Friday, February 29, 2008

Transition Day

Today I flew from Izmir to Instanbul. The flight was less than an hour. Pleasant; smooth.

It is good to be back in Istanbul. There is a uniqueness to this place. The sights. The sounds. The smells of all the food being sold on the street. I am in ancient Constantinople! So much of important history took place here or near here. It boggles my mind trying to process and comprehend it all or even a small portion of it.

I am glad to be back here, because it signals the end of my journey. Just a couple of days to “cool down” and I’ll be on my way home. One long day of travel; two more flights. Reunion!

I’ve tried my first attempt at You Tube, so see if this works. No guarantee! I will, however, give you your money back if it does not work. Sorry to my dial-up readers; this may be too much.

If it works, then you will see one of my encounters with a women at the Temple of Artemis. I had already bought some bookmarks from her, and now she is trying to sell me some coins. I have a video camera in one hand and my other camera in the other hand. This does not stop her from putting the coins in my hand. We pick up the video with the boy pointing to his head injury.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Last Day in Ephesus

Actually I didn’t go to the site today. Instead I spent a few hours around the town of Selcuk. If I understand correctly, Ephesus used to be here, many centuries before Christ was born but moved due to the silting of the harbor and the manipulation of a ruler, Lysimakos. Today Selcuk has a population of around 25,000 people, although to me it doesn’t feel that large. Compare this number to the 200,000 - 400,000 that ancient Ephesus had.

I started my day at the site of The Basilica of St. John. Tradition says that John and Mary, the mother of Jesus, moved to Ephesus. John brought her here, fulfilling his vow at the cross to take care of Mary. I saw the house of Mary the other day (see previous blog), and today I stood at the supposed site of John’s tomb. Who knows?

All I know is that I really enjoyed this site, which is mostly in a state of ruin. I did have a little trouble with a man trying to get me to give him money. He said he was a caretaker, and I believed him; we chatted. He then started showing me around, took my picture, etc. I began to realize that he was not legitimate. About that time a security guard came up and started raising his voice at him. I thought the guy was gone, but the next thing I know he showed up again, showing me coins. I just said no, and he finally left. After that I spend a considerable time enjoying the peace and quiet of this place.

After I left St. John’s I wandered the streets of Selcuk for a while. It was a wonderful way to end my time in this part of the country. I enjoyed watching the people. I walked to the edge of town and found some people working in a field. Actually they were having lunch, so I don’t really know what they were doing.

I came back to my hotel a little earlier today. I am beginning the preparation for going back to Istanbul tomorrow.

You might be a redneck if...
...You have done laundry in a hotel bathtub.
You might be a high-tech redneck if... use the “Jacuzzi jets” to get a nice deep clean.
You might be a clever high-tech redneck if...
You use the supplied hair dryer to heat the closet where the wet clothes are hanging.
Enough said, perhaps.

After tonight I have 3 nights in Istanbul. There I will gather my thoughts, revisit a few places of interest, and prepare for the journey home. I am eager to come home. I don’t think Kedra and the kids and I have ever been apart this long. The absence has certainly made my heart grow fonder. I can’t wait to see all of them Monday night.

Thanks for reading this blog and sharing in my life and adventure. It means a lot to me.

Some pictures from today:

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Ephesus Again

It was another beautiful day in Turkey! Even I as write I am watching the sun set over The Island of Samos (See Acts 20:15). Though it is a Greek island it is just off the coast of Turkey. Patmos, where John wrote Revelation, not visible from here, is not far from Samos.

I went back to Ephesus this morning. I made my way to the little theatre and read Paul’s letters to Timothy. Timothy was working in Ephesus when he received the letters. After spending some time in reflection and prayer, I decided to climb the very large hill behind Ephesus. There were no signs saying I couldn’t! It was quite a climb, hands-and-knees-steep at times. The effort was worth it; the view was great. Also I saw several broken pieces of ancient pottery. That was cool!

After I climbed back down I visited the amazing Terrace Houses. I was pleasantly surprised by what I found. These houses of the rich have been restored to a remarkable degree. They had running water, both hot and cold, and the wall and floors are beautifully decorated with frescoes and mosaics.

Next, I went to the large theatre and read again Acts 18 and 19. Leaving Ephesus I made the 2 mile walk into Selcuk (yes, the same name as my guide). It was an interesting walk alongside orchards. One man and his family were pruning trees. We briefly spoke in broken English. My first stop in Selcuk was the Temple of Artemis. Sadly there is not much to see. The temple was constructed several centuries before Christ and was one of Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. What’s interesting (and sad) to me is that people, specifically Wiccans, still worship Artemis (Dianna). If they saw what I saw today, then they might want to rethink that.

Today I had my most uncomfortable moment in Turkey. The Temple of Artemis is not controlled in any way. There were people selling souvenirs, especially little kids, and they were very aggressive. They would not leave me alone. One lady kept telling how poor she was and how sick her kids were. She even had one boy with a bandage on his head (it looked very fake to me). I finally got free, got my pictures, and got out of there! Later I saw a gypsy “settlement.” I think these people probably live there.

My next stop was the museum where several artifacts from Ephesus are located. On my way I met a couple of Muslim women sitting in the sun knitting, probably an older mother and her daughter. I showed them my camera and motioned, asking if I could take a picture. They smiled and one of them got up to pose. I shook my heading, indicating that I wanted a photo of them knitting. I kinda got what I wanted (see below)!

My main interest in the museum was the head and arm from a huge statue of Domitian. I believe the statue was about 25 tall and stood in Domitian Square at Ephesus. Domitian, of course, was the Emperor of Rome from 81-96 A.D. and was responsible for the persecutions that John discusses in Revelation. I thoroughly enjoyed the museum and may go back tomorrow. It is a bargain at 2 Turkish Lira, which is less than $2.

It’s nice hearing encouraging things from several of you. Thanks! I love you and feel extremely blessed in so many ways. I want to use this experience for the glory of God.

Here are some pictures:

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

A Day in Ephesus

Today may have been my favorite day so far. It was 65 and sunny, and I spent 7 hours in a place I have dreamed of visiting for along time. It was, for me, a spiritual experience.

I think I was the first person at the site today. It was so peaceful and quiet. I slipped off the beaten path and sat on a base that once held a Roman column, soaking up the sunshine as I read my guide book. It was there that I spotted a beautiful red flower soaking up the same sun I was enjoying.

I spent a fair amount of time seeing things that most tourists don’t see. I roamed the place and got in places I don’t think I was supposed to be; pretty sure about that, actually. I felt like an explorer, and I guess I was in a sense.

I read Paul’s letter to the Ephesians while sitting on the top row of the small theatre, which seats 1,500. Occasionally I would look up and look out over this ancient place, imagining that some of the recipients homes were in my view. Timothy lived and ministered here. Paul spent time here, 3 years. Maybe John, maybe Mary lived here? Jesus wrote the folks that lived here.

I really got off the beaten path this afternoon and walked down to where the harbor used to be. The harbor silted up, and now the sea is five miles away. The road that leads from the harbor to the city has been restored. It was neat to walk this road, knowing that Paul, along with Priscilla and Aquilla, got off a ship and walked this same road almost 2,000 years ago. I found a neat Roman cross engraved on stone.

I ended my day with about an hour in the large 25,000 seat theatre. I read Acts 19, the account that talks about what happened in the place where I sat. As I sat there reading, a group of Japanese tourists came in, complete with their own Japanese tour guide. The guide spoke for a while, and then his tone softened and his rhythm of speech changed. I looked up to see what was happening. Every head was bowed and every eye was closed. I heard something that sounded like “amen.” Then the leader said a few things, and the group responded. This went on for a minute or more. At that end they all crossed themselves. Japanese Catholics! Wow! As I was pondering this one of the men hesitantly stepped to the middle of the stage and began to sing. His voice was beautiful, and the perfect acoustics of this ancient theatre allowed me to fully enjoy his performance of Ave Maria. It was a great way to end my day in ancient Ephesus.

Here are few photos from today.

Monday, February 25, 2008

7 Churches Part III

What a wonderful day it has been!
Full of thought-stimulating history!

I started out up on a mountain right next to Hierapolis. I stayed in an interesting international hotel full of Japanese, German, and Turkish citizens. There are natural hot springs here, so it attracts lots of people; most of them probably do not know the biblical significance of the area.

Selcuk picked me up and we made our way to Laodicea. This is an active archeological site and is just beginning to be developed. Read Revelation 3:14-22 to see what Jesus said to them. I’ll explain in future lessons more of the interesting background of this place. One thing I did not know is that you can see Hierapolis from Laodicea (see photo below).

From Laodicea we made our way to Colossae. This was not part of my tour, but Selcuk said he would take me. Colossae has not been developed at all, so we had a little trouble finding it. We drove down a muddy road and then walked out in some pastures and vineyards. We finally found a few ruins. I loved this adventure! Some of the local villagers/squatters have taken some of the ancient ruins and used them for the walls of their huts. Amazing!

One thing funny happened as we were leaving the Colossae site. An old villager came up to the car. Selcuk talked to him a little bit, and then the old man got very antimated. He went on for several minutes. I could make out "Mohammed." Secluk said the old man keep saying, "Jesus did not die; he was taken to heaven. He is a prophet. He did not die." This is the Muslim view. I guess he could discern I was a Christian??

From Colossae it was on to Philadelphia. Philadelphia, like Thyatira, is only a small area. There is an old church there from the Byzantine period. One thing struck me about this site. There is now a mosque right across the street from this old church building. Turkey was once the heart of Christianity; today it is 98% Muslim.

From Philadelphia we made our way to Sardis, after another Turkish lunch. Lunch today was Izmir Meatballs (lamb meatballs grilled). Not bad. Sardis was pretty stunning. Archeologists have gone beyond just putting columns back up. They have fully restored some things which gives a much different feel. In Sardis there is large synagogue. Also at Sardis is a Temple to Artemis which was constructed in the 4th century B.C. It is huge, but not as large as the one in Ephesus. I found this temple very impressive. The foundation is as it was the day it was laid. The columns are massive. Sardis is so rich in history. People like Cyrus and Alexander the Great were here.

From Sardis it was back to Smyrna (Izmir). There are not many things to see at Smyrna, but it is such a significant place. Here is a very Interesting Article about one story.

Oh, I have left out so much! Hopefully I have given you an idea of what I have seen. Please read Revelation 2 and 3 to see what Jesus had to say to the folks who lived where I have walked the last couple of days.

I had an interesting talk today with Selcuk, my guide. I asked him what he thought about Jesus and the resurrection. He knows the stories but has not thought about them in a way that applies to him. He considers himself a Muslim; he believes in Alla. He says he is afraid to draw too close to his religion. He says he knows that if he draws closer, then he will have to give up significant portions of his lifestyle. Interesting (but sounds familiar).

I am now in Kusadasi. This is about 10 miles from Ephesus, where I plan to spend the next 3 days. My hotel is right on the Aegean Sea. “I am not worthy!”

Here are few photos from today.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

7 Churches of Revelation Part I

I’ll try catch you up on the last 2 days without boring anyone. As I told Kedra about visiting ancient sites, you have to care and you have to have imagination. Some people lack one or both. Ha ha.

On Saturday morning I flew from Istanbul to Izmer (ancient Smyrna). Izmir is the 3rd largest city in Turkey with a population of more than 4 million people. I was met at the airport by my guide, a 31 year old single man named Selguk. He is a gentle, kind non-practicing Muslim.

[Today at a carpet/rug place the owner was showing me all his carpets. He pointed out how one had 5 stars, symbolizing the 5 daily prayers for good Muslims. He said, “Good Muslims pray 5 times a day.” I said, “What do bad Muslims do?” He said, “Drink Raki (whiskey) and sell carpet!” I cracked up, and so did he, thankfully. I said, “You naughty Muslim.” Really, I did. He laughed. Whew.]

We loaded my bags into Selguk’s small brown Fiat car and made our way toward Pergamum. As we drove I was struck by how different this part of Turkey was from Istanbul. I like the rural side of Turkey better. It’s funny - people drive tractors everywhere in this part of Turkey. Sadly I have not been able to take any photos yet. The funniest thing I saw yesterday was two Muslim women, fully dressed in their normal attire, driving a tractor down the road. I often saw a man driving, a woman riding on the fender, and some kids riding in a trailer or wagon. [This is giving me some ideas, since I no longer have a vehicle to drive; R.I.P. Smokey.]

There is a reason that these sites are often described as ancient ruins. Pergamum was fascinating. I won’t go into detail about these places, but I was struck by the remains of the Temple of Trajan, built in the early 2nd century to honor the Roman Emperor. Our brothers and sisters of Revelation would have probably been around to watch this construction. They would have sat in the amazing theatre, and they knew about the Temple of Zeus, which Jesus may be referencing as “Satan’s throne.” Read Revelation 2:12-17. Later I thought of Antipas who was martyred in this city.

After Pergamum we had a very Turkish lunch, which means I can tell little of what I ate. It was good, however. I had some Turkish coffee after lunch. Wow! Powerful stuff! Selguk and I then made our way to Thyatira. See Revelation 2:18-29. Sadly there are very few things to see here. Most of the ruins are under modern buildings. There is about a city block of a few things, including a church building from the 5th or 6th century. I wonder if Lydia (Acts 16:14) spent time in this square. I would guess so, and that’s a neat thought.

I spent last night in Izmir, and this morning we made our way to Ephesus, which is really the main focus of my sabbatical travels. We started out by visiting the site on the mountain beside Ephesus which is supposed to be the house of the Virgin Mary. This an ancient tradition, so who knows? There is a tiny little Catholic Church there. When I walked in 2 nuns were singing unaccompanied and in English. I stayed for a little while. I really missed worship today, so this was a nice surprise.

Ephesus is quite remarkable, and I will have more to say later. I am going to spend 2-3 more days at the site later this week. After we left Ephesus we had lunch at a carpet place (see above) and made the long journey to Hierapolis, which is NOT one of the Seven Churches but is still significant in the New Testament. This place surprised me. It is the place that Jesus probably alludes to in his remark to the Laodiceans about being lukewarm. Hierapolis is known for its hot mineral water, which still flows today. There are some amazing white mineral formations on the hillside.

Tradition says that Phillip was martyred and buried at this place. Trouble is no one can decide which Phillip - the Apostle or the Evangelist. Oh well, something significant must have happened here.

OK, that’s enough for now, probably too much.

I love you and hope to post again sometime tomorrow evening late or early the next day...

Some pictures:

Friday, February 22, 2008

Friday in Istanbul - Day of Worship

Today was my last day in Istanbul for about a week. I will be back here for the final 2-3 days of my trip. Today was beautiful, just like yesterday; maybe slightly warmer.

After a time of prayer and study I made my way onto the streets for a nice walk. I went down to the wharf that is clearly visible from my hotel roof. There I found a fresh fish market. Very interesting. From there I headed toward the Blue Mosque.

Friday is a special day of worship for Muslims. In addition to praying 5 times, like each day, the Inman (leader) delivers 2 sermons at the Noon gathering. Faithful Muslims make their way to mosques for this special time each Friday. I purposely positioned myself near the Blue Mosque today to witness the gathering, even though it was from a distance.

As I left the Blue Mosque and continued my walk around the streets of Istanbul, I came across several mosques that were still “in session.” I wonder if Muslims choose their mosque based on the Inman, the length of his sermons, and if they can beat the other mosques to restaurants? Ha ha. Actually I did ask my guide if the popularity of the Inman impacted attendance. He said, “It can.”

If you want a lot of information about Muslim Friday worship, you can Click Here.

Well, I am going to close down here and start packing. I leave fairly early in the morning to fly to Izmir, which is ancient Smyrna, one of the 7 churches of Revelation. I am not sure about my ability to communicate for the next few days. I am hoping I will have internet access but not sure. Stay tuned.

Here are some photos from today. Remember, you can move your curser around and find a hyperlink to click on. This will open a new window which will allow you to play a slide show.

Please keep praying for my family and me. I love all of you.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Another Day in Istanbul

Today was a beautiful day in Istanbul! It was about 55 and sunny.

After breakfast I went up to the roof of the hotel and spent a couple of hours of studying for my trip to the sites of the 7 Churches of Asia Minor. I begin that portion of my journey on Saturday.

After some time of study and prayer I made my way on to the streets of Istanbul. No agenda. I walked around for about 3 hours I think. I went down to the water and watched all the activity there. It’s fascinating to watch people and wonder what their story is.

Istanbul is a unique place, especially in the sense that the city lies in two continents. [Here are some interesting facts about Istanbul and Turkey.] I have not been to the Asian side yet, but everything else I do in the country will be in Asia.

Although Turkey is a secular state, the religious leaders of Muslims are trained and paid by the Turkish government. This is what my guide told me yesterday. It is a good way to keep control of the right balance between the secular and the sacred - I think that is the thinking.

One issue here presently is the controversy of allowing female university students to wear Muslim head scarfs. The secularists are concerned by lifting the ban that the country will become “too Muslim” in a sense or at least perceived that way, if I understand it right. Turkey is trying very hard to get into the European Union. Many feel that this issue is going to be a hindrance.

I love all of you and look forward to being back among you.

A few more pictures:

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Istanbul - Full of History

Today I took a tour of a few of the many historical sites in Istanbul. It is a fascinating, captivating city. The many minarets and constant calls to prayer that blare throughout the city are visual and audible reminders that I’m not in Kansas (or Indiana) anymore.

Today I visited the Hippodrome, the ancient Roman sports stadium. My guide said it seated 60,000 spectators; others say it would hold 100,000. Either way it’s a lot!

Across the street from the Hippodrome was the most impressive Blue Mosque. Wow! It is an active mosque, so we had to take our shoes off. We avoided prayer times also. Sadly I could not capture much of its stunning beauty with my camera. It’s one of those “you have to be there” things. The Blue Mosque was built in a competitive response to the the Hagia Sophia

The Hagia Sophia was built in the 6th century. It stood as the largest cathedral in the world for 1000 years. When the Ottoman Turks conquered Constantinople (Istanbul) in 1453, Sultan Mehmed II ordered the building converted into a mosque. All icons were removed and beautiful frescoes were plastered over; symbols of Islam were added. Very interesting! Today the building serves as a museum and does not function as a mosque or a church.

One thing about the Hagia Sophia that struck me is that many of the columns that hold up the structure were brought in from other ancient temples. Of particular interest to me is that there are several columns from the Temple of Artemis. The Temple of Artemis or Diana plays a huge role in the Acts narrative regarding Ephesus. I will visit there next week.

The next stop today was Topkapi Palace. There were lots of interesting things there, including precious jewels. There are some very important Islamic Relics, including, supposedly, the arm and skull of John the Baptist. Disturbing.

My guide and I had lunch over looking the Sea of Marmara and the Bosphorus, which is a vital international waterway. It’s beautiful.

My guide and I had some interesting conversations about culture, politics, and religion. He is a non-practicing Muslim. He said that about 40% of Turks do not practice their faith. His parents practice, and he does not care if his kids practice. However he wants them to explore all faiths and make a decision. A post-modern Turk.

One funny thing that caught my attention today involved a group of tourists from Asia. They saw one of the many cats that roam the streets of Istanbul and started saying loudly and in unison, “Meow, meow...” Maybe they were hungry? Ha ha.

I guess that’s enough for now.

I am enjoying myself, but I really miss my family. The trip is about half over, however. Thanks for all your prayers. I think I am 100% again.

[I have free interet here, so if you want to email me I would love to hear from you.]

Here are some pictures from today.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

In Istanbul

I arrived in Istanbul late last (Monday) night.

It was not easy getting here. It should have been easy, but the unusual weather played a key role. You know I love snow, but yesterday I didn’t enjoy it as much as usual. It was beautiful. I guess there was close to a foot of snow in some parts of Athens.

Weather wreaks havoc in Greece and Turkey

How true!

I left my hotel in Athens at 8 a.m. Monday. There were several inches of snow on the ground, and there was hardly any traffic. My taxi driver had chains on his tires, so he slowly and surely got us to the airport. I was supposed to fly out at around 11 a.m. I didn’t. I finally flew out about 9 p.m. I guess if you have to spend 12 hours in an airport, then Athens is not a bad choice. I was glad to leave however.

Turkish Airlines, like everyone else, had cancelled flights and was doing the best it could. The flight I finally got on had 3 flights worth of people on it. It was packed. There were people carrying chickens, goats and human kids, etc. JUST KIDDING. It was packed though, and the turquoise and brown interior of the jet reminded me that I was about to enter a different culture.

The plane landed safely. I cleared passport control, got my bag, and cleared customs without incident. Someone from a transfer company was supposed to meet me at the airport. Due to all the confusion of cancelled flights it didn’t happen, so I went to the taxi stand and got the next one in line. It was a spiritual experience - my prayer life has not been so intense and focused in a long time.

My driver was a young guy; friendly, confident. I got in the back seat and started to put my seat belt on. He waved me off with a smile, suggesting, “You don’t need that.” Wanting to be culturally compliant, I laughed and put the belt down. “This is probably a really bad choice,” I thought. He turned up the radio, blasting some kind of soulful Turkish soft rock.

I believe the car was a Honda. Whatever it was it had a lot of “get up and go,” and my driver knew how to get every ounce of speed out of it. Wow! He passed other cars, even taxis, like they were standing still. He was going 110+ in 30 and 50 speed zones (kilometers per hour), all this while leaning back with one arm stretched across the passenger seat, nodding with the beat of the music.

At one point he got out a cigarette and offered me one. I took it. Just kidding. If it had been whiskey I might have taken him up. Just kidding again. He teased me for not smoking, and I encouraged him to light up, thinking it will help his driving.

As we got close to my hotel he pointed proudly suggesting that I should be impressed that he found it so quickly. I was impressed, not that we found it but, that we were alive! I told him, using my best cross-cultural language skills, “You race-driver!” He laughed and nodded very proudly.

I got checked in and got some sleep. Today I am going to get organized and prepare for a few days here. I am going to use this time to study a little more about Ephesus and the 7 Churches of Asia Minor. I will probably go to The Grand Bazaar this afternoon. It is right across the street.

Here are a few photos from the hotel, mostly from the roof.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

A Sunday in Athens, Greece

What a day!

I woke up this morning and realized that the hotel had no power. Fortunately I was able to roll over and go back to sleep. Why the power outage? I think it had to do with the snow showers taking place in Athens. Yes, I said “snow.” Yes, it was 60 degrees 2 days ago, and yes the flowers are in bloom. When Dino picked me up early this afternoon I asked him how often it snows in Athens. “Never!” was his overstated reply. I guess it is a pretty unusual thing.

This morning I organized and began packing. I leave tomorrow morning for Istanbul. The morning passed quickly. After breakfast I met a woman, Kristen, from Evansville. She is the publisher of Evansville Living magazine. We had a nice visit. She gave me a magazine.

Early this afternoon Dino, one of the preachers for the Athens Church of Christ, picked me up to spend the rest of the day with him and the various groups that would meet in their church building. [This morning Greek Christians worshiped.]

We got to the building some time before 1, and many Bulgarians had already assembled. Their meeting time is from 1-3 p.m. About 50 assembled on a snowy day. The highlight was a baptism of a lady in her 60s. She stood before the group and confessed the Lordship of Jesus. It was a wonderful thing to witness. I didn’t understand many words, but it was a great experience, especially communing with brothers and sisters with which I will someday share Heaven.

As the Bulgarians left the Russian-speaking group arrived. As with the Bulgarian-speaking group there are several nations represented. Dino spoke in Greek, and a Ukranian young lady, Tonya, translated. Dino asked me to speak a few words as well. What a privilege! I told them that we are all one in Christ; communion reminds us of this.

The English service didn’t happen, due to snow. Most of them are Africans, and Africans are not used to snow. We did have an informal multi-national group meet to pray. One young man is an Iranian who was converted from Islam while living in Cyprus. His name was Tony. What a story!

Dino and I did manage to get a little bit of a late lunch somehow. He took me to a little local establishment that was full of people from all over the world. The food was amazingly good! While we were in there a group starting singing. It was a group of Albanians celebrating Kosovo’s Independence. I’m not sure I have ever experienced anything quite like it. The Greeks and others starting clapping along, joining the celebration.

I am now getting ready to go to bed hoping for a safe trip to Turkey tomorrow. Turkey, of course, is my main focus.

Here are few pictures from today.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

A Few More Pictures

Here are a few pictures of the streets and the Temple of Zeus, only part of which stands now. It is larger than the Parthenon.

The weather was not so great today, so I didn’t spend as much time outside. I did read a little about Paul in Athens. The story of Acts 17 really “comes to life” for me now. Wow! I have a feeling you may hear a sermon from this chapter before too long.

I am feeling a little better. I am eager to gather with the church tomorrow and enjoy communion in several senses of the word.

What It’s All About

Last night a minister from the Church of Christ in Athens came by to see me. I had been in correspondence with Dino Roussos for a few weeks, so it was good to meet him face to face. Dino is a Grecian who has a true heart for the Lord.

The church here is very interesting. Athens is very cosmopolitan, and the church reflects that. On Sundays they have the following assemblies:

Greek 10-12
Bulgarian 1-3
Russian 4-5
English 6-8

I plan to attend the Russian and English assemblies tomorrow. The English assembly comprises a lot of people from the continent of Africa. Interesting.

As Dino and I talked last night about many things, he told me that he had a Bible study a little later on with a guy who had been coming to the Russian assembly. When I asked questions, Dino said, “Do you want to go with me?” I said, “Sure.”

Just riding in a car in Greece is quite an experience. Narrow streets. Cars constantly beeping at one another. Dart. Dive. Drive. Crazy. Chaos.

We made it safely, and I was warmly welcomed into the man’s apartment. His name is Gregory, an Armenian. He lives in Athens with his mother, brother and sister-in-law, and their baby. Gregory is trying to get his wife and son to Greece, but immigration laws have kept them out so far.

Gregory believes in Jesus, and his desire is to know him better. He spoke with passion, in Greek, about his desire to be a better follower of Christ. He and Dino dialogued, and I listened to their hearts. I was moved by the whole experience.

Gregory wants prayers for his walk with the Lord and for the safe immigration of his family. Will you pray for him? He and Dino are going to continue to meet to study the Bible. I hope to see Gregory on Sunday.

Friday, February 15, 2008

You need to pray harder for my health, please; still struggling some. In spite of not feeling too well I really enjoyed the day.

I went out this morning and walked around, eventually making my way to the The Agora. This is where Paul spent a lot of time while waiting on his traveling companions. It wasn’t hard to imagine all the activity of business and barter, especially when I witnessed a modern version of it this afternoon.

There is a museum located in the Agora. I have included a few photos of specific interest in the slide show below. The interested parties will be young mothers and old men who like to grill meat. You’ll see...

After a couple of hours of walking around in beautiful, warm, early spring, sunshine I was very tired, so I made my way back for a time of rest. I could stay down long, however. The weather was simply too inviting. It was about 60 and perfectly sunny.

This afternoon I made my way to Filopappos Hill or “The Hill of the Muses.” This is where poets of antiquity found inspiration. The great philosophers of antiquity also spent time on this hill. Tradition says that Socrates drank hemlock in a prison-cave located on this interesting mound, which also provides a stunning view of the Acropolis. I found inspiration here, inspiration to keep walking. I made a fairly large loop around the streets that surround the Acropolis. The streets and their many cafes were full of Greeks soaking up the sun, drinking various beverages while snacking on (to me) somewhat unfamiliar food. It was just wonderful! I only wish Kedra was here.

I am really enjoying Athens and am glad that I have a couple more days to explore...

Here are some pictures for you:

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Athens, Greece

Sorry about not connecting with you yesterday, but I spent most of the day in bed. I still don’t feel well, but I am up and trying to function. I think (hoping) I am better.

You may have heard about the earthquake that happened here this morning. You can read about it Here. Obviously I am OK, and I guess I missed experiencing it altogether. I didn’t feel anything, which is a shame. If you’re going to be in an earthquake, then you should get to feel it, right?

Today I went on a quick tour of Athens. I met a couple of interesting people on the tour. The first guy was from Israel. He is in Athens to follow the Israeli professional basketball team; they play Greece tonight, I think. He follows them to all their away games and has for years. I asked him, “Do you remember a player from a few years ago, J.J. Eubanks?” With great enthusiasm he said, “Oh yes!!” With my chest appropriately puffed I said, “He’s a good friend of mine.” Small world.

I also talked quite a bit with a man named Russell who was traveling with his wife Wendy. They are from New Zealand. We talked quite a bit about church. They are strong believers and are a part of a house church movement. They are staying where I am, so I hope to talk further with them.

Our tour took us to a few places around Athens, but clearly the highlight of the tour is The Acropolis [Click on the link for lots of good information and pictures.] A lot of the buildings, including the Parthenon, are covered in scaffolding as a long-term project of restoration is underway.

I really enjoyed standing on “Mars Hills” or the Areopagus. This of course is where Paul stood as he addressed the philosophers and others of Athens and proclaimed the message of Christ. It was awesome standing literally where Paul stood about 2,000 years ago. Undoubtedly he looked up at the Parthenon and the other buildings that been there for about 500 years before he was born. Amazing things to think about.

I got really tired after standing on the Areopagus for awhile (I had to preach to the pagan Athenians; just kidding), so I took the 5 minute walk back to my room. As I was walking down the beautiful narrow street, it dawned on me that Paul could have stayed in the same hotel. Just kidding.

I will return to the area tomorrow. There is much more to see and experience.

I would appreciate your prayers for a quick and full recovery of my health.

Here are some pictures from today.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

In Athens

I’m in Athens now. It’s been a long day in some ways, but it is very nice being in Greece. It seems to be a lot more user friendly. I am staying right below the Acropolis, which is all lit up at night. It’s beautiful!

More later..

Monday, February 11, 2008

From Russia with Love

It’s been a good day! The weather was supposed to be sunny and a little cooler; turns out it was a little cooler with no sun. It was in the mid 20s today, I think. The last couple of days it has been in the low 30s. Thanks to Michelle’s hand knitted wool hat my head is staying warm!

Today after breakfast I made my way to the Metro. Wow! Monday morning commute is a little different than Saturday and Sunday traffic. Think “sardines.” Today I decided to visit the Andrei Rublev Museum at St. Andronik Monastery. I made my way there by Metro, followed by about a half mile walk. It was really neat – the walk and being there.

The Savior Cathedral was awesome. It is so old! The monastery was established in 1357, and the building was built in the 1420s. Rublev lived part of his life here, and it was where he died. The building had such a rich feel to it. There were candles burning, and the iconstasis was simply beautiful. A couple of Orthodox people came in and prayed, adding a candle to the several already burning.

I bought a miniature Holy Trinity icon for 20 Rubles, which is less than a dollar. What a bargain for such a precious on-going memory!

I have a cold, which is not good, but life goes on... I did get a little tired today, so I simply went back to Red Square for a little while to soak up a little more Russian culture. It really is amazing to stand there and think about history. I would have liked to visit the Kremlin and a few other things, but I did what I came to do. No regrets.

Tomorrow I travel to Athens, Greece; I’ll stay there about a week. This will be the most relaxing part of the trip. I have no particular agenda that dictates a schedule. I know some of you will find this had to believe but I am looking forward to some spontaneity!

Oh one more thing about being here. I guess I look like a Russian. I was trying really hard to blend in. I think it worked. No one stared at me, and today a couple of people stopped me (the one who cannot need read or speak Russian) and asked me questions. I don’t know what they asked, but they were shocked when I opened my mouth! It must be the hat.

I’ll try to post again from Athens in about 24 hours...

Here are a few pictures for you from my day.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Around Moscow

It was another interesting day around Moscow. I started the day tired, since I still didn’t sleep too well last night. [I am hoping tonight is the night I sleep well.]

My hotel includes breakfast, and it was very good. There were some interesting things offered, including cold cuts and various kinds of salads. I opted for a form of fried potatoes, a slightly different looking bacon, juice, water, coffee, and some bread with honey. Hmm. Those probably wasn’t the healthiest choices. Oh well. I walked enough today to take care of everything.

Today was the day I was to finally see the icon pictured on this blog. Several of Andrei Rublev’s icons are in the Tretyakov State Gallery. I don’t know of anyone who understands my fascination with these things, so I won’t say a whole lot. I will say that it was a wonderfully moving experience. They were larger than I imagined and more captivating in person. They all date back to the 1400s. Wow!

My plan today was to see the icons and some of the other amazing art in the Gallery and then possibly go to another monastery and museum. I got to the Metro just fine, and then rode it to Red Square. It was really strange walking into Red Square. Of course growing up during the height of the Cold War I remember seeing it on TV a lot. It was always frightening to see the Soviet army display their military might on the bricks on which I walked today. St. Basil’s Cathedral was simply stunning to see.

Even though I enjoyed seeing all the things in and around Red Square, including an Orthodox Church broadcasting its worship over a P.A. system, my main goal was to see the icons foremost and first . This turned into a 2 hour frustrating exercise in futility. Evidently the dozens of people I asked had never heard of the Gallery or did not know where it was. I was told to go here, there, and back to where I started. What to do? I needed another “angel.”

I saw a person coming and decided not to ask her, but at the last second she made eye contact. I asked her if she knew where the Gallery was, showing her a picture. She answered me in English, saying, “I don’t know.” At least her answer was in English! Then she stopped and pulled out a map and started working with me. She thought she knew where it was and indicated that she might go too. I said, “Do you want to go together?” She said yes, and it was an unbelievable blessing.

Afet, from Kazakhstan, led us to the Gallery. She asked several people how to get there, and once inside she was able to get me to the icons. She left me there for more than an hour, and then, together, we took in a lot of the wonderful Russia art in this facility. She was able to explain a lot of it to me. We had a very interesting time of conversing about life and culture. At the end of the day I left her at bus stop and made my way back to the Metro, thankful that God had provided what I needed again today.

On my way back through Red Square an Orthodox “sister” held out a little money box and asked for some. I showed her a $5 (U.S.) and asked if she would take it. She nodded enthusiastically and then tried to talk to me. We didn’t understand each other’s words, but our hearts communicated somehow. I stood there for a little while, and she disappeared. She came back out of the building and brought me a picture of an icon and blessed me with the sign of the cross. Interesting (and very nice)!

The ride from Red Square back to my hotel was smooth and well-timed, which has not been the case so far. I didn’t eat lunch today, and I didn’t want to spend $40 in my hotel for a meal of grilled chicken and vegetables (last night). I decided to spend about $7 and eat at a McDonalds. There is one by the Metro station. I don’t usually eat at McDonalds, but it sure tasted good tonight.

I am still not sure what is going to happen tomorrow, but I’ll let you know tomorrow night what I did.

My impression of Russia so far is mixed. It has been very gray, and the snow is dirty and melting just a little bit. There are a lot of muddy puddles on the sidewalks. The people that I have met have not been very helpful or friendly. (But I saw a different side of them today as I watched Afet talk to them.) In spite of the frustration of communication it is an amazing feeling to be here in a place that is so foreign in so many ways. Viewing the icons today made everything worthwhile.

Love to all.

Here are a few slides. Remember to move your curser over them until you can click to open up the show, complete with captions.

Oh, one other thing! Michelle knitted me a really cool wool hat, and I am wearing in my "Russian" picture below.

Saturday, February 09, 2008

On the Way (and There)!

I am sitting in the JFK airport in New York awaiting my flight to Moscow, which boards in about an hour. The flight from Indy was good. This morning (Friday) Kedra and I, along with Maddie, met Lester at the Cracker Barrel at 38th Street in Indy to celebrate Lester’s 20th birthday with a nice breakfast. Can it really be 20 years? No kidding - it seems like yesterday that Lester was born.

I had quite a scare in the Indy airport, probably not the kind you would think of. I had more than an hour before I boarded, so I decided to fire up my computer and check email. I was hoping to have some crucial correspondence from a person in Moscow (more about that later).

Anyway, I decided to save my battery, so I hooked up the charger, plugging it in to an outlet located next to a seat in the waiting area. After a few minutes I noticed that the battery was being depleted. As I investigated I discovered that the charger was not working. I started checking all the connections and discovered that it would work for a little while then quit.

"Oh no! What am I going to do if this thing is dead? How am I going to blog and keep everybody informed. How am I going to communicate?" These and a lot of other questions came rushing to my mind.

I called Todd, who shared my pain and concern. We tried to talk it through. Nothing was working. He finally said, "Go try another outlet." I am here to tell you that the man is brilliant! It was the plug! I guess it was shorting out. I can’t tell you how relieved I was to not have the problem I thought I had!

Coming into JFK we flew right over Manhattan. I could see Central Park, the Empire State building, and the United Nations. That was pretty cool! I couldn’t see the Statue of Liberty; it was on the other side of the plane. I guess I flew over Jerry and Cathy’s house, but I didn’t see them.

Well, if all goes according to plan I will post this from Moscow in a few hours.

I have been making some contact with Christians in Moscow. Darrell Simon knew some people over there, so I have been corresponding with a Nigerian named Israel. He works at least part time as a tour guide, so I may employ him to do a day trip to a monastery that I want to see. I THINK he is meeting me at the airport.

This is going to be a wonderful adventure! I hope you will check back often. Feel free to share it with your friends as well.

Love to all!

I am in Russia. It’s been quite an eventful day in this old land. No one met me at the airport, which was/is fine. This led to quite an adventure on buses and subways. Even though everything is written in Russia. I got the routes figured out pretty quickly (user friendly).

I had a hard time getting from my metro stop to the hotel. After standing on the street for about an hour trying to figure out what to do, and even asking several people who did not speak English, I just prayed for some kind of direction.

Next thing you know a guy pulls up in an old beat up car. He looks at me, and I look at him. He could tell I needed help, I guess. He spoke very little English, but we negotiated a deal for him to take me to my hotel for 200 Rubles (about 8 dollars). We had an interesting ride. (Yes, I was aware that I was riding with a total stranger in a very foreign land.)

We talked, if you could call it that, about icons and Andrei Rublev. He understood that part and said, "He genius." I said, "Yes." I tried to talk to him about the Orthodox church, but he could not understand me.

He let me out, and we shook hands. An angel, perhaps?

I am very tired. I didn’t sleep much on the airplane for some reason, so I missed a night’s sleep. I am trying to stay up a little while longer. It is about 7 p.m. here. We are 8 hours ahead of you.

More tomorrow...

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

“You’ve Been Quiet”

Yeah, I know. It’s been by design.

I’ve spent the last couple of weeks trying to break old routines and habits, which I think is part of what a sabbatical is supposed to do. It’s been good. I haven’t been sitting around doing nothing, however. I have been doing different things.

One of my students emailed me and asked if I have been thinking deep thoughts, etc. The answer is "No, not really." I think I think too much sometimes, so I’ve quit thinking. Just kidding! Actually I have concentrated on being quiet and living simply in the presence of the Lord. It has been good, peaceful, and joyful. I think the deep thoughts and creativity come later. We’ll see.

I leave Friday for Russia, Greece, and Turkey. I told a friend that I have a mixture of dread and excitement regarding this trip. I dread being away from my family and the comfort of home, but the excitement of seeing and being in places so rich is history, biblical and beyond, is enough to make me get on the plane.

I have been a little surprised about how much work is involved in getting ready to go on this trip. There are lots of things to figure out, and of course I want to read about where I am going. I’ve had to let some of the reading go, however. There is just too much information to process.

I hope to be able to post blogs about everyday I am gone. This will be dictated somewhat by internet availability. I have done some research, and I think I am ok everywhere. I MAY try posting some video this time, but I believe Turkey has banned YouTube, so I will probably be restricted (and very careful) there.

I would greatly appreciate your prayers for the safety and security of my family and for me during this time of separation.

Check back in soon!

R.I.P. Smokey

I knew the day would come, and, really, it has not fully come yet. It’s almost here; it’s just a matter of time. Smokey is all but dead.

Dr. Brent Fields took one listen and said, “Yep. It’s over.” (or something like that).

I mildly protested, “Can I even drive it to town?”

He replied, “Take your cell phone, if you do.”

So Smokey sits in my drive way; heart beating but no brain waves. It’s time to pull the plug.

We bought Smokey back in 1995 right when Ben was born. We were styling! Four kids, a lovely wife, and a nice mini-van. Life was good. Smokey was good to me, very good. Why do I want to break out in song. “Precious Memories! How they linger...”

What now? Well, we are going to make Smokey an organ donor. The boys are needing some key parts for their (long, drawn-out) Bronco project, so I think we are going to donate Smokey to a place that has some of those needed key parts. It should be a good deal for everyone. Hopefully by the time I get back they will have the Bronco running and I can drive it or Luke’s truck. I like running, but I think I might need a vehicle at times.