International students often want to visit popular tourist sights in and around the city in which they are studying--and there’s no shortage of sights to see around Europe. As ISM leaders, we have the opportunity to help these students move beyond casually looking at famous works of art or religious landmarks, and help them discover a depth they may otherwise miss.
“So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.”
2 Corinthians 4:18
For each sightseeing trip you may take with an individual or group of students, use the following tips to have experiences where you can all fix your eyes on the eternal.
Where to Go
If you are looking for a location for a sightseeing trip, consider the following questions:
What are the “sacred spaces” in your city or country?
What historic and/or important religious sights can you visit?
What are the roots of Christianity in your country/city? Are there specific locations associated with them?
How might you pursue God at certain sights where people normally just stop for a photo?
You can also ask students about the places they have been wanting to visit, and then invite them to go with you to one of them.
Here are few common sights:
In many churches and cathedrals, stained-glass windows tell Bible stories, and even architecture can convey worship of God.
Museums are warehouses of religious artwork reflecting nearly every book of the Bible, and plenty of works portray Jesus.
Perhaps there are statues of famous religious personalities placed around the city, or maybe there are monuments in homage to the history of Christianity or that simply use biblical characters.
You might also consider getting out in nature to experience God’s creation.
Many tourists like to visit the homes of famous artists, so perhaps there is the historical home of a famous Christian who spent a significant season of their life in a town near you.
What to Do
No matter the location, use the sightseeing trip as a jumping off point for spiritual conversations. The “goal” is not to dive into an explanation of the gospel as soon as possible, but to help build trust with the students and pique their curiosity about how the eternal is right under their noses.
Your role as “tour guide” is to:
Help students slow down. Typically, tourists buzz through a place trying to consume as much as possible. Your outing, however, should be at a pace that allows for reflection, appreciation, and discussion. Invite students to stop with you in front of a particular place/object, reflect quietly for a few minutes, and then discuss.
Ask good questions. This is key. Asking your sightseeing partners open-ended questions will help you know how to relate the gospel to their lives. Some examples are given below.
Listen well. The students may have questions as well. You don’t need to be the expert with all the answers, since you are trying to foster genuine conversation at this outing. If you don’t know the answer, admit it and/or say you will gladly look into it to discuss again later. In the moment, you can reflect back with “Why do you ask?” or “Good question, what do you think?” and then listen to what they say. This will help you discern the underlying question or what seems important to them, and can move your discussion away from what is “seen” in front of you into more personal territory of what is “unseen.”
Be a resource. When possible, do some research on the sight or piece(s) of art before you go. You might look up the Bible story that a stained-glass window or painting is about beforehand, for example, so that you can share it. With the lengthy and complicated history of religion in Europe, you may also have the chance to explain the differences between Protestantism and Catholicism.
Pray for insight. Silently ask God to show you whether there is a story about Jesus, an aspect of faith, or even part of your personal testimony that is relevant to what you are looking at. If so, share it and ask them what they think.
Encourage next steps. If something in particular seemed to resonate with a student, ask them what next step they might take to dig deeper. For example, perhaps there is a public lecture coming up on the artist or subject matter, or your IFES group will soon be hosting an event on how that topic relates to the gospel. Offer to attend with them.
Follow up. Shortly after your sightseeing trip, send a thank-you message telling them you appreciated their company and the conversations you had. Invite them to get together soon to have any follow-up conversations that may be needed.
+ A few Examples
Architecture: In a number of ways, churches are meant to be read. You can enter a church or cathedral with the intention of noticing the ways the architects and designers originally aimed for that.
You might point out things like
- How the aisle draws you toward the altar and represents a person’s journey toward God.
- Buttresses are like arms raised in praise to God; arches are like hands clasped in prayer.
- Symbols express concepts that words alone cannot.
You might ask questions like:
- How did you feel in this place?
- What about the place made you feel that way?
- What do you think it was like for the people who worshipped here originally? How is that different from your response?
- Did you notice ___? What did you think of that?
Stained glass: Like Philip and the Ethiopian eunuch in Acts 8, you may be looking at a biblical story that the student doesn’t understand. You can ask if they have heard of that story before, share it if they haven’t, then ask what they think.
Monument: When biblical principles or characters are featured, ask if the students are familiar with them. In Prague, for example, the astronomical clock in the Old Town Square has some of the seven deadly sins incorporated, which could prompt questions about vanity or greed in general, and then what the Christian perspective is on those topics.
Painting: Look online ahead of time and pick a painting or two in a museum that you think might be particularly moving or interesting to discuss. Even a painting that doesn’t portray a religious scene or character could provide for rich conversation.
- Why do you think the artist was inspired to create this piece?
- What do you think the artist wants us to take away?
- How does it make you feel?
- This piece was just making me think _. What do you think?
- What does it make you want to know (more) about?