Books alone launched my mind on a voyage beyond the vistas of New England when I was a junior high student. Back then, reading Phyllis A. Whitney’s YA novels set in Japan and Istanbul whet my appetite for the first time to glimpse the outside world. Before that, I’d encountered Anne Shirley’s Prince Edward Island and Heidi’s Swiss mountains. It would be hard to overestimate their eye-opening impact on my life.
Don’t get me wrong—rural Maine was a delightful place to grow up. But a sheltered daughter of Puritan descent had no interest or need-to-know about the events across the seas or over the mountains or…in Chile in 1973. Until, of course, I landed in the capital of Santiago in ’83 asking in wide-eyed innocence, “Who’s Pinochet?”
Though I began my missionary career so ill-prepared, I could blame my ignorance on the days before the digital revolution when up-to-date news was naturally harder to come by. But the truth is, I’d seen and heard so little of the world outside my country—or county—that I possessed few mental hooks to hang a barrage of bizarre new information on.
“The world is a book and those who do not travel read only one page.” –St. Augustine
These days we may have less excuse, but still we burrow into our homey ruts. My Chilean friends, too, live blissfully within their bubbles. With all that’s going on in our own neighborhoods, who cares about the poverty in Haiti, the revolution in Venezuela, or the freak storm in Madagascar?
Well, God cares. So maybe He’s asking…
What are you reading?
- If you have North American tunnel-vision syndrome, you need to get out and see the world, if only through the eyes of literature for a start. If your thoughts revolve around celebrity scandal, local politics, or pioneer romance, you could discover another whole world out there. If all the books you read are set in the USA, find something set overseas. Look at the beauty, the wonder… and the barren wastelands.
What news do you listen to? What do you know of the world?
- If we know about hard work, but have flabby minds, we need to develop some calluses on our brains too. If the only news you’re aware of is what’s going on in your own backyard, pay attention to what’s happening in Venezuela. Instead of surfing the web or vegetating on Facebook, how about serving the world through informed prayer?
How many languages do you speak?
- If you suffer from the selective hearing of the monolingual, you need to listen to the songs and sighs of the world. If you suppose Brazil is one of those Spanish-speaking countries down south somewhere, you need to travel a bit more. And you might as well be deaf if you believe Costa Rica is merely a friendly paradise. As soon as those tourist-masked faces realize you speak their language, they will fill your ears with the overflow of their heart.
Who are your friends?
- If you have a heart troubled by too much food and too little exercise, you need to get out and feel for people. If you’re concerned about the Wall, but not about the “walls”… If you know all about the Super Bowl but nothing of the World Cup… If you yawn at the struggle to make ends meet in a modern city where minimum wage is $450 a month (if one has a job at all)… Then soften your heart with the joy of making new friends. Start by reading a book, or better yet become acquainted with some of those immigrants from Guatemala or Honduras.
Where have you been?
- If you have swollen feet, perhaps you need to get moving out of your comfort zone instead tucking them up somewhere. Travel as much and as far as you have opportunity, and familiarize yourself with the world. Do you know where the bone of contention between Bolivia and Chile lies? Or why Chileans and Argentines never confuse each another? What are the differences between Korea and Vietnam? Even between the US and Canada?
Little in my upbringing or my education prepared me for the frozen-in-time fishing hamlets of the Chiloé Archipelago, the breathtaking majesty of the Andes, or the panic of earthquakes. Yet every new landscape and culture has added to the rich stores of my experience and forever transformed my understanding of “God so loved the world…”
I ought to care what happened in Chile in 1973, because (like the USA in 1861-65) it reverberates to this day.
Let’s step out our front door and take on the challenge of the world…