Turkey, Greece, & Rome
The purpose of this trip was to take future missionaries to the churches that Paul established in Turkey (Asia Minor), Greece (Macedonia & Achaia) and Rome. By walking where Paul did they were to develop a missions strategy of their own concerning a variety of issues including co-workers, church planting, cultural strategies, finances, discipline, communication, etc. There were nine students along with myself and three veteran missionary for this 15 day whirlwind tour. In short, it was extraordinary.
Relatively uneventful flight (except losing our luggage in St. Louis -- caught up with us in Chicago several hours later). Arrived in Milan over the Italian Alps (striking!) with about four hours of sleep. Our three hour flight to Istanbul allowed us a nice nap. We were surprised at the airport to learn that every US citizen is charged $100 for a Turkish Visa to enter the country (which is retaliation for our $100 fee for them to enter the US). A four hour drive along the European side of Turkey and a Ferry ride across the Dardanelles landed us at our hotel next to the sea in Cannakale at 10:00 p.m. Dinner of fish and vegetables prepared us for bed.
Our itinerary today includes Troy, Pergamum and Smyrna. Troy had us oohing and awing. We were captivated by our imaginations being in the epicenter of Greek mythology. On the way to Perga we passed Troas and Assos. I led a discussion on the bus about Paul’s suffering, call, and the teams he created. It was energized by what we saw. We then read Revelation 2:12-17 to prepare us for Pergamum where "Satan has his throne.” Most likely this refers to the Temple of Zeus, now a pile of rocks (mostly in Berlin). Seeing these sights make Paul come alive to me. Finally we visited Aesklepion, the oldest hospital in the world. The tinkling sound of pinecones in the trees, the babbling water of the tunnel, the singing of the birds really was soothing. I wonder if Luke ever came here.
Ephesus. Today was one of the most marvelous experiences of my life. Ephesus: Paul’s longest ministry, the church to whom more biblical books are addressed than any other; the largest/greatest archaeological site in the world! We saw temples and statues, baths and gymnasiums, marble streets, the Odeon, friezes, and, of course, the theater! Oh, the theater where 25,000 screamed for two hours in support of Artemis. There I taught on the book of Ephesians in the presence of our wonderful Islamic guide. The Spirit was upon me; His truth was exalted -- truth about love of all people, power and prayer. We were able to see the burial place of the beloved Apostle, John. This city, so huge, so powerful, so pagan, was overwhelmed with Christianity within a generation. Yet by John’s Revelation they had lost their first love. My how powerful is the church with the Holy Spirit. My how quickly we lose it when we lose our love for the Lord!
Sardis, Philadelphia, Laodicea, Pammukale. Sardis truly is now dead, although the remains of the temple of Artemis (1/3 the size of the one in Ephesus) is colossal! I was also shocked by the size of the synagogue in the ancient city, right on the side of the magnificent gymnasium. Now there would be some tensions. Philadelphia is rather unimpressive as was Laodicea, except, of course, for it’s location. The hot water of Pammukale to the North and the river from the mountains to the south (still with snow in June) would mix and create a warm stream. This vacation spot for the elite would make for wealth and sensuality, both of which are still visible in the city (our hotel had a hot spring and a belly dancer show). During our debriefing we prayed over the students as Paul did for Timothy. Needless to say, it was memorable!
Galatia. We spent the entire day driving across Turkey – the span of Paul’s second missionary journey, from Laodicea/Colosse to Cappadocia. We had lunch in Iconium and looked toward Antioch. When we arrived early afternoon we had time to shop for jewelry and look at the surreal cave formation. It was especially beautiful at sunset. After dinner our Moslem guide joined us for a celebration service of the Lord’s supper. Although she did not participate, she graciously provided a bottle of premium Cappadocia wine. I don’t suppose ever again in my life will I receive such a gift. We all slept well.
Cappadocia. Paul, by necessity of the trade routes would have passed through this place. There really are cave-men alive today and without A/C or heating their homes are 65 degrees year round. This one valley once sheltered 100,000 Christians who escaped Arab persecution by barricading themselves in their underground city that plumbed some eight stories blow the earth. The secret is the volcanic tufa which covers the area. It is easy to dig through but hardens when exposed to oxygen. The Byzantine house churches were a rare treat and their art was man9ficent example of the kind of symbolism used in Byzantine storytelling. Tonight we fly back to Istanbul. I do so hope to see the Blue mosque and Hagia Sophia before we leave at 8:00 a.m.
Hagia Sophia and Blue Mosque. We took lots of pictures standing between these two indescribable buildings. We were awed by their overpowering beauty and engineering. The early morning light refracted from the minarets as they birds danced between them. Then, to all of our surprise, we were allowed into the Blue Mosque. For fifteen minutes we had the place all to ourselves except for the lone worker vacuuming the carpets. I snapped photo after photo and then stopped for a moment to prostrate myself in prayer for the Islamic people. Something powerful happened to me and even now, an hour later, I’m unable to speak to describe it or even understand it.
Philippi overwhelmed us. We did not expect it to be nearly as large or nearly as meaningful. We stood before the bema where Paul and Silas were beaten, we sang in the jail, and we watched the four women pray at the river. There was a stunned silence which fell over the group as the ladies contacted their spiritual roots. Here in this first church of Europe, we remembered Paul’s commitment of love, his joy in suffering and his care for the brothers. I was struck that Paul did not claim his Roman citizenship as a painful strategy for propagating the gospel.
Thessaloniki & Mars Hill. This city is larger and more important than I had imagined. What a beautiful port and a multicultural center of commerce. After a bus tour and a wonderful stop at the museum to see the Macedonian Gold, we flew to Athens. Our hotel is a 10 minute walk from Mars hill. Since we arrived early in the evening we had time for the group to go up. I taught through Acts 17 on Mars hill with the Acropolis over my right shoulder. To say it was powerful would minimize its significance. We all went off by ourselves to pray. Jake and Josh seemed most impacted. They really are tremendous young scholars. Ok, so here’s the secret: before dinner I just had to run Willard, Jake and Darin up the hill – there was much silence and many great thoughts.
Athens. We began with a tour of the Acropolis and Parthenon. One can not help but be overwhelmed by the power of this brilliant achievement. Nonetheless, it represents the highest achievement of idolatry. From there we took a bus tour of the city, with its major churches, archaeological sites and administration buildings. We finished with a guided tour of the Benaki Museum, a wonderful collection of antiquities going back to the fifth millennium B.C. We were dropped off downtown to tour on our own the Roman Agora and the Greek agora with its wonderfully reconstructed portico. The Museum inside houses some of the most fascinating ancient Greek artifacts I’ve ever seen. And of course the Temple of Hephastios, the god of fire, is the only ancient temple in the country with the roof still in tact. We will finish our day with a concert by the Athens symphony.
Corinth. Our bus tour took us to the ancient city of Corinth, the economic crown jewel of the empire with a two mile marble street leading from the Ionian Sea to the agora of the city. Here Paul ministered for eighteen months in the shadow of 1,000 temple prostitutes on Acro-Corinth and the Temple of Apollo below. No wonder this church struggled so. Our teaching time just opposite Gallio’s Bema was especially powerful. But for me, the highlight of the day was the Theater of Dionysius on the S.E. corner of the Acropolis. Keith Sigler wanted to see it so I let him and six students to the Archaeological site. It was one of the few times on this trip that I put down the camera, took off my teacher’s hat and just sat. Suddenly I heard the roar of an ancient crowd, laughing raucously at the lewd political humor. I saw the masks of the hypocrites and stared at the spectacle of 17,000 people and I asked myself why Christians today don’t boycott such theaters. Should we? I’m no closer to a solution, but the question has never been clearer or more important in my mind.
Rome. Because of the Roman holiday on June 2, we toured the Forum and Coliseum today, which was a wonderful whirl-wind introduction to the city. Because of our excellent guide, we saw an immense amount in a short time. We finished the day with pizza and communion at the Trevi Fountain after a romantic walk from the Spanish steps.
Rome. Wow! What a day, between St. Paul’s and St Peter’s Basilicas we were overwhelmed with the power, tradition and wealth of the Roman Catholic Church. We were guided through the catacombs, the sight of Paul’s martyrdom, burial, and added to that a climb to the top of St. Peter’s to look over the city. In the evening everyone went their own way. I took a bus to St. Peters to watch the sun set and meandered back through the city over the next 2 ½ hours. I strolled past the Castel, Piazza Navona, the island on the Tiber, the Circus Maximus, and, of course, finishing with the Coliseum and forum lighted by night. That concluded my trip but generated dreams, desires, and visions that will take decades to unpack.