Total Pageviews

Saturday, 21 July 2012

Holidays At Last!

Or Vacations if you live in the USA. This weekend is often known as "The Big (or Great) Getaway" because all the schools across the nation had broken up for the summer. According to one newspaper report, nearly 500,000 travellers will pass through London Heathrow Airport this weekend - as sun-starved Britons fly south for two weeks of glorious weather after three months of rain and grey skies here in the UK.

Holidays are a time of fun, to relax, or to take a break from the "wind and tempest" of our daily responsibilities. Whether is relaxing on the beach with the turquoise sea lapping gently a couple of metres from your feet, or hiking up a mountain, such a change of environment certainly recharges the batteries in readiness to return to the normal routines of life. Or at least, that was the intention!

Then again, at the same time as our schools shut down, the Daily Mail newspaper carried a report that in 2011, more than 3,700 Brits were treated at a foreign casualty department, as a result of overindulgence of alcohol and drugs. Also during the period 2011/2012, there were more than 6,200 British deaths, although this statistic included those who live overseas, ex-pats whom many were senior citizens who have moved overseas to enjoy their retirement in the sun. But that does not rule out the chance that any young person jetting out for a wild booze up will return home in a coffin. And excess alcohol and drug intake seems to be the motive primarily for the Club 18-30 age group, who fly to the Mediterranean island of Ibiza for alcohol-fuelled overnight parties. As a result, also during the same period, over 6,000 young British holidaymakers were arrested and had to swap their hotel suite for a prison cell. Tanked up carelessness, I believe, was also behind the majority of the loss or theft of 28,569 passports. Little wonder that the rest of the world takes a very dim view of British tourists, according to the Media.

As an unmarried Christian prior to 1999, I regularly attended singles after-church meetings on Sunday evenings. These were informal meetings over coffee, at the home of anyone who was willing to host. I opened the door of my apartment several times during those days. Even after our wedding, I still attended for several months after. Holidays were a favourite topic of discussion. Generally, the vast majority of Christians, single in particular, go with a very popular British Christian holiday group, Oak Hall, which is based in Kent. Here, Christians can have fun without the party spirit and excess booze-ups. But the company does not cater just for the singles. A number of married couples as well as families holiday with them. They have prayer meetings and Bible teaching mixed in with the fun. Also talked about was MasterSun, a posh version of Oak Hall. MasterSun catered for Christians with money and class, and I knew of one or two graduates who flew out with this company. However, some years ago MasterSun went out of business, but recently resurrected itself under a new name.

In preparation for this article, I browsed this holiday website. A ten day trip to Israel, for example, including departure from London Heathrow and arriving back again, the cost was on the approach to £1,000 per person, not including flights. I thought "Wow!"  Then if you are the one for personal privacy, then add £200 single supplement. It was a fully escorted tour including prayer and Bible study. Really, the very fact that all places were taken for the summer season shows their strong popularity. There is nothing wrong with any of this. Nearly all, if not all, Western Christians setting foot in the Holy Land seem to do so in a group. But furthermore, it looks to me that independent backpacking is a sin. There is hardly a Christian I know who can share this experience.

I spent weeks in the Holy land for just a fraction of the price. In Jerusalem, I stayed at a small backpackers hostel in the heart of the Old City. The main dormitory was housed in a medieval room with a domed ceiling. Here I was really tasting a bit of history. Just for a few Shekels a night. I shared a tiny communal kitchen with other backpackers. One evening, I found myself talking with one from South Africa. He asked me what I was doing in Israel, and why I came here. Gosh, what an opportunity to share the love of Jesus Christ with an unbeliever! When I finished talking, I looked up, only to see the entire room full of faces listening in to what I was saying.

The Damascus Gate, Jerusalem, taken in 1993.

And this is precisely why I believe that there is something unreal about Christian holidays. The incredibly cliquey attitude, as if safety in numbers gives the necessary protection against predators!

Throughout my lifetime, God has blessed me richly with travel adventures. Furthermore, as a lone backpacker, I was fully protected by God himself. No matter what situation I found myself in, or even poor choices or bad decisions taken, the love of Jesus Christ still sustained me. Like the time I needed to make my way to the Greyhound Bus Station in Los Angeles, which involved a walk through a rough estate. I prayed and trusted in the Lord that I wouldn't attract attention. I arrived at the terminal in fine form, from which I boarded a bus bound for San Francisco. Or while in Jerusalem, I found myself in the thick of an Israeli demonstration against the Palestinian's proposal to make East Jerusalem their headquarters. It was an incredible experience, with the burning of Palestinian flags in front of TV cameras, which were just about everywhere. Or that time in Phoenix, Arizona. Here, at another backpackers hostel, I found myself sharing the love of Jesus Christ to a couple of Jewish travellers, with the proprietor in the lounge with us. Afterwards, the owner asked me to take charge of the hostel, for she had to go out that evening. So I was left to lock the doors and made sure all as well and secure. And that was my first of two nights there before taking the next Greyhound bus to San Diego.

One of the greatest advantages of independent travel is that if you particularly like the location you arrived at, you can spend as much time as you want, without the strict time restriction imposed by a tour leader, escort or ranger. One excellent example is the Grand Canyon. When I arrived there in 1995, I was free to spend as much time as I needed. So I spent four days and three nights, part of this taken by hiking to the bottom and back up, a feat which meant a night at a campsite close to the gentle flowing Bright Angel Creek which joined the main Colorado River nearby. As I looked up, I saw the clear night sky in a way I had never seen in the UK. Countless stars visible through the pristine air in and over the Canyon, which were invisible elsewhere.

Just below South Rim of the Grand Canyon, 1995.

As I once explained to a friend one evening at a pub, the advantage of soaking in a particular location is to allow the land to speak to you. Like this, by my prolonged stay in the Holy Land, I was able to watch how the Jews and the Palestinians actually live side by side on a day-to-day basis. Learning about foreign cultures by daily experience and interaction. And still visit all the important, historical and Biblical sites by having a guidebook. In Israel, most of these sites are accessible by public transport, mainly buses, but taxis and sheruts (communal taxis where the fare is shared between up to six passengers) are easily available. And learning how to be polite but firm in refusing a shopkeeper's begging to step in and "just look around," or someone insisting on commentating over a particular site for a fee. These personal approaches happen all the time to a lone tourist in Jerusalem.

Or the magnificent Grand Canyon or the mighty Niagara Falls in Canada, both spectacular wonders in God's creation. One remarkable characteristic about the Grand Canyon was that three different colours stood out: the white limestone layer, the red sandstone cliffs and the green vegetation growing inside the Canyon. It looks to me that in the Bible, White, Red and Green are the three most important colours. White represents the purity of God, green his creation and red his redemption. And those three are prominent in the Canyon. The power of God! Thus, by staying a while at the site, this was another example where I allowed the land to speak to me.

For many Brits, the holiday (or vacation) is just one big booze party. There are consequences of this, as already mentioned above. But on the other hand, it can also be the perfect occasion for you to get close to God, allowing him to reveal to you his great power and glory through his work in creation, a time to meditate and reflect, as well as to rest and have fun. It is also a good time to share the love of Christ to others if the opportunity arises.

Having fun is not sinful. A ride on a roller coaster can be a daring challenge, as with avoiding the collisions at a bumper-car track. A fun fair provides many a good laugh. And not to mention swimming in the sea, snorkeling or diving over the corals, or just building sandcastles with the children, enjoying an ice cream.

To me, taking the aeroplane just for a big booze up and risking jail at the same time...I think I have far better things to do with my hard-earned cash.


  1. Hi Frank,
    what a lovely post, and what wonderful places you have been to. Yes, I would find organized christian holidays hard to deal with, and far too expensive. We have loved our traveling times when we have come across so many interesting people. I am not one for organized things really, I think you can miss out on what is meant to be sometimes, and we always like going into the areas that are not commercialized. I believe absolutely we are meant to do the things that we love doing, and enjoy the things that we enjoy. That way, when the Lord brings people across our path to speak to about Him, they will be 'fishes after our own kind'.

  2. Dear Frank, Being in the perfect will is the safest place to be, whether backpacking through the Holy Land or being a missionary to a cannibal tribe. Praise God that you let Him use you to witness to those you met!
    My husband and I visited the Grand Canyon before we were saved, and even then we were struck by its majesty and knew that there must be a Creator. I love your observation about the colors of the Canyon! God speaks in so many ways, if we open our eyes, ears, and hearts.
    Thanks for another excellent post, and God bless,

  3. Yes Frank, you're spot on about some British people. I never went on a booze holiday as a youngster but often I would go out and get smashed with my mates, drinking so much it hardly seems feasible now at the weekend. Sometimes I even enjoyed it too! But now, as an adult, I moderate what I drink and I try to enjoy the alcohol for what it is and the taste rather than getting totally drunk. Certainly it would be unseemly for a Christian to want to get drunk anyway!

    Love your tales of solo travelling Frank; I'm a bit like this myself too, a bit of an adventurer; give me a lonely path and a whole day in front of me and I can walk and explore for miles happy as a sandboy. I spent just less than a month exploring North Italy a few years ago and loved every minute of it. I spent a few months learning the lingo before I went and that did help a lot to be honest.

    Even now, when I can I just love taking off for the day to some lonely wood or beach, and just walking for miles somewhere; they are simple pleasures, and often all you need is a packed lunch and the get-up-and-go spirit of adventure. I'd love to see more of the Mediterranean, especially Sicily, Egypt and Morocco; well, maybe one day...

  4. The Lord usually speaks in a still, small voice and in a crowd he gets drowned out. Unfortunately human nature tends to like the crowds because we don't really want to hear God. The tour leaders and sponsors are unlikely to call for deep spiritual self examination and change like God demands.

  5. mind to follow my blog? thanks.