This flight from Kansas City to Toronto is uniquely significant to me. Though on one level it’s just another uncomfortable short-haul flight on another rickety regional jet, it marks the end of a journey that has taken me to the ends of the earth. Almost eighteen months ago I boarded a plane to Israel to mark the beginning of this journey into the history of the Christian faith—a journey I codenamed “EPIC.” It took me to 24 countries across six continents before it drew to its conclusion in Kansas City. It added up to something like 75 flights, 180,000 miles and 350 hours in the air, 11 airlines, and plenty of other absurd tallies.
It was in many ways an incredible journey, a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to scour the world for objects and artifacts of particular importance to Christian history. I’m grateful to have had the opportunity. And as I head home for the final time, strangely, I find myself thinking more about people than objects. I find myself thinking of some of the Christians I met along the way.
I arrived in Kolkata, India and was greeted there by a friend of a friend of a friend. But he was also a brother, so in no time we were talking about our common Savior and what he has done for us. We talked about how the Lord saved us and called us to himself. We talked about how we are each on mission in our own little corner of this world. We were strangers, but so much more than strangers.
Then I flew to the distant southern tip of the nation and was met at the airport by three men I knew only through distant contacts and WhatsApp messages. Over two days we drove from Thiruvananthapuram to Kanyakumari to Dohnavur and back—hours and hours of driving and conversing. Our experiences of life are completely different and our cultural backgrounds could not be farther apart. Yet we’ve been bound together by the Holy Spirit and we immediately and undeniably sensed that unity.
In Zambia I spent time with both native Zambians and missionary-Zambians. Before I got there they knew me only as a disembodied voice on the Internet and I knew them only as miniature thumbnail pictures accompanying single-paragraph biographies on institutional web sites. I arrived knowing no one, but departed with new friends I love and trust and admire and am eager to see again.
I spent four days in Manila, exploring the city, speaking at a conference, and preaching at a local church. The believers made every effort to make me feel welcome, and I did. I met literally hundreds of people there and was touched by their concern for me, their desire to show me their country (or at least that small part of it), and their commitment to ensure I was well taken care of. In long conversations and short exchanges we shared genuine Christian fellowship.
A family in New Zealand opened their home to me and it was a joy to get to know them, to share our common struggles and victories, to meet their church family. They extended true, warm, biblical hospitality, as did Christians in many other places. Pastors in Korea gave up a day to drive me from place to place, to show me their city, to help me understand their context. A newlywed couple in Australia fitted out a guest room just so I could stay in it. Christians in China took the risk of inviting me into their fellowship. Brother and sisters in Ecuador and Brazil, the United States and South Africa, went out of their way to be helpful, to make connections, to provide support. So many other believers in so many other places extended generous offers of help and hospitality I couldn’t accept for any number of reasons.
At the end of it all, it’s these relationships, these connections, I’ll miss more than anything. There is something so precious about this kind of Christian fellowship. The doctrine of spiritual unity is precious and good, but can at times seem abstract. Yet in these travels I’ve been able to experience it, to witness the reality that all believers are truly, really, actually united through the Spirit of Christ. Because of this, I’ve found it to be true that I have more in common with a Filipino Christian than a next-door-neighbor Canadian. I feel deeper affinity with a Zambian believer I have just met than with a Canadian unbeliever I see every day. There’s an indissoluble union between us that is created and maintained by the Holy Spirit. It’s beautiful, it’s precious, and this year taught me in a fresh way that it’s real.