Pilgrimage versus tourism

Several years ago, I was having dinner with my good friend Dean who is currently on a short term mission trip to Africa. He asked me what was the difference between tourism and pilgrimage in the context of Eugene Peterson’s book: “A Long Obedience in the Right Direction”. I gave several points of comparison, such as the preparation involved, the goal of the trip, and some other points which I now recall vaguely.

Several weeks ago, I posted a blog entry on visiting several cemeteries in Europe: Pere La Chaise in Paris, France, and the American Cemetery at Omaha Beach, Normandy, France. In that blog, I explained some of the differences between the cemeteries: one holds famous Frenchmen (and a handful of other non French); the other holds anonymous Americans who died for liberty and for a country not their own.

A few days after that entry, I realized I was forgetting a third shrine that I had visited. That shrine belongs to Baptist missionary Lottie Moon, an American missionary who lived in northeast China in the 1920s and 1930s. Someone had approached my father asking whether my father would want to be the CEO of a company making a series of movies on western missionaries who lived and died in China. My dad declined but accepted a whole stack of DVDs for promotional purposes. Lottie Moon was on this list to be the feature of one movie. Who is this lady? This is her entry in wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lottie_Moon.

Sadly, it doesn’t do her much justice. As a missionary, she starved her herself to death to provide for food for those she was reaching. In honor of her, the Southern Baptists dedicate the first week of December to raise funds for missionary support around the world. Growing up, this offering didn’t mean much to me since I didn’t know who this remarkable woman was. Now, I do.

In 2009, I had just arrived in Penglai, China, where I was about to teach English in a small Chinese college. Not long after, my friend Candy took me to downtown Penglai on a shopping trip. We were slated to meet some students later and we had some time to look around. Candy took me to this one church in Penglai where she said it was the place where she ministered. Although Moon was cremated and buried in Virginia, this church was her legacy. There is a small stone which commemorates her work.

As I visited the church and looked at the stone, I realized who I was looking at. Thoughts of communion services from my teenage and college years came back. I made the connections. Yet, it wasn’t a pilgrimage for me since Protestants don’t believe in enshrining saints or that “Catholic nonsense.” At that moment, I felt like another tourist. Been there, done that, bought the t-shirt mentality. Yet years later, I think I made a mistake since I cannot stop thinking: how come she and her story is not better told amongst the Southern Baptists who claim her as their own? If I believe in the same gospel she did, why is my life so different than hers?

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