A Biblical Perspective on International Travel in 2021

Consider a missional perspective on how to navigate travel restrictions in the new year.

I was looking forward to traveling in 2020—then the pandemic struck.

With the luxury of international travel stripped away, I began to realize how much we—especially 21st-century missionaries—take it for granted.

In many ways, I’m glad that we have made innumerable advancements in travel technology since the apostle Paul’s missionary journeys. Certainly, navigating a 6-hour layover in Brussels isn’t fun with a toddler and a mountain of luggage, but it sure beats walking or riding a donkey for hundreds of miles.

For decades, the ease and safety of international travel for missionaries was unprecedented in human history. Missionaries had never been safer traveling since Paul’s personal Roman cavalry escort from Jerusalem to Caesarea in Acts 23. Considering also the strides in modern medicine to combat diseases like malaria, typhoid, and yellow fever, the last 60 years could be regarded the golden age of missionary health and safety.

If you examine the history of international travel, it was never safe until the recent development of the airline industry. Yet even since then, travel was not without risks. While we are grateful for the many blessings of contemporary medicine and modern international travel, we recognize that many missionaries continue to sacrifice and suffer from disease, violence, and accidents during this time — even to the point of death.

Furthermore, modern international travel has not only allowed missionaries to travel in relative safety and freedom, it has also granted immigrants from closed countries greater opportunity to go to other countries where they can hear the gospel for the first time. From as far back as the book of Genesis we can see how God has used immigration and refugee crises for his purposes. Safe immigration—that seeks to exclude criminals and terrorists but welcomes and treats foreigners well—is not only a general blessing upon a country, but it can also be a tremendous means of spreading the seed of the gospel among the peoples of the world.

However, these gospel mechanisms seemed to have been put on hold during 2020 (and even now at the start of 2021). Missionaries evacuated, flights were canceled, missions trips were indefinitely postponed, and visas were issued on a more restricted basis. What can we make of this “halt” in modern missions? Is this a temporary blip in the system or the beginning of a trend that will permanently hinder travel and immigration as we know it?

I don’t think anyone genuinely knows the answer to those questions. I don’t know how God will accomplish his plans in the future or if he will do things the same way he has done them in the past. While it seems like our situation is constantly shifting, we have steadfast biblical principles to hold on to.

1. God is generous and unchanging. We can trust that he will always bless us in ways that are unfathomable even when we can’t see or understand his actions. Unexpected events and constant interruptions to our plans and expectations are reminders that only God is perfectly generous and unchanging.

Every generous act and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights; with him there is no variation or shadow cast by turning. (James 1:17 CSB)

2. The Lord is faithful to strengthen us in the face of any challenge or attack from the enemy. We do not have to fear what the future may bring because we know that no matter what happens, our faithful Lord will be there to strengthen and guard us.

Finally, brothers, pray for us that the Lord’s message may spread rapidly and be honored, just as it was with you, and that we may be delivered from wicked and evil men, for not all have faith. But the Lord is faithful; he will strengthen and guard you from the evil one (2 Thess. 3:1-3 CSB)

3. God did not promise to give us free and safe travel, he promised us something much better—to always be with us. We can persevere in our mission, not because we can rely on airlines, immigration officials, or modern medicine, but because we are relying on Christ to be present with us in the accomplishment of his plan.

Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe everything I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matt. 28:19-20 CSB)

4. We know that there will be no end to God’s kingdom no matter what challenges must be overcome or what sacrifices must be made. That’s the lesson King Darius learned when he witnessed Daniel delivered from the lions’ den. We have been blessed in many ways by technological advancements, but even if those new blessings are removed, temporarily or permanently, we know that God is faithful in his promises to bless us, strengthen us, and go with us.

… People must tremble in fear before the God of Daniel: For he is the living God, and he endures forever; his kingdom will never be destroyed, and his dominion has no end. (Dan. 6:26 CSB)

Andrew Paul Ward

Andrew Paul Ward is an ABWE missionary to Togo, West Africa, sent from Grace Baptist Church in Chattanooga, TN. Andrew is the husband of Mary, father to Emmanuel, Cyrus, and Alethia. He holds a B.S. from Bob Jones University, an M.Div. from Temple Baptist Seminary, and an Ed.D. from the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga. Support Andrew’s ministry.