Monday, July 27, 2009
Turkey is a fascinating country. It is a land far different from my own, full of ancient ruins, mosques and veiled women. Traveling there, I marveled at the historical sites. Of special interest to me were the places mentioned in the bible as well as those with a Christian past.
Konya is one of those places. It was called Iconium during St. Paul's time and Saint Paul, together with Barnabas travelled to Iconium during his first missionary journey in about 47-48 AD. During the second missionary journey, Saint Paul and Silas visited Iconium again. They may also have gone there a third time during their third missionary journey in about 52 AD.
At Iconium Paul and Barnabas went as usual into the Jewish synagogue. There they spoke so effectively that a great number of Jews and Gentiles believed. But the Jews who refused to believe stirred up the Gentiles and poisoned their minds against the brothers. So Paul and Barnabas spent considerable time there, speaking boldly for the Lord, who confirmed the message of his grace by enabling them to do miraculous signs and wonders. The people of the city were divided; some sided with the Jews, others with the apostles. There was a plot afoot among the Gentiles and Jews, together with their leaders, to mistreat them and stone them. Acts 14: 1-5
Then they returned to Lystra, Iconium and Antioch, strengthening the disciples and encouraging them to remain true to the faith. "We must go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God," they said. Paul and Barnabas appointed elders for them in each church and, with prayer and fasting, committed them to the Lord, in whom they had put their trust. Acts 14: 21-23
Visiting Konya has made these verses from the Book of Acts more meaningful to me. We traveled to Konya by bus, and it was not a short distance that we traveled to reach there. Touring can be quite tiring even if we are sitting in comfort on an airconditioned bus. Imagine what it was like for Saint Paul and his companions! They were able to reach these far off places without modern transportation and when they got there, they were even in danger of being mistreated. Such was their conviction about the Good News they were sharing that they were willing to go through all these hardships. Reflecting on the journeys these early Christians took for the sake of the gospel strengthens my conviction that the challenges we go through today for the sake of the gospel are worth it. After all, the message of the Good News remains as true today.
This summer, my husband and I visited Greece and Turkey and although we did not take one of those "Follow in the Footsteps of St. Paul" tours, we did get to visit some of the places St. Paul travelled to in his missionary journeys.
First stop was Greece, where we walked to so many historical sites. While in Athens, I came across a thrift shop filled with all sorts the things you find in thrift shops. I looked through the row of books, thinking to myself that maybe I could find a New Testament bible in Greek. It would be all Greek to me, of course, but it seemed like the kind of meaningful "souvenir" I wanted. I didn't find one.
After wandering amidst all the amazing structures in the Acropolis, we walked towards the rock of Areopagos , below the Acropolos. We stopped to look at a plaque mounted on the rock and since it was in Greek, we wondered what it said. Just then, a man holding a book in his hand came up to me and offered the book to me. Suspicious, I asked him what he wanted from me, "Nothing" he replied, "it is a gift", continuing on to say that the book contained what the plaque said. The book contained the passages in the bible about St. Paul in Greece, not only in English, but also in Greek! I had my Greek "New Testament" or at least part of it.
I realized, with awe and delight that this rock was where Saint Paul spoke to the people of Athens in Acts 17, and the plaque embedded in the rock contains his words.
"Paul then stood up in the meeting of the Areopagus and said: "Men of Athens! I see that in every way you are very religious. 23For as I walked around and looked carefully at your objects of worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: TO AN UNKNOWN GOD. Now what you worship as something unknown I am going to proclaim to you.
24"The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by hands. 25And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything, because he himself gives all men life and breath and everything else. 26From one man he made every nation of men, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he determined the times set for them and the exact places where they should live. 27God did this so that men would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from each one of us. 28'For in him we live and move and have our being.' As some of your own poets have said, 'We are his offspring.'
29"Therefore since we are God's offspring, we should not think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone—an image made by man's design and skill. 30In the past God overlooked such ignorance, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent. 31For he has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed. He has given proof of this to all men by raising him from the dead."
Thousands of years after Saint Paul spoke these words, I marvel that one man's words have reached me from so long ago, from so far away. I marvel that his words are relevant today as they were then. Do we have our own objects of worship? What do we value more than God Himself?
May we continue to "seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from each one of us. For in him we live and move and have our being."
Next stop, Turkey...