The first real adventure of my life was moving to New Jersey.
I could have done better, as adventures go, but Princeton Seminary was in New Jersey, so it was there that I went, after living the first 20 years of my life in the same house, same neighborhood, same city. The distance door to door was only 750 miles, but it was far enough for me.
I met people in New Jersey I had never met before – Presbyterians, of course, but also Unitarians, Baptists, Quakers, Catholics, Coptics, Italians, Jews, and a wonderful Ph.D. student from Thailand who once went with me to a Yankees baseball game in the Bronx (my dating skills left a lot to be desired). My next door neighbor on the third floor of Alexander Hall, where I lived, was African American, the very first black man I recall having had an actual conversation with. He pretended not to notice how sheltered I had been. He was (and is) a fine man.
New York City was only an hour or so away from Princeton, and so on Saturdays, when I probably should have been at the library learning my Hebrew grammar, the bus would deposit me at Port Authority, and from there I walked and walked all over Manhattan, looking in store windows, visiting museums, and watching the people.
The world was far larger than I had ever imagined.
Over the years this adventurous spirit hasn’t taken me all that far from home in terms of miles – Pennsylvania, Illinois, back to Michigan, and most recently to Florida. But I’ve compensated by travelling – to the Philippines, Peru (twice), Haiti (three times), the Dominican Republic, South Africa, Europe (have lost count of the number of times), Canada and Mexico (do they count?), Israel (four times), Egypt, Jordan, Turkey, Morocco, and more.
My passport is worn out, just like my Bible.
I’m pretty sure I know where this longing to wander came from. It was my Kindergarten Sunday school teacher Mrs. Peterson. (Parents: do a thorough job of investigating the sweet old ladies who are teaching your children. You never know what kind of subversive ideas they might plant in young minds.)
Mrs. Peterson had just returned from doing missionary work in the far off and terribly exotic land of New Mexico, where she worked with Zuni and Navajo children, telling them all about the love of Jesus. I’ve posted about her before, I know, but I’m just beginning to realize what an important influence she was in my life.
It was from her that I first learned how God might very well call me to a distant land (like New Mexico), and there I would have the privilege and opportunity to talk about my faith, just like she did.
I’ve waited and waited for that call.
I always assumed it would be to a tiny village in sub-Saharan Africa, someplace remote, where maybe there was no written language and no Internet.
And for a long time I thought the call would never come. But – could I have buried the good news any deeper into this post? – early in the new year I will be moving to Switzerland. I’m happy to announce that I’ve been called to be pastor of the International Protestant Church in Zurich. It’s an interesting church with wonderful people, and I’ll be posting more about it in the days ahead.
Several people have asked, “Are you going to keep blogging?” The answer is, “Yes.” There will be more to write about.
As you can imagine, I’m very excited. I’m also scared. These were the two emotions I remember best from the summer before I moved to New Jersey. I’ve got them again. But I have something else I didn’t have then, and maybe that’s why God has taken his sweet time with me. I know what I believe today in a way I didn’t then. I have something to say.