Bishop's Message

Tourists and pilgrims

Aug 2013    

“Pilgrims go to be transformed in their spirit and seek how God works out His will and plans in that place.”

RETURNING FROM A RETREAT with our Cambodian Methodist pastors, I pondered my now-frequent visits to Cambodia with the question: Am I there as a tourist, or as a pilgrim?

Sure, I did the “touristy” things: visited the “Killing Fields” and the many markets, tried their cuisine, was amused at the “mutual respect” they showed each other amidst the chaotic traffic on the roads, and noted certain peculiarities of Khmer culture.

But I did these things on the side. They were not my main focus. I realise now that there were lots of other things I could have done, and places I could have gone to, but somehow they did not seem high on my list of priorities.

All of that would be different if I were on a vacation. The hotel would be scrutinised quite meticulously.

Other nearby places, the modes of transport, places to eat and visit would all be arranged according to availability of time, proximity and ease of travel.

It dawned on me that I was a pilgrim to Cambodia during these visits so far. What is the difference? Actually there are a few, and I want to draw lessons here for discipleship.

To start, tourists complain, but pilgrims do not. Tourists will look for the best facilities within their means.

Pilgrims accommodate themselves with modest, if not spartan, conditions, and they are ready to endure suffering.

The reason why pilgrims are willing to take the rough road is spiritual. They are not there simply for the natural scenery. Their focus is internal. Tourists go there to enjoy the sights. Pilgrims go there to be transformed in their spirit.

Tourists go to places expecting to get their money’s worth in return. Pilgrims also expect to receive something, but it is because they have given something other than money – the gift of themselves. It is spiritual returns that they look for.

Hebrews 11:13 says: “These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off were assured of them, embraced them and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth.”

Most other versions use alternative words instead of “pilgrims”, like exiles (ESV), temporary residents (Holman), or strangers (NIV). An exile (translated pilgrim in NKJV) is one who comes from a foreign country to reside with the natives temporarily, like the tourist or pilgrim we have been considering.

Disciples of Christ are pilgrims, not tourists. We are prepared to have it rough. The ministry context may be tough but we choose to be there anyway.

We are seekers, not so much to find out what is there, but to seek how God works out His will and plans in that place, through us if need be. We see ourselves as companions of Christ on a journey, doing what is necessary to bless those we meet along the way.

This pilgrim mind-set is best summed up by Peter when he wrote in 1 Peter 2:11-12 (The Message).

“Friends, this world is not your home, so don’t make yourselves cozy in it. Don’t indulge your ego at the expense of your soul. Live an exemplary life among the natives so that your actions will refute their prejudices. Then they’ll be won over to God’s side and be there to join in the celebration when He arrives.”

Picture by Giuseppe Anello/

By BISHOP DR Wee Boon Hup


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