learn the ways of God in Southeast Asia and how Christian witness takes hold in other cultures.
· A pilgrim displays respect for the lived religion of others even while deepening his or her own faithful convictions.
· Preparation is required for a pilgrimage. I encourage the class to be prayerful daily as you prepare for this remarkable opportunity. I assure them that I am already praying for each of them by name.
Jonah was called to proclaim God’s message to Nineveh, and he goes reluctantly, without care for the people. (He flunks the “pilgrim test” in every measure. ) Preaching a minimalist sermon of five words, he expects God to destroy the great city in the manner of Sodom and Gomorrah (which is why he sought a vista a bit out of the city to watch the fireworks.) When the mercy of God prevails over judgment, he expresses moral outrage at God’s welcome of these despised Assyrians; indeed, he would rather die (4:9) than be a part of the people of God that included them.
Important in our day is holding in tension the urgency of proclaiming the gospel with the capacity to discern God’s surprising ways of mercy in the larger human family. We trust that we will learn of both on pilgrimage to Thailand and Myanmar (Burma).
Molly T. Marshall
Central seeks to form students with discernment about global Christianity, learning about the ways God’s great redemptive project is flourishing.