I have recently had the unique opportunity of traveling abroad. This was not a vacation, sightseeing, leisure trip. This was a mission’s trip sponsored by our church to Japan and the Philippians. Although our accommodations were quite comfortable in comparison to some mission’s work that I have done, comfort seems to be a relative term.
Each hotel room had a private bathroom. Outstanding! However, on several consecutive days the functions of the bathroom were impaired because water lines were broken. On one day when all the water lines were working, the faucet gave out a brownish flow that resembled cloudy, dark tea rather than clear, clean water. Not so outstanding! I must confess that I was tempted to offer a complaint, because I am used to the cleanliness and convenience of my bathroom at home.
Food, lodging, languages, currencies, modes of transportation, and many other differences assaulted my consciousness, providing me with a sense of displacement from my comfort zone.
“Let’s find some real food.”
“They drive on the wrong side of the road over here.”
“How much would that cost in my money?”
These were some of the comments my traveling companions and I would say to one another, as though our reality was the true gauge by which all else should be measured. Maybe we all judge by the paradigm we’ve grown accustomed to or maybe it is simply pride that causes us to compare everything to what we already know; but whatever the cause, I have personally discovered that an unexpected surprise awaits any traveler who is willing to stretch beyond the realm of the normal and out of the comfort zone to embrace something new from the vast world around.
What is the surprise of which I am speaking? For me, the surprise was not found in the uniqueness of cultural diversity, fascinating though it may be. More thrilling than the historic sights, architectural wonders, or unique landmarks were the people. What an honor to meet someone whose surroundings were totally and completely foreign to my own, only to discover the similarity of hopes and dreams, joys and heartaches, or desires and disappointments. Faceless masses faded as the particular facial features of a new Filipino friend filled my eyes and etched its way into my heart. Noises from the crowded streets were drowned out by the single sweet whisper of the Japanese woman who was sharing her heart with me. One man laughed just like my cousin. Another man had dancing eyes just like my son. Several women had children the same age as my grandbabies.
Opportunities were afforded me to meet many of the citizens in these nations. My heart was captured. In spite of inoperative showers, strange tasting food, or inconveniently hot rooms, I found familiar surroundings with the people of God. The sense of the unaccustomed and foreign regressed to the recesses of my thoughts as my life became intertwined with those that I had come to know. If comfort is a relative term to describe how consoled, satisfied, content, or eased we feel, then I had indeed found it amidst these special new friends in God. I will welcome the chance to travel abroad again and find new places and people who will alter my reality, stretch my paradigm, and redefine my comfort zone.