time (zone) travel

I often dream of travelling back in time.  I love history and think it would be so cool to pop in, here and there.  However, right now, sitting in Auckland’s strictest lockdown yet, it is memories, not dreams, that fill my imagination.  I’ve been reflecting on the great privilege of my working life — spending the last dozen years with Langham Preaching, travelling across time zones.  

Why is it such a privilege?

It is related to my convictions about God and the gospel. 

God delights in the languages and the cultures of the peoples of the world.  And these peoples and cultures become the very best version of themselves, the truest version, when they are touched and transformed by the gospel.

Pour yourself a coffee.  Pull up a chair.  Come, travel across the time zones with me.  Browse awhile.  See again the beauty of God’s world, with its peoples and cultures, as well as the sadness of its history.  Watch again for the way the gospel works, through obstacles and towards transformation — and there is still more work for the gospel to do.

GMT -5 Colombia — 2017. I’ve been keen to visit each of our Langham leaders in their ‘home place’, as Indians express it.  Jorge & Gail, in Bogota, was the final visit.  Walking the streets with them, feeling the history and culture, was followed by travelling on to the infamous, but beautiful, Medellin—and the Art Buffet will always be with me.

GMT -4 Bolivia — 2014. As a newly appointed director, this was my first visit to Latin America.  I have had lots to learn in this foreign world, where our work has been so strong.  The key leaders were gathering from across the continent.  Perfect.  Igor met me at the Cochabamba airport in the morning — and then his precious father died later that day.  So Day 2 was spent at a funeral, giving the week a sad start.

GMT +0 Ghana — 2016. Another ‘home-place’ visit, this time to Femi & Affy in Accra, with Femi having started as our leader in Africa earlier that month.  The threefold problem for leadership worldwide — prosperity gospel, a ‘big man’ style, corruption — was evident, yet again.  On a later visit, the Two Trees, not far from their home, became helpful in illustrating the problem, but also suggesting the solution.

GMT +2   Bosnia-Herzegovina — 2018. Europe is not so familiar to me.  I’ve never been a tourist within its borders.  While this visit did have a short Road Trip, it was lingering in Sarajevo with Slavko, trying to process the beauty, the trauma, and the resistance to the gospel that so stirred me.  Writing four blog-posts in a week — I’ve never done that before, or since — says something about the impact of this visit on my life.

GMT +2 Spain — 2018. Our annual weeklong Global Leadership Team meetings rotate among the continents and bring so much relational capital into the ministry.  ‘Business’ is restricted to 50% of the time — and the rest of the time, people like the aforementioned Femi and Igor make pizzas together in the hills behind Barcelona! Watching inter-continental collaboration, in and beyond the pizzas, is a great joy.

GMT +2 Egypt — 2016. “Blessed be Egypt, my people; Assyria, my handiwork; Israel, my inheritance” (Is 19.25) has been one of the great discoveries of these years.  God’s heart for the peoples of the world has always been there.  I’ve loved visiting Egypt (and this desperate man surrounded by the cloud of witnesses) — and one day, it will be (As)syria as well, although I have prayed over it, quite literally.

GMT +2   Zimbabwe — 2019. Another year, another Global Leadership Team meeting — and, due to Covid-19, the last time we’ve been together.  We wanted to go and be with our team in Zimbabwe, world famous for being a failed state, and have them host us — not knowing that the region’s worst cyclone would pass through a few days earlier. Amazing to see people with so little giving so much to help others. They whisked us away to distant Nyanga, a stunning place for retreat.

GMT +3 Lebanon — 2015. Stepping into the Middle East North Africa (MENA) region for the first time — and what a place and people with which to begin: Lebanon, hosted by Riad Kassis and his family. We went here and there, soaking in the beauty, the peoples, the history — and the cedars! So often, in scriptures, they evoke the very hope and aspiration which is lacking today.  Later, the story of a church in Beirut became one of the books of the decade for me.

GMT +3    Turkey — 2015. It is uncanny how the story of the Hagia Sophia in Istanbul captures, in microcosm, something of the wider story of the country. What a place — and the best photo I’ve ever taken 😀.  The number of believers has stayed pretty static across the centuries. A few thousand among 5 million back then and now, still a few thousand, but among 75 million today. 

GMT +3 — +6     Lebanon, Pakistan, Kyrgyzstan — 2019. This doesn’t really fit the flow in this blog, but I want to include it.  It reflects on a longer visit to the M-majority world, with a variety I only saw as I was travelling home!  The headings express it: “Some speaking in the Russian world; some listening in the Arabic world; some training in the Urdu world.” One Faith, Three Languages. Ahh, ‘infinitely translatable’ (A. Walls) — God reveals himself fully, in every language, even in every vernacular.

GMT +5     Pakistan — 2012. Having been based in India, it has not been easy to reflect publically on visits to Pakistan, across their hostile border.  So many photos, but so few blogs! But Camp Mubarak has been a sweet spot for me (with the best chapathis!).  Training alongside Qaiser provide some of my happiest memories, while watching him with his team, some of my best learning experiences. And those day trips to places I should not mention?  Wah. Wah. Amazing.  A visit back into their Himalayas remains a dream which I nurture.

GMT +5.5   India — 2019. I could link any one of 20+ posts here, but I’ve opted for the most recent one: our last holiday together before our hurried exit from India. We grew up in the Himalayas just beyond Nepal’s western border with India — and this was our first visit to the Himalayas beyond Nepal’s eastern border. So much the same, yet so much that was different. Now, such a memory to cherish.

GMT +5.5     Sri Lanka — 2017. “In the year the tsunami brought destruction, the word of the Lord came to me”. That is pretty much how it happened. The tsunami broke something inside me, opening me up to the peoples of the world in a fresh way. A little pilgrimage became inevitable…

GMT +6.5     Myanmar — 2015. What a generous people, so gracious with their hospitality — even after an oppressive regime lasting as long as the biblical exile, wiping out any living memory of an alternative world.  In the 1950s South Korea travelled to Burma to find the secrets of prosperity!  Those Bridges to Hope so captured, and converted, me — while the Red Letters still create goosebumps … but I’ve chosen a visit to the Armenian Church in Yangon. 

GMT +7    Vietnam — 2019. Because I react to a ‘join Langham, see the world’ attitude, I rarely explore the tourist trails in my travels — unless Barby is with me. Until these covidian times arrived, I had this sequence running where, on our way from A to B, we’d deviate for a few days, to celebrate her birthday, and make some memories somewhere new. This was our most recent deviation…

GMT +7 Indonesia — 2017. The time with Langham has had two phases: (a) travelling around Asia (from NZ) to help start preaching movements, returning to the same people 4-5-6 times; (b) travelling globally (from India) to help establish preaching movements. It was not easy to step back from (a), especially the friendships. Indonesia was one such country, loaded with friends — including the effervescent Okta, who died suddenly, in the midst of serving God with Langham.

GMT +7 Cambodia — 2010. Another country with many visits and friends in those early years. The start, inadvertently, clashed with Cape Town 2010 — but I’ve never regretted choosing to go to Cambodia.  The story I share more often than any other is from that week.  The experience changed me. Whether it be engaging their trauma, working with translators, or hanging out with participants at the beach — I loved it. 

GMT +8   Malaysia — 2018. Ever since I stumbled over the observation that it is the country in the world closest to having each of the four major global religions represented by at least 10% of the population, Malaysia has been a country that has fascinated me.  There is no other collection of peoples and faiths quite like it.  So when I saw the possibility of another deviation, in travelling from A to B around the time of Barby’s birthday (!), I grabbed it.  

GMT +8    Ch!na — 2015. I have made more than a dozen visits to Hong Kong, but just the one inside ‘the big country’.  The work is in good hands now, but our hands had struggled to lay a foundation.  While we were at Eric Liddell’s place, the news came of the death of my friend, Martin.  The care of my hosts (unknown to me) — and then the flying 4 nights (out of 5) in order to be at the funeral and return to my itinerary — is my deepest experience of the sustaining grace of God.

GMT +10    Papua New Guinea — 2019. The invitation to give some talks at Christian Leaders’ Training College (CLTC) was combined with some training in Ukarumpa — except that MAF wasn’t flying on the days I needed.  So CLTC provided someone to travel with me (to keep me company, or to keep me safe?) for an all-day bus trip through lush countryside, vibrant colours, beautiful people — and broken infrastructure.

GMT +11    Solomon Islands — 2009. Much of the travel in those early years was focused on the South Pacific, with multiple visits to the Solomon Islands, but also to Vanuatu.  The Solomons (and then on to Pakistan), in 2009, was my very first training seminar anywhere.  I can think of only 1-2 other regions in the entire world which can rival this part of the Pacific for the challenges created by the cost and difficulty of travel and communication — further complicated now by these covidian times in which we live. 

So, here I am, in my little study.  It is as I like it to be.  It is cold enough for a blanket around my legs.  The birds are chirping.  The early Sunday morning spiritual practice of blog-writing is happening. The dawn is not too far away — and neither is ‘nice chatting’…

And I’m here in Auckland, New Zealand — far, far from these places and peoples among whom I have been privileged to travel — and so close to the place where the day starts and the time zones begin.  This is why my imagination so often travels to a hymn.  While it’s origins may lie more in a colonial/imperialist era, it has become an anthem for me.  Even though it is written at dusk, while I am at dawn, I still love the imagery (captured in the video below) — and as I singalong, it takes me back up this list, tracking with the sun, from east to west.

The hymn celebrates God and the gospel at work. It gives me words to express how I think and feel. 

1.    The day Thou gavest, Lord, is ended,
The darkness falls at Thy behest;
To Thee our morning hymns ascended,
Thy praise shall sanctify our rest.

2.    We thank Thee that Thy church, unsleeping,
While earth rolls onward into light,
Through all the world her watch is keeping,
And rests not now by day or night.

3.    As o’er each continent and island
The dawn leads on another day,
The voice of prayer is never silent,
Nor dies the strain of praise away.

4.    The sun that bids us rest is waking
Our brethren ’neath the western sky,
And hour by hour fresh lips are making
Thy wondrous doings heard on high.

5.    So be it, Lord; Thy throne shall never,
Like earth’s proud empires, pass away:
Thy kingdom stands, and grows forever,
Till all Thy creatures own Thy sway.

nice chatting

Paul

 

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About Me

paul06.16

the art of unpacking

After a childhood in India, a theological training in the USA and a pastoral ministry in Southland (New Zealand), I spent twenty years in theological education in New Zealand — first at Laidlaw College and then at Carey Baptist College, where I served as principal. In 2009 I began working with Langham Partnership and since 2013 I have been the Programme Director (Langham Preaching). Through it all I've cherished the experience of the 'gracious hand of God upon me' and I've relished the opportunity to 'unpack', or exegete, all that I encounter in my walk through life with Jesus.

4 Comments

  1. Riad on September 12, 2021 at 5:28 pm

    Hi Paul,
    It is Sunday morning here in Lebanon! Thank you for sharing these fascinating time zone stories. I really felt as if traveling with you.
    Blessings!
    Riad

  2. the art of unpacking on September 13, 2021 at 4:07 pm

    That is kind of you, Riad.

    Thank-you for your part in the stories — probably more significant than you realise.

    I trust there are more stories to come 🙂

    best wishes

    Paul

  3. Mark Windsor on November 8, 2021 at 8:51 am

    I don't know how I missed this posting when it first came out.
    Amazing trip around the world. So many wonderful people and places!

  4. Paul on November 11, 2021 at 10:55 am

    Thanks, Boz — it has been an amazing privilege…

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