Greek men playing backgammon

Which would you choose if you had your druthers: visiting tour sites with a private guide or as part of a group?

With an individual guide, you move quickly and bypass the larger groups massing to enter tour sites. WC (water closet) stops are brief, and you have your guide’s attention and expertise totally at your disposal. Who would want to travel any other way?

We do, and here’s why.

On our recent trip to Turkey and Greece, Mike and I had private guides in Turkey who showed us around Istanbul and took us to the sites of the seven churches of Revelation. We went at our own pace and didn’t have to consider anyone else’s needs, wants or preferences. Totally positive experience in every way, right?

Yep, but one.

When we joined our “Footsteps of Paul” group tour in Greece, we were no longer traveling as individuals, assigning our own spiritual significance to the sites we visited. Now we journeyed in a cluster of 42 people, adjusting our pace to the rest of the group, and sharing our guide’s attention with several dozen others.

It didn’t take us long to appreciate what we had been missing: community. Sometimes you don’t know what you’ve been missing till you find it again.

One of our travelmates, Kim Weidner from New Jersey, expressed our feelings so well in an email this week to “Cloud 28” (the location someone in our tour-group suggested that we meet for a reunion someday): David [our tour leader] said it best when he described our group as a divine society, a group of likeminded pilgrims on a journey together.  During our first week home it has become clear to me that the lasting value of the trip was (in order of priority) the fellowship and mutual edification among believers, the deepening of my understanding of the ministry and heart of the apostle Paul, and experiencing so much natural beauty in the many places we journeyed. We were diverse yet so connected!”

One of the books we took with us to Greece was Sacred Companions: The Gift of Spiritual Friendship & Direction. Author David G. Benner notes that the life of the Christ-follower is not like running a metaphor: “No one can make any real progress on this journey alone. Journeying together is the only way to effect the personal transformation that is the goal of the adventure.”

Our fellow pilgrims in Greece got along splendidly, but what about other groups: the ones we all work, recreate and worship with? Isn’t occasional conflict and disagreement inevitable? And when it happens, haven’t you been frustrated when people you’ve known for years suddenly bail out, deciding that they’d rather go it alone?

As Benner points out, our sacred companions on life’s spiritual journey are the ones whom God ultimately uses most to change us into His image.

Community. Sometimes you don’t know what you’ve been missing till you find it again.