In February 2007, Cindi Brodhecker of Ephrata began a business venture that would put her religious faith to the test.

As president of Faith Travel Development and Consulting, Brodhecker is dedicating her professional life to helping organizations understand the benefits of faith-based travel.

Brodhecker is starting out with two European religious travel companies as clients and is continuing a relationship with MTS Travel in Ephrata, which specializes in religious travel. Her main focus is on Christian travel, but both of her European clients offer Jewish heritage tours as well.

Brodhecker's religious and travel roots go deep. She describes her personal faith as very strong. "It makes me what I am," she says. Her grandfather, who was born in Greece, gave her a passion for that part of the Christian world. Her husband's family is from Germany, a country that played a major role in the Reformation and beyond.

Her travel background extends back many years, including the last 6½ years working for MTS. Because she is now a consultant and not a travel seller, she's using MTS to handle the travel details -- such as pricing and ticketing -- for any trips she'll be organizing.

The Steps of Paul Coastal Cruises, one of her two European clients, is based in Athens, Greece, and is owned by a Greek friend of Brodhecker's. The company's mission is to sail in the steps of Apostle Paul in Greece, Turkey and Italy. Steps of Paul offers seven cruises dedicated to St. Paul and an eighth cruise dedicated to the Virgin Mary.

Top Tours, her other European client, is based in Germany. Of particular interest among that company's tours are trips to the Passion Play in Oberammergau in 2010, an event that occurs once every 10 years. As part of her mission to help organizations understand the value of faith-based travel, Brodhecker is contacting church leaders to explain the benefits of such travel for their congregations.

People want to travel, Brodhecker says, and when they do travel, they tend to let down their guard. From being merely friendly acquaintances on Sunday mornings, church members can become true friends through their shared experiences.

In addition, religious travel can enhance members' faith and serve as a fundraising vehicle for the church. Click here to download a Fundraising Flyer. Brodhecker also is working to convince church leaders of the merit of having a five-year travel plan so their congregations can consider faith-based trips when planning their personal vacations.

Brodhecker says religious travel has grown since the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, which she believes caused people to re-examine their lives. According to the newly formed World Religious Travel Association, based in Colorado, religious travel is an $18 billion-a-year industry.

Brodhecker is serving as a member of the advisory board of the association, which is targeting tourist associations, tour operators, travel agents, pastors and others as prospective members.

Religion can be a volatile topic these days, but religious travel doesn't have to be filled with strife. As Brodhecker explains, each person can take away what he or she wants from the experience based on his or her personal beliefs.

Courtesy of the Patriot News, Harrisburg, PA


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