The Pauline Mission: Jan Term Travel Seminar to Turkey

Course Description: The purpose of this travel seminar is to introduce participants to the history, culture, and geography of the Mediterranean World at the beginning of the Christian era. The seminar consists of lectures, readings, visits to sites and museums, and a research paper. The seminar focuses on the cities of the Pauline mission in Turkey and Greece. Places visited may or may not include Ephesus, Antioch of Pisidia, Pergamum, and Athens.

Jan Term Group Photo in Turkey- Reenacting the Battle of Troy

Students re-enacting the Battle of Troy.

John Harrison1/14, Monday, On the bus from Kusadesi to Sardis

I want to start the day with thanks, that I can read Galatians on my way to Galatia, while listening to jazz and feeling rested. Last night, most of the group went to dip our feet in the Aegean Sea, and then sat down in the cold sand for a Sunday evening worship service. Kathy read a devotional, Roberta and Stella offered prayers, Sarah sang, and I gave thanks and read out of Ephesians. Thank you Lord, for the water that carried ships that paved the way for us to come to the faith. What a miracle the sea can be.

Even better than a meaningful worship was a 50-ish minute run Kathy, Sarah and I took immediately after along the Aegean waterfront. It was dusk when we started, and dark brought lightning striking in the near distance. We all ran at our own pace, and so I bounced between Kathy and Sarah, chasing Kathy up the hill, doubling back to cheer Sarah on, and then turning to catch Kathy again. We made it back to the hotel after 40 minutes, but we wanted to go longer. We made another half-mile along the waterfront when we saw a cool 12th century fortress out on the water, connected to us by a pier. The lightning met us there, but we were not afraid. We climbed out to sit on the rocks and feel the calm of the sea beneath violent wind and thunder. The view of town on the way back was spectacular, with the whole city of Kusadesi lit up on a hill over the sea. We pondered how powerful the ancient darkness must have been, and what a shepherd Paul must have been to keep sheep calm in a storm.

John Harrison, Junior from Atlanta, Georgia

Lindsay ConradAlmost every morning we woke up to the call the prayer – sometimes several calls to prayer. Mosques in different parts of town would start the call to prayer at differing times – like there was disagreement or uncertainty about when prayer should begin. This persisted through each day as echoes of the call to prayer rang out around lunch time and again in the afternoons.

While it was a beautiful reminder of the culture and faith that surrounded us, I was also painfully aware of disagreements and disunity that might have caused miscommunication or refusal to ring out one sounding call to prayer. Oddly enough, it was like looking into a mirror – an identical representation of how Christians in America seem to act across denominational lines. We all gather for worship and preach from the same holy book… but our melodies seem to clash when it would sound much better if we started the song together. 

Lindsay Conrad, Senior from Lynchburg, Virginia

Sarah de la FuenteI love to bake. I am good at it. While baking is scientific, grieving most certainly is not. Everyone makes their own way through grief. I started this trip while I was already in the middle of the journey of grieving my mother’s death.

Baking—in its science— also requires time. Learning to read Greek in Seminary, I revisited a long-neglected passion for classical studies. In Greek, I found some happiness within my grief. I could lose myself in long translations and manuscripts. Similarly, in Turkey, I moved through Mary’s House, Assos, Laodikea, Aphrodisias, and Perge, losing myself in their history. Missing were the heavy, foggy mantle of misery, the tears, and the overwhelming absence of my Mom. Immersion into a world beyond my time, space, and first language was saving me. I had traveled thousands of miles away from home and grief to escape, but as I moved through the ruins, I found myself closer to my Mom. Within the ruins of my life and grief, and the ruins of Perge and Laodikia, I found my Mom.

Baking, along with its science and time, requires rest; the goodies must cool on the rack. It has taken rest to make sense of Turkey. The sense to see my mother’s style is subtlety and grace. She is the feminine that walked with me in every Temple, through the broken pottery and mosaic tiles. The feminine that surrounded me with the best and brightest Seminary women. The Artemis sculpture that while carved of cold, dead stone actually moved in her graceful toga, dog at heel, to pull her arrow from her quiver. And like the cake that is not done until it rests, or the mosaic that cannot be seen until you back away, I could not see my Mom— until I did.

Sarah de la Fuente, Middler from Austin, Texas

Lewie DonelsonIstanbul was cold and windy. Snow was blowing hard in our faces. We were huddled in our coats, focusing on the icy pavement and ignoring the wonders of Istanbul. I worried that we were missing the magic of this city. We wandered, eyes down, into the Hagia Sophia. This famous church was built by Justinian in five years, from 532 to 537, was converted to a mosque in 1453, and became a museum in 1935. Even though I have visited this ancient church on every trip to Turkey, I am never prepared for what happens when I do.

As I entered the central nave, something pulled me from my cocoon. I had to look up. “Wow,” I whispered to myself, hearing and feeling echoes of God in my astonishment. Once again, I am struck speechless by the wonder of this place. It is huge. It is beautiful. Again, with splendid articulation and insight, I whispered, “Wow.” I looked at my fellow travelers. Each and every one was standing with a stunned look.

And then, miraculously, on this dreary day, the sun came out. Hagia Sophia seemed to turn on its inner lights. It became golden, bright, alive. The ancient Christians who worshipped here spoke of walking beneath the lights of heaven. And we were too. Although it seems to me we are walking not beneath but within those lights. Marble of every color, columns of every shape, mosaics of Jesus, Mary, John the Baptist, the angels of heaven, and, of course, various political luminaries, all combine with intersecting spaces and the dancing of light to create . . . well . . . to create holy space.

I am reminded that it takes more than words to create the space of worship. As we were leaving, one companion found her voice and remarked to me, “I want my church to have our Sunday worship here.

Lewie Donelson, Ruth A. Campbell Professor of New Testament

Molly McGinnisI know what it looks like on top of the world. I’ve been there. Our trip was so full of rich history that it was hard to keep track of everything we saw. But I will never forget the ascent to Assos.

After two snowy days in Istanbul, the verdant countryside was a welcoming reprieve from the icy cold. We exited the highway toward a narrow country road, not unlike the FM roads scattered across Texas. Along the way, we passed an elderly farmer, who cradled a newborn lamb in his arms. We were unable to resist the combination of being American tourists from the city and the irresistible urge to love on this baby animal. Sensing our excitement, our guide stopped the bus and asked the farmer if we could pet the sheep. I don’t speak Turkish, but the man’s mahogany eyes and wrinkled smile seemed to say, “Of course! Please, come welcome this new life into the world.” We took turns holding the lamb, thanked the farmer, and continued our trip up the mountain.

As we hiked the steep cobblestone streets, hurrying to beat the thunderstorm at our backs, I wondered what was so remarkable about this small village that I had never heard of. Once I arrived at the summit, my curiosity blew away in the breeze. On top of Assos, among the ruins of the Temple to Athena, is a 360-degree view of everything that is beautiful about Turkey. Craggy coastline to the right, olive groves to the left, ancient villages behind, and the majestic Aegean Sea ahead.

It seemed as though the lamb had foreshadowed what was to come that day. As I gazed upon the sea, the sun pierced its way through the veil of dark clouds, and in that moment, I came alive. With tears in my eyes, I whispered, "I’m on top of the world."

Molly McGinnis, Middler from Hot Springs, Arkansas