.Turkey - 2002
The Reverend Doctor James Wiberg
The annual meeting of the AICEMEA (The Int. Conf of Churches in Europe, the Middle East and Africa) held in Antalya, Turkey this year was the occasion for a seminar on the "cradle of Christianity." Biblical scholar Mark Wilson, Director of a Research Institute specializing in ancient Anatolian archaeological sites offered participants an amazing depth of wisdom and insight regarding the travels and ministry of the Apostle Paul and the seven churches of the Book of Revelation. Sites that we visited in Turkey included many of the missionary stations where the first Christian congregations were organized: Antioch of Syria, Iconium, Lystra, Derbe, Laodicea, Hierapolis, Colossae, Smyrna and of course, Ephesus where the Austrians particularly have been active for more than 100 years and have made this ancient Roman site a superb open air museum. Here in Ephesus are the ruins of one of the great libraries of Rome---the Celsus library and the great theater [see picture] seating 30,000 people where the riots broke out following Paul's preaching and forced his departure from the city. A group of Korean pastors and their spouses whom we met while touring the theater joined us in singing some of our great Christian hymns from the center of the stage to demonstrate the marvelous acoustics of these theaters. The strains of "How Great thou Art" and "O for a Thousand Tongues to Sing My Great Redeemer's Praise" resounded where once people clamored for Paul's death.
We walked Roman roads, surveyed kilometer long ruins of Roman aqueducts, took off our shoes and admired the splendor of the mosques, rode buses and flew in planes in order to cover the ground that Paul walked in the course of months and years; we stood amazed at the size of the Hagia Sophia, the great basilica of the Christian era, built by Justinian with the claim, "Solomon, I have outdone you," ringing in our ears, reminding us again of the dangers of too much collusion with stately endeavors. The achievements, however, of Roman engineering and construction still cause us to marvel and admire this ancient civilization---even running water and toilets in the homes and in public places, sewer systems under the streets, a system to flow water down the main surface of the street for cleaning purposes, the ingenious cultural and educational uses of the bath house systems. But then, there were those many gods and their temples which the great Apostle Paul had to face as he addressed them cleverly by identifying the "unknown God" of the Greek religious tradition as Jesus of Nazareth who has now become the one and only God. As ministers of the Gospel we prayed together in St. Peter's church in Antioch, near the border with Syria, a cave church that according to the tradition, was used by the early Christians in that city, and where the name "Christian" was first applied to followers of "the Way." It was also the alleged site where Peter and Paul disagreed over the issue of table fellowship between Jews and Gentiles (cf. Galatians 2:11ff), where Barnabas joined Paul for his journey west to plant churches in the Roman province of Asia, the western part of modern-day Anatolia. We gathered as a group of representatives from many congregations in Europe, the Middle East and in Africa to listen to the words of Art Beals, a Presbyterian Consultant with their Board for World Missions. It was 7:00 a.m. on a beautiful sunny morning with the rays of light glistening across the sand swept beach of the Mediterranean near Antalya. The unforgettable moments of peace and calm, a respite from the hectic pace of our lives back home, brought new refreshment to us as we listened to the words of our Lord telling Peter and the other disciples to put their nets on the other side of the boat for a great catch of fish. What inspiration those words are for those of us who seek to proclaim the Gospel. Jesus stands with us in our attempts to fish for people. If one program or event does not work, then let us move on and try something else. "Courageous Faith"......that was the theme of our time together. Take heart, keep casting out the nets. God's spirit is with you.
After the Conference, some of us stayed on for an additional three-day tour of Cappadocia, the high plateau in central Anatolia that was such an important center of Christianity in the fourth century. There, at Caesarea (modern-day Kayseri), Bishop Basil, his younger brother Gregory of Nyssa, their sister Macrina, and their mutual friend Gregory of Nazianzus articulated the doctrine of the Trinity that was ratified by the Council of Nicea in A.D. 325 and gave us our Nicene Creed. In this area of Anatolia the landscape is something like that from outer space. One of our group members commented that "Star Wars" could have been filmed here. There are deep gorges cut into the flat plateaus and in the gorges 100's of caves have been hollowed out of the "tufa" or soft volcanic rock. Underground cities and cave churches populate the entire area. Estimates are that 30,000 people could live underground for six months, thus fending off the invading Arabs, Mongols or marauding tribes. Many of these underground churches have well-preserved frescoes dating back to the 12th- 13th centuries. Thanks to the Christian and Muslim iconoclasts of the seventh century, (those who do not believe in painting or sculpting any image of human beings as aids in worship), many of the frescoes have the eyes or faces obliterated, but otherwise retain their brilliant colors.
Everywhere you go in modern Turkey today, the presence of the founder of the Republic, Attaturk, is immortalized in sculpture and stone. As a secular state, Turkish citizens are proud of their place between east and west. Most people we encountered were gregarious and friendly, naturally wanting our business, but also eager for contact with the west. Sadly, following the mass population exchanges between Greece and Turkey after the Lausanne Treaty of 1924, very few Christians are left in Cappadocia or any other part of Turkey. No more than 2% of the population counts itself as Christian, most whom are Syrian Orthodox believers.
Modern Turkey has a right to bill itself as "the other Holy Land". When you consider that much of early Christianity, including the writing of the majority of the books of our New Testament happened there, there is ample reason for us to consider Turkey as a place for experiential Christian learning and pilgrimage. The St. Paul Cultural Center in Antalya, our hosts for the conference, opened their doors and showered their hospitality upon us. We joined the international congregation of Antlaya, led by James and Renate Bultema for Sunday worship and dinner and heard about the many programs of a cultural nature which help to build bridges to Turkish people. In a land where only about 60% of the people actually practice their Muslim faith, there is plenty of room for the nets to be cast. May God's people find ways to continue to proclaim the Gospel in this new and modern secular state.
Luray and I have been touched by the warmth and friendliness of the people of
Turkey. It is also one of the more beautiful countries we have visited. This is
only a brief taste of our experience and I would be delighted to share more with
those of you who are interested (including our group experience in a Turkish
bath, if you talk to us privately). I need much more time to reflect on our
experience and to put the names on my pictures, but I want to express our
gratitude to the congregation for supporting us in this annual journey. The
opportunity to be with other pastoral staff from many different international
congregations is an important part of our supportive systems. Since most of us
do not have clergy peer fellowship like we did in our homelands, these annual
conferences are important times of spiritual renewal, fellowship with
colleagues, and new learning experiences.
Turkey - May 2001
Our short visit to Turkey began with a rainy day in Istanbul. That was not too hard to cope with since most of the sights we visited there were indoors: The Blue Mosque, St. Sophia's and the Topkapi Palace. We were inundated with vendors selling books, post cards and umbrellas, so shopping was not a problem. The rains let up while we had our Turkish lunch in an open-air restaurant. It had a roof, so it would not have been a problem anyway, except for a strong wind. This was another of our very interesting eating adventures while on the trip. It's not Midwest cuisine, that's for sure! [Ed. note: see Greece for insert].
After our day in Athens we sailed for Kusadasi, which is the port from which tours to Ephesus leave. What an interesting stop that was! To think that this was a huge thriving city when Paul was on his missionary journeys is amazing. And the parts of the buildings that they have been able to reconstruct from the jumbled piles of rubble are incredible. Also amazing were the notes about sewage systems and aqueducts in place at that time. You have to see it to believe it. The city is spread out over many, many acres. Every turn takes you to another fantastic view. [Ed note: See Greece for remainder of trip]
Turkey - July 1989
The highlight of Turkey was, most certainly, the ancient Roman city of Ephesus, which is now being reconstructed by teams of archeologists from
several countries. Our ship docked in the port of Kusadasi and we took a half hour bus trip to our destination. What an interesting place! We strolled down, through that
marble city with our tour guide, for one of the most exciting historical commentaries, I have ever heard. We were told that Ephesus was the largest excavation in the the world.
THINK GLOBALLY - ACT LOCALLY - PRAY FOR WORLD PEACE