On December 15, 2015, I was soaring across the Arizona desert at 40,000 feet. There’s something about being high up in the atmosphere in between my place of departure and destination that clears my thoughts and makes me feel a little closer to the heart of God. I had just said goodbye to a handful of new international friends who had flown back home, parting with hugs and invitations for me to visit them in Japan, Taiwan, and Singapore. Brenda, a fellow adventurous traveler from Singapore who I’d grown especially close to during her semester in Hawai’i, had mused with me about us back packing Europe together.
I was still savoring the dream of backpacking Europe with Brenda when I pulled out an IFES* newsletter stashed among the mail in my carry-on and began praying for our movements across Europe. That’s when I told God, “I really want to go to Europe.” Ever since I left unexpectedly 10 years ago, cutting short my YWAM DTS at The King’s Lodge in England due to severe depression, I longed to go back and actually experience it with my heart fully alive. I’ve told Him this time and time again, but the time wasn’t ripe.
“What is in your heart?” I was surprised by His invitation to dream… I’m used to waiting on Him to give me directions and then seeking to obediently walk them out. I felt like this time He affirmed my desire and handed me the pen. I wrote in my journal, “I’d love to do a pilgrimage to better understand the roots of colonialism and seek repentance, reconciliation, and restoration.” I jotted down the names of 10 friends from different ethnicities, nations, and academic disciplines who I wanted to accompany me on these travels and offer their multiplicity of perspectives. I planned to visit the Vatican, the UN, and a Monastery among other places. I projected this to happen summer or fall of 2017. Little did I know, it would happen sooner than that in spring of 2017!
All of this stems from a journey I’ve been on for the last 3.5 years since I entered into the story of Hawai’i–one of the last lands colonized by Europeans. I was particularly drawn in by learning of the collusion of the American missionaries in the overthrow of the Hawaiian Kingdom. While many perceive it as a perfect vacation paradise, it doesn’t take much sniffing to catch a whiff of the rotten “fruits” of colonialism—rampant homelessness, high cost of living, destruction of reefs and water life, people crying out for the return of stolen lands. If only this story was unique. (Read more about Hawai’i here.)
But the same colonial atrocities have been repeated nearly every place Europeans set foot. As a European-American ex-pat, this is deeply troubling and urges me to find some way to be a part of a story of healing. But how can I be a part of the healing without making things worse? These topics have me pondering late into the night, reading for insight, and wrestling in prayer. I need to keep searching for truth and hope in all of this.
A couple months after I day-dreamed of doing a pilgrimage in Europe, I received permission from my director to take a Sabbatical from my work on campus. She repeated the life-giving question I’d heard from the Lord in December, “What is in your heart?” I paused to dust off the memory of that now months-old idea that I thought was some far-out fantasy and took courage to tell her. Her face brightened and she said, “I think you should do it!” After several more months of discussions with directors, transitioning the leadership of my student group, and receiving approval of my application for sabbatical, I was freed up to live into my dream.
In just 10 days I step on another plane to fly over the Arizona desert en route to London. 10 years ago, I flew from Taiwan to San Francisco to Frankfurt to Birmingham. This time I’ll fly from Honolulu to Los Angeles to London. Again I’m crossing two oceans to make new discoveries, but this time with my heart fully alive.
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*IFES – International Fellowship of Evangelical Students is a global organization of evangelical Christian movements on school campuses in 160 countries. I work with InterVarsity/USA, one of the member movements.