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A Pastor Doing Volunteer and Adventure Travel Abroad

Tim having breakfast with new friends in Costa Rica.
Tim having breakfast with new friends in Costa Rica.

Teaching Traveling: Today we have a different kind of traveling teacher: a pastor who’s seen the world!

Tim first made contact with me after reading my article about the concept of a liminal space in travel, which he used as inspiration for one of his later sermons. I was so tickled, I asked Tim if he’d like to be interviewed, and it turned out he has a phenomenal travel history.

Tim, tell us a bit about your background.

Tim: I grew up in Maine near Portland, which is the state’s largest city. My childhood was full of day trips to the ocean and mountains and the neighboring states of New Hampshire and Massachusetts and several trips across country via plane. As I look back, it’s not surprising with all this travel as a child that I caught the travel bug early life.

Tim's mission work in Honduras helped improve this sub-standard housing.
Tim’s mission work in Honduras helped improve this sub-standard housing.

I left home at 18 to attend college in northwest Ohio. Unlike most high schoolers today, I never visited the college prior to arriving for freshmen orientation the week before classes started. I had never been to Ohio, nor I had I ever been so far from the Ocean and surrounded by such flat land in my entire life.

I often wonder how I survived four years in the wilds of northwest Ohio. The answer is great friends, a wonderful college, and a student body that was 10% international. There were students from Syria, Malaysia, South Korea, Thailand, Indonesia, Japan, Germany, Nepal and Saudi Arabia.

Being from Maine in northwest Ohio was about as different as being from Syria, Malaysia, or South Korea, and therefore the international community became my community, which fed my wanderlust and led me join the Peace Corps in Africa after graduation.

A Honduras home, after Tim's mission work has finished.
A Honduras home, after Tim’s mission work has finished.

Upon returning from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, formerly Zaire, where I was posted as Peace Corps Volunteer, I went to seminary in Boston.

I completed seminary in 1993, and have been a United Church of Christ pastor since my graduation in 1993. I have served churches in Miami, Florida; Hudson, New Hampshire; Kingston, Rhode Island; Lakewood (Metro Denver), Colorado; and my current location Hagerstown, Maryland.

I’ve traveled to 43 states in the US, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Rwanda, Canada, Mexico, Haiti, Jamaica, the Bahamas, 9 countries in Europe, Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Thailand, and Vietnam.

TT: Amazing! Tell us more about your travels.

Sunrise over Drake Bay, Costa Rica. Beautiful!
Sunrise over Drake Bay, Costa Rica. Beautiful!

T: The congregation I currently pastor has a mission partnership with a church in Honduras. The church we have a partnership with is in El Progresso, which is in the North of the country not too far from San Pedro Sula, the second largest city in Honduras. With our partner church we build homes for families living in substandard housing.

A substandard home in El Progresso typically means a “structure” made out of discarded materials attached to poles/tree branches struck in the ground. There may or may not be an actual door and there may or may be windows. There is never indoor plumbing or electricity.

The homes we construct with our partner church and the family that will inhabit the home are concrete block with a cement floor, a metal roof, three rooms, two doors and windows in each room. Recently, we have begun to construct outhouses with pour flush toilets.

Tim ziplining through the rainforest in Costa Rica!
Tim ziplining through the rainforest in Costa Rica!

On each trip to Honduras we spent 10 days there living with a local family and build the house during the day light hours. We normally take a side trip or two. On my first of three trips to Honduras so far, I stayed behind after the group left to go on vacation.

I traveled to Costa Rica on Tica Bus, the Central American version of Greyhound. It was a two-day journey with an overnight stay in Managua, Nicaragua. I was one of only a handful of non-Central Americans on the bus.

I had the opportunity to meet Central Americans from Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, El Salvador, and Panama. I could have made the same journey in 4 hours on a plane, but I would never have seen as much of Central America as I did on the bus, nor would I have met all the wonderful people I did.

My bus riding adventure did not end when I reached San Jose, Costa Rica. I already had reservations for a week stay at Drake Bay on the Osa Penisula, which is located on the southwestern coast of Costa Rica on the Pacific Ocean. I climbed aboard a local bus for the 8 hour journey on the Pan American Highway to the town where I would catch the ferry to Drake Bay the next day.

A Central American pineapple plantation. Yum!
A Central American pineapple plantation. Yum!

I spent 5 wonderful days in paradise on the edge of the Corcovado National Park and Rainforest. My day began at 5 am with coffee served on my balcony where I could watch the sunrise over Drake Bay.

This was followed by a leisurely breakfast and then mountain biking, which nearly killed me. I was not half as good a shape as I thought I was. Mountain biking in the tropics is a bit more strenuous than mountain biking in the Mid-Atlantic.

I had signed up for a full day, and barely survived a half day. I should have known I was in for a rough ride when the tour guide said I was the first person to ever sign up for mountain biking, half or full day.

The gracious mountain biking guides who also owned the company that ran the mountain biking tours along with a number of other tours refunded my full day tour and gave me the use of their sea kayaks in the afternoon for free. I think they felt bad that they had “nearly” killed me on my half day mountain biking tour.

One of the sweet locals Tim met on the Costa Rican Tica Bus.
One of the sweet locals Tim met on the Costa Rican Tica Bus.

Each night the other guests and I would gather for dinner family style at a large table on open-air veranda. During those dinner times the guests would share with one another our adventures of the day and what we had planned for the next day.

One night I was speaking with a couple from Boston, MA about the rainforest zip line adventure I was planning for the next day. They expressed interest and learned that there was space available.

When we arrived the next morning for our rainforest zip line adventure, we discovered that the owner of the resort who also ran the zip line adventure was joining us with his tour guides and camera crew to shoot a new video for their website. It turned out that we would be the only three people on the tour and the rest of the folks were the owner’s crew.

Over the next several hours as we floated and flew from tree to tree, platform to platform high above the rainforest, the couple from Boston and I became friends. Each night after that morning we sat near one another to share tales of the day’s adventures.

Tim, ruggedly hiking in Honduras.
Tim, ruggedly hiking in Honduras.

At the end of our time on the Osa Penisula, we exchanged phone numbers and e-mail addresses. A few months later I received a phone call from them wanting to know if I would officiate at their wedding that coming March.

They told me, “they were not members of a church, but they wanted a religious service and I had made such an impression on them during our stay on the Osa Penisula that they could think of no better to bless their marriage.”

Needless to say, I was deeply touched and agreed to officiate at their marriage. They are now the proud parents of a little girl and they call me every year on their anniversary. I have visited them in their home in Boston and met their daughter and continue to be amazed by how small the world truly is.

TT: What a beautiful story! How do you find your travel opportunities?

T: The mission trip part of the travel was through the church, but the rest of it was through the internet, my own person desire to go where few others go, and my belief that traveling the way locals travel is always the most interesting and rewarding, even if it might take longer, be less “comfortable” and have unforeseen interruptions.

TT: How did you find the money to fund this travel?

Tim, Tropical Mountain Biking in Costa Rica. Wow!
Tim, Tropical Mountain Biking in Costa Rica. Wow!

T: This trip was funded by personal finances and fundraising.

TT: How have your travels impacted you in your current career, and as a person?

T: My travels starting all the way back to my childhood have led me to be a more open, flexible, and accepting person. As a pastor these are very valuable traits. On a daily basis I encounter people who have differing views than my own and I work with volunteers who move at their own pace and do things in ways that may or may not be the most efficient.

Having lived, worked, and traveled to a number of places in the US and across the globe I am much better prepared and able to work with folks from a wide variety of backgrounds.

My travels have also made me more thankful and appreciative for my family, the things I have and the freedoms I enjoy. My travels have also made me aware that there is as much to be seen and experienced in the U.S. as there is in countries near and far, meaning I don’t need to travel to Southeast Asia or South America to discover a new place or beautiful spot.

TT: Good point! What advice do you have for teachers who are dreaming of travel, or travelers dreaming of teaching?

T: When it comes to travel the only limits should be your imagination. I like this Tour Finder Extreme Bike Adventures site, as well as this Adventure Center one.

TT: Thanks, Tim! Readers, what questions or comments do you have for this world traveling pastor?


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Tim Leighton

Thursday 28th of June 2012

Lillie of

Thursday 28th of June 2012

We look forward to following you on your epic bike travels!

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