If you have been a tourist—which means almost everyone—you have a story. For example, Joice had her purse picked in Paris and also in New Orleans. The Paris picker got away with money and valuable cards, but the Louisiana picker was a loser. He thought he got Joice’s wallet but instead got her lipstick and makeup, making him the prettiest crook in the city.

When I am a tourist, my home is the base of operations from where my next trip is planned. I check off my bucket list, including how many countries I have visited, with pictures and artifacts to prove it. There is a certain amount of pleasure from being a tourist and it is not “wrong” to be one. It is just operating with a different mindset than that of a pilgrim.

When I visit a new country as a tourist, I am a stranger and a visitor. I am not a real part of that culture: I don’t (usually) speak their language or regularly eat their food. I may take pictures, visit tourist sites, sample the foods, and communicate (including bragging) about my experience. I also want protection from pickpockets, dirty hotel rooms, changed flight bookings or reservations, and I may even worry about things and people in the “cultures” I visit. I operate from resources that imply strength: credit cards, hotels, good food, cameras, iPhones, and confirmed bookings. I generally expect comfort and may make every attempt to have it.

Sometimes, when I am a tourist, there are so many good things to see that a second visit is necessary. Should I go on the Caribbean cruise or the Mississippi paddle-wheel boat? (I have done neither.) Such decisions are not crucial, except that one particular avenue of pleasure may turn out to be more important than another. 

A tourist may get tired easily: a six hour ‘walk’ thru Disneyland is accomplished only by means of several trains, buggies, and boats, accompanied by meals and snacks, with final drinks, TV, and a good motel. 

However, pilgrims cannot become encumbered in the same way: they need mobility and flexibility to respond to new situations. They need to often move quickly and make decisions that are not based on the weight of their suitcases. 

Pilgrims must also learn to endure. They condition themselves for inevitable hardship, for to follow the Master to the very end will entail difficulties along the way. A Christian pilgrimage is a journey in the Kingdom of God. The pilgrim may be spiritually poor (impoverished), often sad, humble, yet desiring to do what God wants. God wants the pilgrim to be merciful, pure in motives, working for peace, and unfortunately, persecuted. (Mt. 5) Yet, as a pilgrim, we are confident, expectant travelers, with a different lifestyle than when we are a tourist. 

The roll call of faith in the Book of Hebrews is a list of pilgrims. Some were mocked, poor, persecuted, and mistreated. Some wandered as refugees, living in caves and holes in the ground. They were not sightseers and explorers. In Heb. 11:13 and 1 Pet. 2:11 we read that God’s people are foreigners and refugees in this world, without permanent residence 

Because Christians are pilgrims, they should understand that all privileges, whether social, spiritual, or physical, are transitory. They are transitory because of the general decay of mankind and the environment. Regardless of how strong I feel today, it will not always be so. No church survives for centuries, except as a building. The generations of people preserve the faith, but do not ensure it simply by their presence in the church. Governments and societies change drastically: Rome and Greece today do not reflect their Biblical counterparts, except in a superficial manner.

On the incoming or departure cards at various country airports throughout the world, I am asked in which country I reside. Where do I call home? This question applies equally to tourists and pilgrims. The cards also ask about the purpose of my visit. There are various options, such as visiting family or friends, doing business, having a holiday, etc. There is also a section where the passenger can mark “in transit.” A pilgrim is in transit, regardless of residence, with a spiritual home.

It follows that, whether I am a tourist or a pilgrim, I am to follow a path of duty and responsibility, which is also full of joy.  In Ephesians 4:1-3 we read:

“Live a life that measures up to the standard that God sent when he called you. Always be humble, gentle, and patient. Show your love by being tolerant with one another. Do your best to preserve the unity which the spirit gives by means of the peace that binds us together.

Karl and Joice Franklin
In transit