Normal: Travelling and Telling Stories

“Do all Mennonites travel as much as you and your friends do?”

Last night wasn’t the first time that my friend asked me this. but it stumped me again. I don’t know what is normal for other Mennonites, only what’s normal for me. And normal for me is to hear stories of other countries, the food, the houses, transportation, the languages encountered. Stories and details galore, to wonder at and admire.

I said it’s normal for my family. Both of my grandfathers are globe-trotters dedicated to service, and the trait is strong in their grandchildren. An hour before my friend’s question, I’d read an email from my aunt planning Christmas activities with the extended family. There will be photos and stories from schools and missions in Liberia, the Far East, El Salvador, Mexico, Ukraine, Poland. Not to mention places of ministry within the US. Stories, stories, stories!

I’m not as well-traveled as I want to be, but packing a bag and making sure the ticket and money are safe is something I’ve often done–though not often enough to satisfy me.  So I was ecstatic to be able to fly on a whim to Ukraine last week end and join a friend for a missionary conference. The quick decision and foreign country and new acquaintences thrilled me like little else could. I wrote my family and close friends a report that was long but didn’t nearly say everything because it’s impossible to put all one’s impressions and comparisons and theories of a new country on paper.

While I’m immensely grateful for the legacy of travelling and missions that my grandparents and parents gave me, I don’t want to minimize the value of being steady in the home place. (Though I have this sneaking suspicion that the majority of  people do that because it’s their default setting rather than their calling. This makes me sad and a little angry sometimes. Is that my problem?) Going out to ‘do missions’ isn’t something to do for adventure. Sometimes the most anyone can do for the Kingdom is to be gracious to the irritating person beside them, to be gentle to the child speaking to them, to do more than the boss asks, to do the next thing even though it feels impossible.

Which we all must do, no matter where we are on this wide, beautiful globe.

Related post: Lengthening the Cords

8 thoughts on “Normal: Travelling and Telling Stories

  1. People are a little unaware that we Mennonites are a bit more traveled than our Amish cousins. A tourist once asked me, “Have you ever been out of the community?” I don’t remember how I answered, but I’ve lived in two other countries and visited several more, not to mention all the states I’ve visited. Someone said once that we Mennonites actually travel more than most non-Mennonites, because of our missions and relatives in other places.

    I really like how you mentioned that being “gracious to the irritating person” is often the most anyone can do for the Kingdom. That is often more difficult than doing the “big” things, but it is “true evengelical faith.”

  2. Dani Kinsella told me that her middle-aged neighbor lady went out of Co. Cork for the first time a few years ago. Her first holiday, the first time she’d ever been out of the county, was spent in . . . Tramore. 😀

    “Sometimes the most anyone can do for the Kingdom is to be gracious to the irritating person beside them, to be gentle to the child speaking to them, to do more than the boss asks, to do the next thing even though it feels impossible.” This. made me cry. Thank you.

    • First time out of the county, in Tramore?!
      I know that you are doing good Kingdom things, Jennifer, inside your four walls with your family.

  3. Yes, Mennonites like to travel. Actually, this is something that bothers me. I agree that travel is exciting and does a person good by opening his eyes to the world beyond his little crack in the wall. However, I think affluence and the heightened expectations because of it are worrisome. It seems like people think they deserve to spend gobs of money to tour the world when perhaps that money should go to feed the hungry. Or sometimes we go sweeping down to some mission to do something heroic, build a house or a church or something for those poor helpless natives who don’t know how to do anything for themselves, and I wonder, are we doing more harm than good? Also, what about the worn-out missionaries that spend huge chunks of their time and energy hosting touristy visitors? I’m not saying that all travel is wrong–it can be a very good thing. However, I think we ought to carefully examine our reasons before embarking on the next exciting adventure.

  4. I think we definitely need to guage why we travel. I would love to travel more, but I have been forced to look at priorities as well as what is practically possible. I think it is very important to ask the Lord for His direction so we don’t spend money in unnecessary ways when there are so many needs around us, even here in America.
    I would also like to comment on being called to stay at home. I think there is definitely a place for that. I think of my aunt and uncle. He has lived on that farm every year of his life except maybe the first year they were married. However, I have not seen many people who spend more time in prayer for their family and those on the mission field. They are in their mid- eighties and spend a significant amount of time every morning in devotions and prayer. So I do think there is a place for both.
    Looking at the outcome in their family. One of their daughters spent many years on the mission field. A son-in-law and a grandson have been ordained as deacons. I’m all for missions; I have just come to realize that it isn’t for everyone to be out on the foreign field with their two feet. However, we can all be there in our prayers.
    Just a few thoughts. No animosity.

  5. Mennonites have been forced to view place as temporary (and that is helpful for “my kingdom is not of this world” ethics) — perhaps through the constant upheaval of moving from nation to nation, whether to escape persecution or to disappear quietly into the fabric of new lands. Missions affects this as well. My family (as many others also) were troubled by coercive early mission work in Africa (and many other places) and did not put much stock in foreign service. We came from ancestors forced off Scottish estates, who were then forcibly re-settled in northern Ireland: they came to Canada wanting land. And this still defines my father. Land, a sense of place, a security, is paramount. He is beginning to be interested in travel, but is not interested in giving up his land, in relocating. Land-consiousness informs our thinking. I am beginning to understand now why I was shocked and somewhat troubled by the amount of travel Mennonites did–it is stitched into my consciousness by a family tree fulfilling its dream of settlement and the chance to farm, free from the disruptions and poverty of the Old Country.

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