The ministers and spouses of the Association of International Churches in Europe and the Middle East, standing at the gate of the ancient city of Hierapolis.
Those of you who have been following on Facebook will know that Julie and I spent the last week at a conference of pastors and spouses serving international churches in Europe and the Middle East. (See the report from one of the group's leaders at http://jodimullenfondell.blogspot.com/.) The conference was in Turkey, where we toured the sites of the seven churches of John's Revelation and parts of Istanbul.
This was an extraordinary journey through the early history of the Christian church, and also to a place where the Christian faith is now represented by .1% of the 70 million people now living in Turkey. Whatever we may have learned about the church's past, we were more inspired and challenged by the prospects for its future.
Here are some pictures from our trip.
This is the modern city of Izmir, on the site of the ancient Smyrna, near the place where Polycarp, bishop of Smyrna, was martyred in the 2nd century. When given the chance to recant his Christian faith and save his life, Polycarp said: 'Eighty-six years I have served [Christ], and he never did me any wrong. How can I blaspheme my king who saved me?' Polycarp was killed immediately.
At the American Church we just finished our Lent Bible study on Paul's letter to the Colossians. The city has not been excavated yet, but it was powerful to walk on its site with the words of the letter still in my head. I found a piece of decorative pottery there.
Standing on the site of Colossae...note the In-N-Out t-shirt.
St John's Basilica in Selcuk.
The place where St John, author of the Gospel, the letters and Revelation, is said to have been buried.
One of the large remaining theatres in Ephesus. We paused for a reading from Revelation, and one of our group sang 'The Lord's Prayer' from the main stage. It was unbelievably moving.
After Ephesus we flew to Istanbul, a city of almost 16 million people. Situated on the Bosphorus, the strait that connects the Black Sea with the Mediterranean, the city has always been strategically important. But it has also been, whether you call it Byzantium, Constantinople, or Istanbul, the boundary between Eastern and Western civilization.
It's difficult to describe just how captivating Istanbul can be. From the crowds of people in open markets, to the minarets that sprout up on every block, to the mix of traditional dress and modern fashion...all of this is crammed together in a city where every few hours a call to Islamic prayer can be heard, well, everywhere.
We loved being in this city. It was a strange and hypnotic blend of the foreign and familiar, and we were drawn to it from the start.
The Hagia Sophia. When it was built in the 6th century it was the largest Christian church in the world (which it remained until St Peter's in Rome was built). In 1453 it was converted to a mosque, and the Christian art was painted or plastered over. Crosses were defaced and all other traces of the building's Christian origins were erased. It is now a museum to both the Christian and Islamic influences on Turkish culture.
Below are two of the Christian mosaics that have been restored.
The ceiling of the Blue Mosque.
I'll write more about this trip as I process all that I learned and saw. Istanbul is a place I want to keep in my prayers...for its people, for the Christians I met there, and for the message of the Gospel to be heard and believed there again.