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  • Ross Moughtin

The open road, our need for adventure

G'day folks, Here in Australia I have just discovered a new tribe: the grey nomads. And there are now tens of thousands of them, according to Sydney professor Jenny Onyx. This intrepid tribe is roughly equivalent to our Third Age - those people who have retired from paid employment and still have the time, the money and the health to do things. But rather than sign up for classes in Shakespeare, join the Ramblers or serve in charity shops, grey nomads hit the road. And being Australians, they hit the road with their caravans in a big way and for several months each year. Now we are not talking about towing a Swift caravan with a Ford Sierra to pleasant Caravan Club sights in the Cotswolds, this phenomena is altogether different, having emerged over the last 20 years First the car. Our friends Jon and Liz proudly showed me their new vehicle dwarfing their domestic car - a massive 4 x 4 Humvee-size pickup. More a truck than a car. But this is nothing compared to the caravan. More a NATO-spec ground-mobile command centre, equipped for every eventuality. Professor Onyx observes that grey nomads move north in the winter and south in the summer. She says they try to be at their home for Christmas and big events such as births, deaths and marriages. Last summer Jon and Liz journeyed up north for two entire months along their two young grandchildren as well as their daughter. I've met quite a few grey nomads like Jon and Liz over the last few weeks and for me what stands out is their attitude to risk and to distance. Australia is a big country, very big. Planning our visit I looked at the map and concluded that it would take a couple of hours to get from Melbourne to Adelaide. It took us ten hours. Then taking the Indian Pacific train across the Nullabor Plain. We saw nothing for an entire day - just mile after mile after mile of red dirt and some scrub. Nothing in any direction for 100 kilometres. Nothing, not anything. The massive scale of this country is awesome but grey nomads take in their stride. It's all out there to be discovered, especially up north. They simply drive for a few hours and then stop. Stop wherever they happen to be, anywhere. Probably miles from anywhere, maybe in a dry river bed or behind a few stray trees. Having caravanned myself, I would find this, to say the least, threatening. Staying overnight in an isolated location would make me feeling very vulnerable but grey nomads live up to their national motto "No worries." For it is their attitude to danger which stands out for me. They relish risk in a continent with limited mobile phone coverage. What happens if you have two punctures on a dirt road, for example? Or have tight chest pains? Then the wildlife. Jon informed me that all animals in Australia are out to get you, especially the brown snakes. He explained that koalas can be vicious, their long claws can do serious damage. I've just looked on the main grey nomad website to discover that only yesterday in Arnhem Land a female Aboriginal Ranger was taken by a saltwater crocodile. Sadly she has not been seen since. So the obvious question is why these grey nomads leave their suburban comforts for a life on the road? Simple, like all of us they long for adventure, the need to discover, to push out our boundaries. As the redoubtable Helen Keller taught us, life is either a great adventure or nothing. Over the years I've noticed that people become followers of Jesus in two main ways. The first is when you hit rock bottom. I knew one young man who became a Christian at the bottom of a ditch looking up at the stars. His motorbike had crashed - he was probably drunk. And as a he lay in the mud, he asked the question: "Is this it?" Then another friend, a successful surgeon. A beautiful wife, a lovely home - and a red sports car. And for him in his affluence, the same question: "Is this it?" Which leads me to the famous quote from Augustine of Hippo. "Lord, you have made us for yourself and our hearts are restless until we find our rest in you." That's how God has made us, with a zest for adventure. And there can be no greater adventure when we decide to leave all behind to follow Christ. However, this is the real thing, the true adventure. As the apostle Paul reminds us "God, who got you started in this spiritual adventure, shares with us the life of his Son and our Master Jesus. He will never give up on you. Never forget that.". (1 Corinthians 1:9) And so the Holy Spirit keeps us moving, giving us a holy sense of dissatisfaction to keep us from settling where we are now. He challenges us to take risks, to explore new territories but unlike our grey nomads, right through our lives. Sometimes God has to give us a push, even a big one like redundancy for example. Otherwise we would play safe and simply yearn to hit the road. The true danger is simply wishing our lives away and retreat into fantasy. But we follow the God of adventures who in Jesus has come to us, risking all - even our response to his call. For when Jesus says "Follow me", he means it. Where we'll end up, what path we take, what dangers we face, God knows.

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