I’m writing this last update somewhere over the Atlantic on a jam-packed Turkish airlines flight home from Istanbul. It’s a ten hour flight, so loads of time to write. 🙂 Grab a coffee and settle in!
Our hearts are full. At our first airport this morning, we bade farewell to our loved rabbi RVL and his wonderful (quiet and gentle but very fun) wife, Esther. In Istanbul, we said good-bye to our new set of American friends – from various places in the USA, but more than half of them from San Angelo, Texas. It was such a gift to share this intense immersive learning experience with them. We became family and their passionate love for Jesus and hunger to grow was inspirational. We had so many great conversations together on the dusty paths of Israel and Turkey. And a few mutually held stereotypes got busted as well! We may have even picked up a little of their awesome Texas drawl.
Shortly, we Canadians will land in Toronto and return home to our various communities. I think that we are all ready to be home, and our brains are saturated (“the sponge is full” as RVL likes to say). At the same time, we’ve journeyed deep together and it will be hard to say good-bye. Our group was so fun and encouraging and full of love for our Messiah. This really does feel like the kind of family that the church is meant to be.
And what a final day we had! We spent it in Cappadoccia, a remote area in the province of Galatia. Most of us, including me, had no idea about what we were in for. It must be one of the most fascinating places on the planet. The whole area is covered in solidified volcanic ash that is quite easy to dig into. This has resulted in two phenomena.
The first is that during a period of about 3000 years, the people living here dug out an incredible system of underground tunnels and caves. There are 22 cave cities of various sizes and some of them go many, many stories down. We spent considerable time crouched over walking through this underground maze guided by electrical lamps where it would have been pitch dark in ancient times.These caves are incredibly good places to hide, and at various times during the Roman Empire, early Christians hid in these caves to escape persecution and to keep the faith alive, sometimes for three years at a time. It was so important to spend time in this dark place to be reminded of the cost that previous generations paid to pass the baton of the Good News of Jesus down to us. And to hear a fresh call both to remember and bind ourselves in prayer and support for those in our Body who still suffer for their faith around the world – as well as faithfully pass on the gospel to the next generation in the mission we have inherited.
The second phenomenon in Cappadoccia is that the slow wearing away of the softer ash has left an above ground city full of incredible rock formations, cones and pillars. And through the centuries, people have dug out homes and churches and other buildings into the rock. People still live in these fairy tale like cave dwellings today. You have to see it to believe it.
There, we toured four ancient churches carved into the rock and reflected on the obvious ways that the artwork on the walls reflected a shift in emphasis in these churches away from the biblical text, from community, and from the Mission to be a Kingdom of priests. It was convicting and humbling to recognize some of the same dynamics at work in the North American church today and truthfully, also in us. We come away from this learning trip re-energized and clearer about who Jesus calls us to be.
We closed our two weeks together by celebrating Communion in an old abandoned “cave” church – incredible to crawl up into that space where early believers met perhaps 1800 years ago. This was truly a moving close to our trip as we shared this healing meal together. As part of the celebration, all of us had opportunity to give a verbal “yes” to Jesus’ call to walk the unique path that He has set before us. At the close of Communion, RVL blessed and commissioned us to stay dusty. We are so grateful for this chance to learn under such a gifted rabbi as he challenged us to keep walking in the dust of our true Rabbi, Jesus. Very rich.
In the evening, we enjoyed a delicious final meal, shared our fun top ten lists with the group, gave brief testimonies of how this experience has shaped us, and closed in song. Such a fitting end. And then we went to bed, knowing that the wake-up call was coming at 2:15 am.
As we make our way home, thank you to all of you who have taken time to keep up with us by reading the blog, praying for us and providing encouragement. This leg of the journey is over. Now the real journey as disciples continues.