As Patty and I were preparing to leave for Greece and Turkey a few weeks back, ISIS was a growing concern. News coverage of beheadings, street protests, Muslim extremists, Syrian refugees and NATO air strikes near the Turkish border all were worrisome. Some of our friends asked whether this might not be the best time to travel to this troubled part of the world. We certainly had concerns too.
Yet, look at this picture. A cashier in an Istanbul neighborhood spice shop is watching a YouTube video on beauty tips and glamour. Doesn’t that make you smile? How could I let worry keep me from experiencing these wonderful exchanges with nice people? I refuse to let it dominate my life.
I have two ways of dealing with worry and fear:
First, God is in charge of my life and nothing happens to me or Patty unless God permits it. I claim His promises and exercise the faith that I proclaim as a Believer in Christ. Therefore, whether I have been given safe travels or not, I give thanks that God will provide for us no matter the circumstances. I use good judgement, take appropriate safe guards and use caution as we all should when we travel. Regarding the worry and fear- I pray, claim promises and then rest in the knowledge that God knows about my needs and will provide.
Second, I try to put the News Media in proper perspective. A news program attracts an audience with sensational events that make people want to watch it. It isn’t everyday life that makes the news, it’s the sensational events that do. Take the recent police shooting and riots in the Ferguson area of St. Louis. Based on televised video, you’d think the entire city is in civil unrest but it isn’t. Everyday people still go to work, still shop for groceries, still drive the freeways, still take the kids to soccer practice. People still have to live and do everyday things.
The same is true of my town – Houston, Texas. News reports show store robberies, crime scenes where a murder recently took place, car accidents killing a family of 6, or floods that devastated a whole portion of the city. A person could imagine that the world had gone crazy. But these are isolated, unique and news worthy events. They are not everyday life for the average person. They’re not what the other 99% of Houston is doing. They are things to be aware of and alert for, but day in and day out, I don’t see a murder, or witness a robbery or become stranded in a flood. Everyday people keep on doing everyday things – like smile at each other, like sell groceries, like wait on a table at a restaurant and hope you liked their service.
Certainly, there are some crazy places in the world. But you know what? My church would go there! My church (made up of people like you and me) sends crews into devastated areas like Galveston after the hurricane, like Haiti, like New York City, like Africa. And they return safely. They help people in disaster areas and they come back alive and healthy. Enough said.
That’s how I approached our trip to Greece and Turkey. Fear can be debilitating. It can cause a person to stop interacting with strangers. It can immobilize a person. Fear can take over a person’s life. We’ve got to shake that off. So what I do is recite several famous quotes that have always made sense to me:
“We have nothing to fear, but fear itself.”
“Fear knocked at the door. Faith answered. No one was there”
(Those didn’t come from the Bible, by the way. Those are quotes from the World War II era when nations were attacking each other)
I can’t be disgusted with the media though I’d love to be able to blame them. It’s my own thought process and my own emotions that rule my life. If some idiot reporter wants to go cover the ISIS conflict and track terrorists shooting from rooftops, well then, they’ve made a decision that may cost them their life. I wouldn’t go there. I wouldn’t go into Ferguson either. But I’d go to a football game in St. Louis, stay at a hotel, visit friends, drive the freeways past Ferguson. But I wouldn’t go into that neighborhood. I can discern that the rest of St. Louis is as safe as any other city in the States. I have found that the same is true as I travel abroad. Therefore, I will not allow fear to rule my decisions. It isn’t always easy and I do occasionally feel frightened, but once I face fear with these two mindsets, I find that I am richly rewarded with many happy memories.
That’s why I travel! To see different and unknown things. To meet people who are different than me. To experience something different that what I experience at home. It’s different. It’s unknown. It’s new. It’s exciting!
In Greece, surprisingly most people spoke English with us. They gave us big smiles everywhere we went. We made stabs at speaking Greek and found they appreciated us trying. Trying to learn about their way of life. The catamaran boat cruise that we took was operated by an Australian, two Ukrainians, and a Greek – all of whom were happy to be working at a job they loved. They didn’t hate Americans at all. They were happy people. Rarely on our travels did we see armed militia or even police racing to a crime scene. Instead we found polite, cooperative, hard working people.
In Istanbul, the most worrisome city for us, we found that behind the dark and mysterious Turks were a very warm, happy and again – hard working people just trying to make a peaceful living. Our instructor at a cooking class that we took, a woman named Aysin, ended up being the best ambassador for her country because she walked us through the streets to her home, taught us history, geography, neighborhood economies and loyalty and the joy that we all share in community at a table full of good foods. She was fabulous!
Let me ask – how many of us would go to a foreign country with a different language, with strange religious beliefs, with scary news reports and wouldn’t be a little apprehensive about their safety? We all would. But by using TripAdvisor for feedback, by cross checking maps, by talking with people who recently traveled there, we chose to take part in this class because it put us in touch with real people, normal people, in their homes, in their neighborhoods. It was one of the best experiences of our trip.
Don’t let fear of the unknown or fear from media hype discourage you from traveling at home or abroad. Fear causes us to separate, to isolate and to be suspicious. Courage, faith, kindness and a smile will be rewarded time and time again. We had a vacation that will give us years of wonderful memories and inspire us to learn more about history, about art and music and most of all, about the delightful people who have touched our hearts.
Keep on traveling!