Stories with skin on

I’m linking this post to Prodigal Magazine’s Travel Series. If you’re new here, thanks for visiting. If you’re a regular, thanks for coming back. Would you consider sharing a travel story of your own?

Growing up, I traveled by book. I hitched a ride on a spine or two, traveling vicariously from chapter to chapter, returning home exhilarated and road-weary by The End. I journeyed back and forth in time, leaving imaginary footprints in the soil of distant lands by way of words. These stories breathed life into my desire to live out something more than my small suburban experience, and they gave birth to my gypsy heart.

At fourteen, my first opportunity for international travel presented itself, and I spent a month in Costa Rica on a missions trip with Teen Mania Ministries. I told myself and every one of my financial supporters that the sole purpose of this trip was to bring the good news of Christ to the Costa Rican people. I intended to suffer for Jesus by eating nothing but beans, rice and the occasional sneaky Snickers bar. I would not enjoy it. I would not secretly roll up my Mania-imposed modest sleeves and long shorts in order to get a tan under the Central American sun. I would not revel in our free days at the beach or visiting the national park. I would not be more interested in seeing the sights and hearing people’s stories than I was in giving my testimony to a crowd of strangers. Except that I would, and I did. All of it–the tan, the beach, the sites, the stories. They captivated me. I wanted to crawl inside the skin of these people and experience life through their eyes and ears and hands.

Books brought far off places closer, but Costa Rica gave them a beating heart covered in dark brown skin. I imagined what it was like to live out their stories as I watched neighborhood boys kick around a homemade soccer ball in the middle of the street. I stood under a cold shower in a small village and dreamed of lives lived on dirt floors between paper thin walls. I walked through weedy grass while dodging cow patties at a refugee camp, and I wondered about life behind borders and fences. I questioned how my Jesus, the one of memory verses and Sunday School stories, would fit in these places of poverty and quiet desperation. I could hardly consider myself suffering for Jesus when I looked into brown eyes and real suffering stared back.

We attended a church service, and as Spanish words rose to meet the chords of a familiar tune, I sang along in English.  Together, we lifted hands in worship, read truth from Scripture, and mumbled words in prayer. And while the words sounded different, the object of our worship remained the same. Regardless of how our stories unfold or the skin we live in, the hand that wrote each one of them is the same. The Jesus of Sunday school and suffering doesn’t change. He put flesh and bone around the story of salvation and He lived it with our eyes and ears and hands. He knew dirt floors and the life of a refugee. He told stories and lived a breathtaking one with the greatest ending ever.

I travel often now, and when I do, I bring my fourteen year old self along with me. She remembers what if feels like to try and climb into the flesh of another, and she reminds me that Jesus knows it too.