All that remains of our journeys together is the trip from Athens home. It has been a great few weeks together!
Here we are at the airport in Greece! One of our group will return to Israel, travel safely, Jamie! One of our group will head home from Philadelphia, travel safely, Jessica!
The rest of us will be in Nashville tonight! See you in Music City!
We have been traveling for eighteen days. Tomorrow we begin our journey home. One way of thinking about this trip is we have been on a journey home since we began and along the way discovered things about ourselves that will forever change us, our faith, and the way we see the world. When we come home we will come home different people.
In our final group meeting last night I asked the students to describe traveling through Israel, Turkey, and Greece in one word. Here's what they said with mine and Dr. Miller's words added in as well.
Enriching. 3D. Quenching. Enlightening. Awakening. Rattling. Pivotal. Rewarding. Revelatory. Eye-opening. Revitalizing. Self-examination. Refreshing. Seeking. Affirming. Defining. Unity. Chosen. Growth. Family. Conversation. Thankful.
We have had such a good time together. This has been great group of students with which to travel so it was natural for our conversation to turn to all the good times we have had together. The students then said they needed a list of words or phrases to capture the light-hearted moments of the trip. Many of these are inside jokes so you'll just have to ask them what they mean.
wifi? Cats. 4:30 a.m.? Ruins. Carbs. Dessert. Walking. Falafal. Chacos. "15 minute walk." "Imagine, Please." "It's really beautiful actually." Room 133. 21st birthday. Couuuntrie? "Cough." Salmon. "This is the question mark I place before you." "Most probably." "Oooooohhhhhh." Jumping off the pier. "Beat the Russians. Quickly."
We are exploring Athens today in groups and then tomorrow we will turn toward Music City. Thanks for reading.
Dr. Darrell Gwaltney
I will dare to say we saw one of the most stunning parts of Greece today. We began our day loading the bus at 8 a.m., and ventured northwest of Athens. After 3 hours in a bus with a pitstop for cheese pies and coffee, we arrived in Delphi.
Delphi today is a small town, but in ancient times was strictly a sanctuary, or place of worship. The ruins we saw were slim, but there were remnants from the Roman, Greek and Christian Byzantine time. Since Delphi was only a sanctuary in ancient times, the only buildings that used to be were temples.
The ancient Greek myth of Delphi focuses on the Greek god, Apollo. According the the myth, Apollo rode on a dolphin to this sanctuary, which is why it is called Delphi (short for "dolphin" in Greek). Delphi was famous for its temple that contained the oracle with a hot spring. Inside this temple stood the priestess, who would inhale the steam from the hot spring after chewing on leaves, and the priest that was present would interpret what she was expressing due to her hallucinations. People from all over Greece would come to Delphi because they believed this priestess' words would tell their futures.
Although this site does not have biblical background (other than Acts 16 with the psychic Paul encountered from Delphi), the Greek mythology of Delphi was intriguing - we have more in common with the people who were traveling to Delphi than we initially realize. In these ancient times, all these people were after the knowledge of what the future holds. What is one of the most common answers humans seek? What the future looks like. We may seek this answer in a different manner, but ultimately, we are all after the same thing.
We had some extra time to explore the ruins after our tour. At the very top of the mountain is a stadium, which is the best preserved stadium in Greece. Not only was Delphi a meeting place for religious purposes, but also for political, artistic and even sports purposes. The stadium we discovered was home to many sports, such as chariot racing and wrestling. Also, during our extra time to explore the ruins, we ran into students from MTSU (Middle Tennessee State University)...talk about a small world.
After our time at the ruins, we went to the Museum of Delphi, which contains statues from the fourth, fifth and sixth century. We then traveled 3 hours back to Athens through the breathtaking mountains.
It was another amazing day journeying in the biblical world.
Today I write to you bearing good news . . . . We have safely traveled from Kusadasi, Turkey, to Athens, the heart of Greece. Our morning started as we left our seaside resort at 5:30 a.m. After a short fifteen minute drive, we arrived at the smallest airport I have ever seen. We are talking about checkin, security, corner market, and waiting area all within a single room about the size of two basketball courts. From there, we flew from the island of Samos straight to Athens. That's right, we did it. After more than two weeks of touring two countries, we have arrived at our final destination.
Although I sit safely in this gorgeous city, I must admit I feel in danger. In fact, I wold dare say that this is the most dangerous time of our trip. In danger of what? Not of crime, not of getting pick-pocketed, not of physical harm, but in danger of missing the full picture. The fatigue of traveling is with me at every site. The temptation to tune out the tour guide and dream about returning to the hotel is stronger than ever. The time and distance between al of us and home is smaller than ever. The challenge before me, as I approach the final three days abroad, is to be present and not miss out on the final pieces of the trip. So this is the danger, missing out on the end of our trip.
I'll let you into my mind a little bit. Every time I arrived at a site this last week I had this thought, "Oh . . . great . . . ruins of another ancient Roman city. I guess the last ten weren't good enough." After waking up at 4:00 a.m. this morning and traveling all morning, my thoughts upon our arrival at the Acropolis were no different. Thankfully though, I was walking through thousands of years worth of history. I couldn't help but find myself intrigued and immersed in the ancient world around me.
Our tour guide here in Greece is amazing. Her name is Andie. She is super fun and has incredible amounts of knowledge and wisdom about Greek culture and history. The first place she took us was Mars Hill (see picture below). The biblical story of Mars Hill can be found in Acts 17. In this passage, Paul arrives in Athens and preaches on Mars Hill before the council of Areopagus. Andie made the story come alive by teaching us what life was like for the Athenians during that time. Paul walked into a society that deeply intellectual, critical, and which worshipped the goddess Athena, among others. Athens was physically, spiritually, and physiologically exhausted and Paul came onto the scene believing he could convert them. You can find out how the story plays out for yourself if you want, but the point is, through visiting Athens today I gained a deeper understanding of the biblical world that we find in the New Testament. That biblical world is what we are discovering here everyday. Even in the danger we are facing, we stay safe as we daily take a step deeper into the first century world and find ourselves that much closer to home.
After saying a bittersweet goodbye to the majestic country of Turkey early in the morning, we began traversing the waters of the Aegean Sea by way of ferry to Patmos Island. We were met with a vibrant sunrise and slowly dissipating fog, as well as a school of dolphin coursing through the blue waters creased by our vessel. Though I would miss Turkey, I was also excited to see what Greece would hold. It is strange to me how each country seems to carry a persona all its own: resulting from a combination of geography, culture, leadership, and people. Boarding the ferry, I already felt the atmosphere change. Not in a necessarily positive or negative manner—just as a fact and a wonder. My first taste of Greece, even as we were yet on the sea, was one of peace and great beauty. I am excited to see how the character of this country develops as we move from the islands to the city of Athens tomorrow.
But for yesterday, most of us found ourselves sleeping for most of the 4-hour journey to Patmos—lack of sleep catching up with us. In all, today risked being one of the most grueling days of the trip so far simply for this reason, compounded by climate change from cool and rainy Turkey to the hot Grecian sun. Yet through all this, the day was certainly a highlight of my own experiences on this trip so far. The white, reflexive paint of the homes littering the lush landscape of Patmos was only the beginning of inspiration scenes that came my way that day. Being in the cave where John may have written Revelation, and certainly on the island where he did so, had a profound effect on me. Something about that place made me want to stay there all day and prayerfully reread the book in the place it was penned, the place its words were actually alive and experienced.
It is true that there are a few convincing theories as to whether the book was written by the apostle himself, or another Christian man named John. But to be honest, I might be most fond of the idea that this John was not one of the twelve, but a lesser-known, “common” believer to whom Jesus graciously chose to reveal Himself. This John, whoever he may be, was so intentional about his faith that he went to live in a cave to focus on and deepen his relationship with God. As a result, Christ gave him vision of His active presence and sovereignty throughout the past, future, and the present state of human life.
And God still moves and speaks through things little and great; not sticking only to one means of bringing revelation or another, one type of person or another. One thing that has been so important about this trip is discovering how by visiting ancient sights, we can better relate what has happened in the past to the modern world and our own experiences of faith today. I have found something significant about considering Christ revealing His glory in such a powerful way to a common yet passionate believer. Indeed, God honors the faith of a pure and humble heart. It is encouragement to know God uses the weak to shame the strong, even today, even in me.
Mary Elizabeth Vance
“To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood, and has made us to be a kingdom and priests to serve his God and Father —to him be glory and power for ever and ever! Amen.”
Our time in Turkey concluded with a morning in Ephesus and an afternoon in Miletus, continuing our journey through the lands where the early Christians lived, worked, and worshipped. For me, Ephesus was the highlight of today, and one of the sites I was most excited to see for the first time. It really helped us visualize what the major cities of Asia Minor looked like in the first century, due to the 150 years of excavation work that have been done there. At one point, I turned around to take a picture of a public square and found myself wishing there weren't so many tour groups behind us so I could get a clear picture. But then I realized that this busy crossroads would have been full of people day and night, and enjoyed my more realistic bustling shot!
Two other things (among many!) stick out for me from Ephesus. We had some good conversations in the midst of our tour about how the message of Jesus would have challenged some of the hierarchies so evident in the city we walked through, even 2000 years later, and we considered where our own hierarchies need to be challenged by our faith today. As a Bible professor, it was pretty cool to get to teach about the story of Paul and the Ephesian silversmith Demetrius (Acts 19), right there in Ephesus! And finally, it was a privilege to sing Amazing Grace with three talented Belmont students, in the middle of an ancient theater.
The day was capped off by some down time back at our hotel: swimming in the Aegean Sea, relaxing and talking on the beach, and watching the sun set over the water. Next it's on the Greece, the final leg of our adventure!
~ Dr. Amanda Miller
Today was quite different than the rest of our trip so far. It was the first day that we really got to take some time to relax and enjoy the local culture of Turkey…and spend some souvenir money!
We started off the day going to the Church of Polycarp, which is a Catholic church in Izmir. It had beautiful paintings covering the walls and ceiling and had many statues and ornamental decorations. This is the oldest church in Izmir and is one of the seven churches of Revelation. Following this, we went to Smyrna, where one of the letters of Revelation pointed to. These ruins have been excavated and restored to what they would have looked like when it was built and they were incredible to walk through.
Then started the other part of the day. Our tour guide, Ozan, took us to three places in the afternoon. First, we went to a family owned Turkish rug factory. Here, they provided us an incredible lunch of many courses which I'm pretty sure we all agreed was the best meal we've had on this trip so far. Following lunch, we got to watch how rugs are handmade here. The pace at which these men and women create these rugs is unbelievable and they are all so unique and beautiful. The sellers of these rugs were very anxious to roll out all of their rugs for us (probably at least 50 rugs) in a big show room and we had fun walking around on all of the silk rugs wishing we had enough money to afford one of them!
Next, we went to a pottery market where we got to see some workers sculpting bowls on a pottery wheel and painting very intricate designs on them. It was fascinating to watch the work that went into each of the pieces of pottery in their store. I really enjoyed shopping around in their store because each of their pieces is so unique and they look like they took so much time and effort to create.
Finally, we went to a leather-making store. I'd definitely say this was the most interesting part of the day. We started off by watching an entire personal runway show of leather jackets, ending with a few people from our group getting up on the runway to model a few pieces of clothing. We had a fun time experiencing the life of a model for a few short minutes. This concluded our activities for the day.
We arrived at our resort that seemed too good to be true, but it was true! It's like a little town almost, it has a private beach, pools, and a huge lobby with stores and dining. A bunch of us went swimming in the Aegean Sea and enjoyed the biggest buffet dinner that I've ever seen. Today was a good day and I can't wait to see what else is to come in Turkey!
I am not quite sure what I expected Turkey to look like or offer, but this is totally different from whatever that was. You know in the movie Happy Gilmore when he is told to go to his happy place, well I think that’s where I am now—shore lines, green lands, mountains, and space for the mind to relax.
I hope I speak for the rest of the group when I say the terrain of Turkey is so incredibly impressive. Most of day ten was spent on the bus, and when we weren’t catching up on sleep, we got to enjoy the expansive areas of lands- leaving a lot of room for the soul to wander. Olive trees lined the roads, and mountains created backdrops for each body of water we passed.
Our lunch break prefaced a ferry ride across the Dardanelles Strait. This was definitely a nice break from the long day on the bus—fresh air and refreshed spirits.
We visited the premature excavation site of Troas. Acts chapters 16 and 20 tell of Paul’s travels to this city, and this is where he brings Eutychus back to life. I get lost in the story right at the end when as Paul leaves, “the people were greatly comforted”. Their comfort seems to not only come from his miracle works, but yet just simply his presence. Simply being here I feel comforted as well.
The ancient folk stood upon this land and witnessed a miracle, and I get to stand on that same land and baste in the glory of the natural miracles created by the hands of God—green lands, mountains, and the sea. At this same site, we received a bit of V.I.P. treatment. The process of recovering Troas is in its early stages, and we got to explore the site before it becomes “tourist friendly." Some pieces of the city have been uncovered, but it is safe to say much history remains buried beneath our feet [Chacos]. We trekked down into the recently uncovered bazaar of Troas. It is important to appreciate this site as we recognize how much work and time goes into excavating ancient areas. We saw this one in the beginning stages in order to prepare ourselves for what we will see in Ephesus, which is completely exposed.
We drove down to the harbor and I must say it was one of the most beautiful settings I have ever seen. I heard Liz say on the first day of our trip “my heart is so full”. Well, this was my most fulfilling moment, and I can guarantee at least 50% of us were truly lost in the scene.
We made a quick pit stop in Canakale to see the replica of the Trojan horse. This specific replica was the one used in the movie Troy.
I’m noticing less Turkish people speak English than Israelis. In Turkey we seem to be visiting more obscure sites in more local areas, so that might explain some language barriers. Overall, I have heard a common consensus that we all would love to live in this country at one point in our loud, adventurous lives. This place thousands of miles from home feels so comfortable and might one-up any other happy place of mine.
It was an early morning with our wake up call beginning at 4:45 a.m. We needed as much time as possible to reach the airport to ensure that we could make it through security and reach our gate on time. Israeli airport security, however, was not as bad as I had heard. We made it through all the checkpoints with speed and reached the gate with plenty of time to spare.
Despite the early start, we ended up arriving in Istanbul two hours late. We sat on the runway in Israel for an hour waiting to take off, and we had to circle Istanbul for 45 minutes before we could land. It was raining when we landed and our tour guide, Ozan, said we brought the poor weather with us. in spite of the weather, we were able to see the Hagia Sophia.
This beautiful church turned mosque turned museum was truly magnificent. Church and state are completely separate in Turkey even though 90% of the population is Muslim. The Hagia Sophia has the fourth largest dome in the world (see the picture below). The building was large, so large in fact that it began to shift and has become structurally unsound. Beautiful Byzantine mosaics could be found on the inside due to the restoration for the museum. It was once one of the truly most beautiful churches in the world.
We then visited the Blue Mosque which was right across the street. It was incredible to hear the call to prayer while standing outside this magnificent building. After removing our shoes, we were able to enter the mosque and marvel at its beauty. The roof consisted of several half domes and mosaic tiles also covered the inside of the building. The mosque gets its name from the blue tiles on the inside (see picture below). While the mosque certainly smelled like feet, it was easy to ignore in favor of gazing at our surroundings. Even though it was a Muslim place of worship, it was still amazing to stand in such a religious place.
We began yesterday in Jerusalem and finished the day in Istanbul. Once we arrived we were able to see both the Hagia Sofia and the Blue Mosque. We finished the day exploring a local pedestrian shopping area.
Watch for blog reflections from the students
“Oh to grace how great a debtor
Daily I’m constrained to be.
Let thy goodness like a fetter
Bind my wand’ring heart to thee.
Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it
Prone to leave the One I love!
Here’s my heart, Lord, take and seal it
Seal it for thy courts above.”
Today was our last day of touring in Israel. I am not alone in saying that I am filled with mixed emotions at our leaving this beautiful, humbling, thought-provoking country. We are not even half-way through our journey, but I am sure every group member has felt the hand of God pulling at their heartstrings to some degree thus far.
Going into this trip, I had vague expectations concerning what my emotional response to the various locations would be. I expected to be moved at the Garden of Gethsemane, the Mount of Beatitudes, and the Garden Tomb. I approached each place with an open heart ready to receive some revelation. But it never came. While in deep contemplation at each of these locations, I could imagine in my mind’s eye Jesus weeping, teaching, dying, and living once again. But to put it bluntly, despite knowing God’s omnipresence, He just didn’t seem…there.
I suppose that’s why today, at St. Anne’s Church—located at the start of the Via Dolorosa (“Way of Suffering,” marking the path Christ walked to his crucifixion) in the Old City of Jerusalem—I felt the overwhelming presence of God when I least expected it. This church, built by the Crusaders, is one of the few that has never been destroyed, making it nearly 1000 years old. It is known for its excellent acoustics. Four students in our group studying music volunteered to sing a portion of a hymn—I chose the refrain of “I Surrender All.” Then our group slowly sang the hymn “Come Thou Fount.” The end of each line would echo off the high arches, lingering for seconds after the phrase was completed. We reached the verse above, and my voice caught in my throat. The combination of the intense fellowship, praise, and love would not allow me to go on as the tears came.
“Here’s my heart, Lord, take and seal it; seal it for thy courts above.” I believe that today, in St. Anne’s Church in Jerusalem, we heard what will be the sound of God’s courts in Heaven.
Today started with another great morning joke from Yossi, our guide, on the way to the Israeli Museum. This museum offered a 1/100 scale model of Jesusalem in the time of Jesus which allowed our group to grasp more fully the location of the sites that we have and will visit. Yossi was able to map out and explain some of the routes Jesus had most likely taken during his life and ministry. The museum was also home to the Shrine of the Book, the new house inherited by the Dead Sea Scrolls, this collection of scrolls includes the famous Isaiah Scroll which has further validated the historical accuracy of the Old Testament within academia.
Our daily dose of adventure peaked in Hezekiah's Tunnel, a several thousand year old underground passageway that led to a spring. We weaved down through a series of staircases that led through an active archeological dig site on the way to the tunnel. We felt ill prepared for what lay ahead. It was knee deep, cold running water, in a third of a mile long passage way chiseled through solid rock, at times illuminated by the loud group in front of us and at times by nothing. The tunnel ceiling pushed down on us at times so that we had to bend very low. It also narrowed at points and caused us to rub shoulders with the new rock faces unveiled only about three thousand years ago. This connected us with the multitudes of brave people who went to extreme measures for water in ancient Jerusalem. This also highlighted the ease of my life. Needless to say, the tunnel was one of the best moments of my life.
I suppose you could call this trip a spiritual pilgrimage. I remember, though, being in several historical holy places and only feeling a sense of awe for the human architectural achievement. For example, yesterday at the site of Second Temple my spiritual expectancy was slightly unfulfilled (although I still appreciated the historical significance). Anthony, our British guide at the Garden Tomb site, highlighted my emotion perfectly. We were sitting, looking onto a rock face with a humble three foot opening as Anthony kindly called out, "I hope you brought Jesus with you, because you certainly won't find him in here. My hope is that he rests with you in your heart." The statement could seem cliche at face value, but to me it rang out with resounding significance. For so long, they had just seemed like words but I get it now--I am the temple . . . he lives in me.
Thank you, Jesus, for all you have done for me even in my spiritual ignorance. May I, through you, remain this fruitful in pursuit of knowing you.
Oh, and I also found out today that the place that Jesus was most likely crucified is now a street level parking lot. That is humbling.
I do not fully know how I can put today into words. Jesus reached my heart today in ways that I have not felt in a long time.
Being in Israel has been amazing. I'm pretty sure I've exclaimed, "I'm in Israel!" at least four times a day up to this point.
Today was so real because I felt Jesus.
We started out today at the Mount of Olives. To say the views were breathtaking may be the biggest understatement of the year. As we walked down Palm Sunday Road a beggar passed by us. He was old. His back was bent over and his eyes were downtrodden. His rickety cane barely offered him support. My heart ached for this man and I wanted to run out to him, grab his shoulder and help him down the winding road. But I didn't. I was afraid of being chastised for leaving the group. I was afraid of breaking some custom. I was just afraid.
I went into the Garden of Gethsemane and l and looked upon the olive trees that looked upon Jesus in one of his moments of greatest trial and heartache. These trees covered him when he was betrayed, when his friends abandoned him, and when they left him in the hands of persecutors.
Jesus went through all of this pain for me. For his people . Yet, he also went through it all for the beggar. As we talked tonight as a group, Jennifer pointed out that Jesus would not have rushed to the church to be reverent. He would have held the beggar and spent time healing him.
I can say I am a Christian until my lungs give out, but if I do not live my Christianity how will I prove it? God reminded me today of those that need Him.
He came to seek and to save the lost. Anything I do for the least, I do for Him. He loves me so much that he laid below an olive tree while his soul was overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. I need to show that kind of love for his people.
Never again will I blow past a beggar out of fear. Never again will I be too rushed to show the love of God.
Please hold me accountable.
Over a thousand years before Patrick Henry said "Give me liberty, or give me death," to the Virginia Convention, a stronghold of Jewish rebels were actually making this decision on a mountain top in the Judean Desert. While visiting Israel we had the opportunity to visit Masada, the location where these rebels decided they would rather die for their identity than serve as slaves to the Romans. Masada, the name of the location, was actually built as retreat for Herod the Great. This fortified area was built on top of a mountain and was an engineering marvel with a system of trenches to collect the rainwater for the Jewish people living there. Once the Romans had destroyed much of Israel they fought to destroy Masada. After a long battle, in which the Jewish rebels knew they would not win, they decided to choose death instead of slavery. Each man killed his own children and wife, and then a few remaining had their name written on a "lot," a broken piece of poetry, to decide which man would die last. This man was responsible for killing himself. Thousand of years later they discovered many of these "lots," with the names of the men written in Hebrew (see the picture of the lots that were found). They made the ultimate sacrifice to preserve the identity of the Jewish people.
Today the nation of Israel considers this one of the bravest and most important acts in Jewish history. After riding the cable car up the mountain we immediately felt the importance of what happened in this location. We are constantly seeing movies and hearing tells and stories like what happened on that mountain top, but to be standing in the room where these men wrote their names on the lots, was incredible. It's unreal to be standing in the remains of a building over a thousand years old, especially one that contains such meaningful history.
After leaving Masada we spent the afternoon floating in the dead sea. Our tour guide told us we couldn't stand more than 15 minutes in the sea, we didn't believe him. After we had floated around and covered ourselves in the rejuvenating mud, our skin started to burn and we needed to get out! Much to our surprise (not to our guide's) we had spent about 15 minutes in the sea.
So far this trip has been everything we expected and so much more. We are experiencing things we never dreamed of experiencing, and learning more than textbooks can ever teach us! We are learning more than then history of archeological sites, but what they mean to people and a nation. As our guide said "Let the ruins speak to you." I think we're starting to hear them loud and clear.
We have arrived in Jerusalem this evening after a full day journeying around the area of the Dead Sea. Our hotel has a beautiful view of Mount Zion, the Old City, and the Mount of Olives. More from the student perspective coming soon...