For the past 15 years, Ann and I have been blessed to serve in distance leadership roles within our global movement. I have traveled about 90 nights per year for the past decade. During this season of our ministry we have raised two children, lived in three countries, and visited every continent except Antarctica.
Here are a few of the lessons God has taught us on traveling well:
• Gratefully embrace God’s call. The Spirit is always at work. Habakkuk 1:5 says, “Look among the nations! Observe! Be astonished! Wonder!” Being involved with Campus Crusade allows us to see God at work in unique and incredible ways. When I feel pressured by hectic schedules, jet lag, and extended time on the road, it’s good to remember that God has called us to deeply significant work with incredible people around the world.
• It’s more about rhythm than balance. Balance implies that I need to keep all the plates spinning all the time. Trips don’t always come in evenly-spaced, manageable patterns. Most of my travel is based on the needs and best timing for our field staff. This is part of serving them well—to be on their schedule and agenda. When I have an intense season of travel (more than eight days away in a month), I try to ensure that I have equally intense time at home and time to be with the teams I’m on. About ten years ago I made a commitment to take a weekly Sabbath — 24 hours away from email and thinking about work. A Sabbath is more than a day off – it’s a day with people and pursuits that refresh me. God has used this single decision to consistently restore my heart and renew my strength.
• Learn to discern. Being asked to speak or travel can boost my ego. But every trip costs more than just money. I keep a running list of all current travel opportunities and I check with Ann and someone on my team before saying “yes.” I ask: Do I (or we) really need to make this trip, Lord? If so, why? I created a simple worksheet in Excel to help me plan and track the number of nights away each year. I don’t want to write checks that my body and my marriage can’t cash.
• (Pre-trip) Prepare everyone well. When our children were younger we would open a map during dinner and talk about where daddy was going and which of their friends I might see, then pray together. Often I would carry notes and gifts to friends. This helped build a sense of being in the ministry together. I also try to get sufficient information about where I’m going and make sure to clarify expectations with those I will be visiting about what our agenda will look like. Otherwise, I risk unpleasant surprises or suboptimal use of their time.
• (During trip) Be fully present. Enjoy being attentive to God and people in the moment. That is why I’m here, right? If I’m stressing out about unanswered emails, other meetings, or problems elsewhere I am probably not engaging sufficiently. My distractedness communicates lack of personal concern.
• (Post-trip) Follow through. What did I commit to during my trip? To pray for someone? To forward a contact? Other actions? If I can’t follow through immediately, I make sure to capture my commitments in one of three places: Evernote, my journal, or in the top right corner of any handouts. On the plane or during my next planning time, I can review all my action points and follow through appropriately. Doing what I said I would do is one of the most important ways to build relationships of trust that can handle the strains of distance leadership.
Being aware of the challenges of frequent travel and proactively addressing them can help limit the stress you and your family face as you live out your calling and ministry responsibilities. May you go with God and travel well!
What advice on traveling well would you add?
Note: This post originally appeared in the ExpatExchange publication for Cru staff (June 2012).