Backpacking with Bill: Ephesus, Rhodes, and Crete
Since Monday, we have been cruising the Aegean Sea, stopping in places once visited by the apostles Paul and John. They traveled in small fishing and cargo boats, but we’ve experienced a taste of their travels aboard the comforts of a modern ship. They had no organized strategy for visiting these places. They went wherever the doors to the gospel opened, and they avoided places where circumstances and persecution prevented them from entering. We have followed a well-organized, detailed plan, enjoying every stop along the way.
On Monday, we docked at the tourist island of Mykonos. On Tuesday, we visited the ancient city of Ephesus. Paul and John are separated by over 35 years in this city. Multiple generations of believers lived and endured challenges unlike any in our time. During Paul’s time, Ephesus was a coastal town. The active Meander River still “meanders” and pushes the Aegean Sea away from the shore. Ephesus is now a 20-minute bus ride inland. We walked marble streets that were first laid in Paul’s time. Ephesus was home to three major figures of the New Testament. Paul spent at least three years here, a portion of which was incarcerated. He likely wrote letters to the Corinthians and a few others here. Timothy and the apostle John pastored here during their lifetimes. This city was primarily known for its silver trade, and the locals manufactured statues to the Roman goddess Diana for tourists and others to purchase while here to worship. The temple to Diana was one of the 7 wonders of the ancient world and would have been visible off shore.
From Ephesus, we sailed to Patmos, the location of John’s exile. While pastoring in Ephesus, John spent some time under house arrest on this island during the reign of Domitian. He received a vision and wrote a book to seven churches in modern-day Turkey to awaken them from their lethargy, call them to faithfulness to the first commandment, worship Jesus as Lord, and endure persecution. This book of the New Testament is known as the “Apocalypse” or Revelation. Like a curtain rising on the drama of the gospel, Revelation unveils God’s victory over evil. Revelation encourages believers to endure persecution and trust in Christ to conquer evil. We descended to the cave that is the traditional site of John’s writing and visited a monastery built in his memory.
Yesterday, we spent the day in Rhodes, an ancient kingdom mentioned in the book of Ezekiel and visited by Paul on his way to Jerusalem in Acts 21:1. We drove to a site overlooking the old port that Paul likely visited and walked the streets of the city. The old city of Rhodes is still enclosed with a wall that dates to the early 14th century.
Today, we stopped at Crete, island home of Titus and traveled to the tourist island of Santorini.
Just as John wrote over 35 years after Paul, so today we continue to pass along the faith that was entrusted to us. Christians are still called to endure, worship Jesus as Lord faithfully, and pray obediently during times of crisis. In times of darkness, we are to bear witness to Christ’s reign. Instead of following a carefully, well organized plan; we can be just as faithful when surprises, changes of direction, and new opportunities begin.
Last week, a pastor’s family joined us for supper in one of our hotels. They have been working with Muslim people in another country but have been unable to return because of the political situation today. Like the apostle Paul in ancient Turkey, the place he thought he was going had changed.
Another door, however, has opened right in front of them. While waiting for a new place to go, this pastor has been working with Syrian Muslim refugees on their doorstep. Last week he baptized seven refugees in Jesus’ name.
This generation of Christians continues to share the faith in ways never thought possible. God continues to surprise us in the midst of difficulty.