One fun-seeking tourist in Majorca was asked did she know where about in the world she was. She replied that she simply got on the plane at Manchester – and that’s about all she knew.
I know the feeling, having just got onto a plane at Manchester and then a few hours later onto another plane at Paris. And here we are flying through the night. We could be anywhere. I’d like to think we are en route to Buenos Aires.
Of course, there are alternatives. As I explained a few weeks back, we are retracing the steps of Alfred Leake, the grandfather of our mission partner Andrew Leake whom along with Maria we will be visiting in Salta, in the far north of Argentina.
When Alfred travelled to Argentina 90 years ago it took him 36 days. I assume he travelled on a cargo ship, slowly making his way down the coast of South America.
A long voyage but at least he would have had the sense of travel, seeing the miles sail past with new ports and a changing climate. He would have enjoyed valuable time of preparation, the opportunity to reflect on how God was calling him to this faraway country.
“Focus on the journey, not the destination,” reflects the author Greg Anderson. “Joy is found not in finishing an activity but in doing it.” However, clearly Greg does not travel Air France.
For sitting on a plane is a wholly unnatural activity, especially if it is going to last for 12 hours. “Are we there yet?” asks Jacqui.
At least seats 35B and 35C at the emergency exit aren’t that bad – we can stretch our legs and move about. But the aim – if at all possible – is to fall asleep and wake up just as we about to land. No romance of travel here.
For the one thing I have learnt in ministry is how we get there is invariably as important as that we get there.
I remember years ago reading a formative article on the relation between the apostle Paul and the man who “discovered him”, his travelling companion, Barnabas.
We first meet Barnabas in Acts 4 when he is introduced to us as the Levite from Cyprus, Joseph. Joseph had the wonderful ministry of encouragement – that why the apostles gave him a new name, Barnabas which means “son of encouragement.”
For Barnabas could see that how the church grows is as important as that it grows. We all need to be encouraged, to be supported in our discipleship – especially the weak and hesitant. The Holy Spirit is in the ‘how.’
So Saul of Tarsus to everyone’s surprise and consternation becomes a follower of the Jesus. And it was Barnabas who welcomed him into the Jerusalem leadership. “He introduced Saul to the apostles and stood up for him.” (Acts 9:27)
We next meet Barnabas checking out the new church in the Gentile city of Antioch.
“As soon as he arrived, Barnabas saw that God was behind and in it all. He threw himself in with them, got behind them, urging them to stay with it the rest of their lives. He was a good man that way, enthusiastic and confident in the Holy Spirit’s ways.” (Acts 11:22).
And it was Barnabas who travelled the 150 miles Tarsus, to recruit Saul in the key ministry of teaching these new Christians.
At that point Barnabas and Saul become a formidable double act. In fact when we get to Acts 13 we find them in Cyprus. And it is there, on Barnabas’ home patch, their roles are reversed: “Barnabas and Saul” becomes “Paul and Barnabas.”
However, Barnabas seems unperturbed. You can tell that he is more than prepared to allow Paul to take centre stage. After all it is Paul who has the drive and the intellect to enable the church to grow.
For Paul is goal-orientated. In the jargon he “maintains high standards” and “aspires to accomplish difficult tasks. The ‘end’ is everything.
You sense a clash is coming. And sadly it does as they are about to set off on a new mission journey.
“Barnabas wanted to take John along, the John nicknamed Mark. But Paul wouldn’t have him; he wasn’t about to take along a quitter who, as soon as the going got tough, had jumped ship on them in Pamphylia. Tempers flared, and they ended up going their separate ways: Barnabas took Mark and sailed for Cyprus; Paul chose Silas . . and went to Syria and Cilicia.” (Acts 15:37-40 Message translation)
Paul did not want to risk his goal by taking along someone who had shown themselves to be unreliable. The stakes are too great. In total contrast Barnabas could see John Mark’s potential – for this son of encouragement, how we get there is just as important.
And, of course, it was Barnabas who was right! For it was John Mark who produced a radically new genre of writing to share the Good News of Jesus: the Gospel of Mark.
And for the record, the apostle Paul came to value Mark, such is the power of the Holy Spirit in bringing both growth and wholeness.
So there you are and here I am: Buenos días, Buenos Aires!
And the first question which every traveller asks on their arrival: “Where is the WiFi?
(Found it but only at our hotel – hence the long delay. But a big thank you to another Mark for giving us a warm welcome and a friendly lift from the airport to our hotel)