The Finale

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. 

  

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Gentiles Welcome!

Ron and Lori have written today’s update.  Enjoy!

When I was a boy, my brother and I read these really cool funny comics called Asterix and Obelix. They were fierce warriors of French origin known as Gauls. Little did I know that this was based on a truth and that there were these same Gauls in Turkey! And that the book of Galatians was written in the land of the ‘Gaulations’. See photo of the Galatian mountains and rich farmland.
In the last two days, we learned more about the Galatian problem which faced the apostle Paul: how do Gentiles (you and me) fit into the kingdom of God? The early church had to figure out how to determine God’s will. How does the good news message as displayed through Jesus apply to Gentiles as well as Jews? Today we unravelled this mystery through several powerful teachings which demonstrated that God’s plan required that Gentile believers be obedient to the law (the Torah including Ten Commandments etc) and not the “works of the law” (specific laws that made a Jew Jewish such as circumcision, rules for the Sabbath, kosher eating)

It’s been eye opening for me to make this connection here in Turkey, walking where the apostle Paul walked. How is it that we, way over in Canada, can call ourselves believers of God, the Jewish God, the one true God? Because of Jesus Christ, who taught that the good news is for all nations. The apostle Paul was a champion of Christ. He fought through floggings, prison, walked long ways through mountains and strange lands, challenged Imperial Rome, was stoned and left for dead, flogged three times, yet he never gave up in his mission in spreading the gospel to the Gentiles. What a powerful message and challenge to all of us! 

As we sit here today in the Galatian hills, the Muslim call to prayer echoes eerily and strangely to our western ears over our heads at regular intervals, calling Muslims to prayer. It reminds me how much the world needs to know that the One True God reigns and wants all to know him. How do we do that? It starts with loving your neighbours and the marginalized in this world. 

Phew, what a day! One more full day of teaching and hiking in this beautiful country and then we will start the journey home. 

Thanks for your prayers. We feel them. 

Ron and Lori

  

Mini-Rome

Yesterday’s post is coming a day late because of spotty wifi in our last hotel.  Thanks for your interest and your prayers!

We really feel like we’re in the home stretch of our journey now.  We got up an hour early and were on the bus and traveling by 6 am.  We have moved out of the ancient province of Asia and into the province of Galatia.  It was a beautiful drive through rich, fertile farmland in wide valleys between mountain ranges.  The weather is cool but sunny, and we were thankful for the extra layers we’d packed.  

Our teaching began around the excavated site of Antioch of Psidia, where followers of Jesus were first called Christians.  We learned about the culture and history of this interesting city, which served as a colony of the Roman Empire.  Everything here was modeled on the city of Rome–a “mini-Rome” if you will.  Complete with the same laws and customs.  And it was here that Paul came several times, bringing the news of a King who has won HIs own Kingdom and who calls His followers to establish a new colony that models heaven.  “May Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”  RVL walked us through all the ways that the gospel of Mark spoke into the Roman culture.  Whoever Caesar thought he was, Jesus is stronger yet! 

And we ended the day with our longest hike yet, steadily climbing up to about 5000ft to the site of an ancient worship centre to the god Mythra, popular with Roman soldiers.  Mark also spoke directly into this pagan worship – again and again…Text into Context and Criticism by Creating, Not Condemning.  Powerful reminders again today of how awesome our God is and our mission to put Him on display in all we say and do.  It was a stunningly beautiful setting with the sun going down over the mountain peaks.  We walked home as darkness fell, enjoyed a good meal and settled into our third to last hotel amid lots of laughter and conversation – our Canadian/US team is becoming a real family.  

  

Last Day In the Province of Asia

Wow, today was a crazy start.  We were given a chance to sleep in for an extra hour this morning (alarm set for 6:45 – yeah!).  What we didn’t realize was that the current prime minister had delayed the change from daylight savings time until after the election.  Our phones and other electronic devices didn’t know either, and so many of our phones moved the time an hour back when they shouldn’t have.  In any case, at least half the group slept in and scrambled to get to the bus, including us Faith folks.  Once we got everyone together and on the bus, we made the short drive to Hieropolis, our first stop and were assured by our guide that we were permitted to enter the grounds the back way, over a fence.  So, the 40 of us hopped the fence and followed RVL as we always do.  However, no one informed the guards.  We heard whistles and yelling and were told to stop where we were.  A supervisor was called and came riding in on his motorcycle.  After a few tense moments, we were told to leave the grounds, so we hopped the fence again, got back on the bus and re-entered through the front gate.  Quite a start!
The day was very interesting.  Much of the teaching felt like good review of the concepts that we have been learning over the course of our trip.  Hieropolis was built on a hot spring which still functions today and we learned about the faithfulness of Epaphras and the disciple Philip in bringing the Good News to this city.  We stood in the ruins of a 4th C church dedicated to Philip and heard the traditional account of his martyrdom, an unusually cruel and barbaric death at the hands of the Romans – along with the assault and crucifixion of his 7 daughters, simply because they refused to ackknowledge Emperor Domitian as the lord of all.  We couldn’t help but think about our own witness and courage in standing strong for Jesus.  
From there, we traveled to the site of Colossae.  It is still completely unexcavated, but it was good to get a sense of where the city was, its cultural and political context and be reminded of the letter that Paul writes to Philemon, a slave owner from Colossae, to convince him to receive his runaway slave Onesimus as a brother in Christ.  

Our final stop was Laodicea.  This is an active excavation site, and it is interesting to see the equipment and work in progress.  What they have found is impressive.  But the most impressive of all was a small set of carvings on a marble pillar.  The carvings showed a cross carved above a lit menorah.  A beautiful symbol of the church growing out of its Jewish roots.  And for us, a poignant way to capture what we have experienced so powerfully so far–how our faith is so deepened when we embrace the Jewish roots of our faith.  We have been grafted into the line of Abraham.  It is a gift of amazing grace.  

Tomorrow we hit the road an hour earlier than usual (5 am wakeup call!).  And hope our clocks don’t let us down!  Below is a picture of our Canadian travelers in the church of Philip the Martyr in Hieropolis.

  

Give It All You’ve Got

Jacquie’s taking a turn today. Enjoy!

Suitcases were loaded back under the bus for travel to a new area.  Today our travels took us to three cities, 2 more of the seven cities John writes to in Revelations and one additional city not mentioned in scripture but important to the context…Thyatira, Philadelphia and Aphrodias.  Again we suited up to get wet – the first time RVL has encountered rain in his trips to Turkey in October. We are thankful with the people here who need it and pray each day for God to give us the “feet to walk the path He gives us” no matter the weather or obstacles.  
Our first and second stops were Thyatira and Philadelphia. In both cases, not much has been excavated and the ruins are in among the modern city – giving us a rare chance to walk regular city streets and interact a bit with the locals. In both, RVL led us through John’s letters to these churches and we are beginning to jump up and down with him to see ALL the clear links to the cultural context of each city to make the letter so personally applicable here first – before all the other applications we draw from it today.  I won’t steal Kevin’s thunder for an upcoming series on Revelations that is shouting to be shared, so I’ll leave it at that. Again and again we are seeing the tapestry or puzzle pieces come together as John and Paul speak Text into their context.  I’m so very convicted again to learn and know the Text better myself, particularly how the OT and NT are so interwoven.
Outside Philadelphia, it was a treat to reflect Jesus to some local kids who walked up the trail with us, curious about what we were doing in their back field.  One young boy, about the age of my students, proudly showed us his notebook filled with Turkish and English phrases from his lessons at school.  I took a photo of his amazing penmanship – my own Gr4s will have a great Turkish exemplar to refer to!  After we’d handed out a fair share of gum and treats from our packs, we left for Aphrodias.

Aphrodias was the sculpting capital of the Greek and Roman world and the sculptures were the language of their day, sharing the worldview of their culture.  It was incredible to see what has been found under the ground in the past 60 years of excavation here!  We closed our day at the hippodrome/stadium where we unpacked Revelations 1-13 as a direct parallel to the seven parts of the Olympic Games from their inception.  It was a powerful reminder that WE are God’s Olympians and that every facet of our lives is an opportunity to give our best to Him…to Pursue Excellence for His Glory, our theme at school this year!  I can’t wait to unpack that more fully with my students.  

We ended by running a lap and cheering each other on as a “cloud of witnesses” (picture below after we finished) – a truly moving way to put our commitment into action and make this yet one more memorable place where the Text has come alive in a new way!!  

  

It Rains…and He Reigns!

Last night, we made our way from Ephesus to the city of Bergama and the site of the ancient city of Pergamum.  We spent our whole day there, the ruin of the ancient hospital below and the acropolis high on the hill above Bergama.  There are elections happening here in Turkey in a week or so and Prime Mininister Erdogan was having a political rally in Bergama today.  It was interesting to learn about the ancient political and social history of this area while hearing the sounds of the current political realities rising up to where we were walking.

Today was also rainy – unusually early rainy season this year.  The rain held off to a light sprinkle until mid afternoon, when it grew steadily worse.  We were prepared as a group and stuck it out, but RVL did arrange a different way to reach the acropolis. We actually took a gondola today!  Unheard of on an RVL trip where the most difficult route up is standard.  He asked us to not let the word get out 🙂  

Pergamum is another fascinating place.  In its heyday, which included the first century AD during the time of the apostles Paul and John, it was where the Roman Governor was seated.  And it is the home to a number of significant temples.  We spent a lot of time unpacking the practices around the worship of Asklepios – the god of healing, Athena – the god of the mind/truth, and Dionysus, the god of wine and theatre (leisure).  

It is stunning to see the parallels between this ancient culture and our own.  Their strengths are our strengths and their weaknesses and follies are ours as well.  

But even more overwhelming are how many of the beliefs, practices and teachings around these gods are mirrored in Scripture:  Virgin birth.  God in human form.  Water to wine.  Death to life after three days.  Healing for an official’s family.  “I am the resurrection and the life.”  And the list just goes on and on.  The story of a benevolent divine figure who extended grace and healing to his followers was not new to these listeners.  They had that same story in their myth of Asklepios.  BUT our God spoke into that story with His own, and a power much greater.

It just struck us how Jesus came into this world and communicated His message so clearly that He is truly Lord over all.  He confronts the deceptions and evil of our world with love, mercy and grace.  And truly, the main instrument He uses to show that His Kingdom is here is through us.  Through the way we love each other and love the world around us.  

We have a lot to absorb from today.  But our faith and confidence in our amazing God continues to grow and grow.  

Tonight we have a chance to dry out and enjoy a nice meal here at the hotel.  Tomorrow we start out bright and early to hit the road again and visit Thyatira, Philadelphia and Aphrodias.  
  

Amazing Revelations in Ephesus

Today’s guest blogger is Liz den Otter. Enjoy!

We started our day hiking to an awesome overlook of Ephesus – through the bushes and over and along the centuries old walls. I have a new appreciation of how Absalom could get stuck in an oak tree – it’s more like holly here, and we got stuck a few times!  Sitting on the edge of a cliff, RVL gave us a brief overview of the city layout, along with the history and timeline of when Paul and later John lived in the city. It’s a massive site, so this made it much easier to place the various buildings when we were walking around. The Gospel of John and later, Revelation were probably both written here.

Walking into the city, we were introduced some more into the Roman world and the type of environment the early Christians were experiencing. We spent the morning learning about Paul’s interaction with the Ephesian church and focused on John after lunch.  

Knowing the culture of the Artemis cult brings new meaning to Paul’s instructions on how to live our lives. Paul writes in his letter that he has heard about the Ephesians’ faith in the Lord Jesus Christ and their love for all God’s people, and he challenged us to show the same love in our lives. 

After lunch, we switched to John and explored how the book of Revelation would have been interpreted by its original audience – a church just beginning to be persecuted by the Roman Empire. It was amazing to link the symbolism written by John to what the Ephesian church would have seen in the parade celebrating Emperor Domitian as “lord of lords, and god of gods”. While we often try to use these images to predict what will happen at the end of times, the church in Ephesus probably saw it as God saying that yes, he was going to allow the Christians to suffer at the hands of the Romans, but he is in control and over all.

Maybe visiting the seven churches and learning more about the audience that it was written to will inspire Kevin to do a sermon series of this, so that you can hear some of what we have learned and we can all better understand this book that we often avoid.

P.S.  Google: “Letter of Diognetus”