WASHINGTON, DC – July 11, 2012 - Some people say Moses was the first tour leader. He led the Israelites out of Egypt into their Promised Land.
A more contemporary travel leader was Thomas Cook, the mid-19th century Baptist minister and traveling evangelist. His first project was to use new railway transport from Leicester , England to Loughborough – for 600 people willing to attend a temperance rally. Travel was a significant tool in his ministry to combat alcoholism.
Cook went on to bigger things beyond the temperance train as he pioneered modern international tourism. But he saw early on the value of using travel in his ministry.
“As is so often true, when we take a closer look at history, we find that one many trying to carry out a Christian work improved conditions for everyone,” said Christianity.com author Dan Graves. “A whole industry exists, thanks in large measure to Thomas Cook and his temperance vision.”
Fast forward to now, and we find travel ministry is once again on the grow. Yet some still ask why a church or other faith organization would want to start one.
For one thing, it changes lives, say those who do it.
“People who travel and pray together form a very deep fellowship bond,” says Lori Jurans with Faith in Travel, a company that works with churches and Christian organizations to develop and enrich travel ministries. Faith ministry is about people who travel together for spiritual experiences. They might visit sites associated with their faith heritage, or they may travel or cruise together just for fun with fellow believers.
Jurans offers ten reasons for forming a travel ministry:
· Deepens one’s faith in God
· Builds fellowship and enlivens a community
· Creates a closer bond between church/organization leaders and members
· Enables members to experience the Christian faith and sites firsthand
· Makes Christian history, heritage, and culture come alive
· Provides a Christian vacation option
· Appeals to all ages including retirees, families, couples, singles, and youth
· Offers outreach opportunities to inactive or nonmembers
· Presents a chance to see the world and God’s creation
· Provides the opportunity to learn about world history, events, cultures, politics, and people
Roger McCurry, a former pastor and founder/president of Koinonia Travel & Tours agrees. “Faith travel inspires, educates, refreshes and renews, creates fellowship, and strengthens faith,” he declared. “It helps a church accomplish its stated mission and minister to the total person – which touches a the physical, mental, and social self. It’s also a way to reach out to those with friendship and evangelism who are not in the church.”
Faith travel ministry covers a spectrum of travel styles for individuals and groups – including pilgrimage, retreats, conferences, cruises, mission trips, and youth trips, to name a few. And it’s not just about those exotic locations on the far side of the Mediterranean . Destinations near and far figure into the equation as well. Churches can do a faith tour of Washington , DC or Lancaster , Pennsylvania that will enrich lives in the same way one to the Holy Land does. Live theaters that present faith-focused programs, historic churches and cathedrals, museums, and retreat centers are among the places groups may visit for memorable encounters.
A recent religious travel survey by TravelStyles and the Globus family of brands found that 35 percent of all outbound travelers are interested in taking a religious vacation. And 17 percent of those respondents hope to do in the coming five years.
“It’s the memorable spiritual stories you ‘live’ on faith-based vacations that give you the chance to do more than simply see the world’s greatest sights,” said Michael Shields, managing director of groups and emerging markets for Globus brands.
Once you get your travel ministry going, you may one day be able to look back as Derrell Frye of North Acres Baptist Church in Knoxville does on the journey of his Happy Travelers group. Frye started the ministry in 1988 with 32 people for a day’s bus trip to Chattanooga ’s Tennessee Aquarium. Now participants represent over 80 churches, and Happy Travelers owns its own 55-passenger motorcoach. Frye says travel has done a lot to accomplish the church’s ministry to spread the Gospel.
“Happy Travelers has been in every state this side of the Mississippi except Florida ,” said Frye, “and as far west as the Dakotas . Mostly, we do day trips. We now send out over 600 newsletters each month to tell people about upcoming trips. We are non-profit and do rely some on contributions from our partners to keep costs down. This is, after all, a ministry.”
Read more of Ruth Hill’s faith travel columns at Contemporary Christian Travel in the Washington Times Communities.
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