Trail of the Apostles
Exploring the Roman remnants in Turkey and following the footsteps of the apostles 2,000 years later, where they changed the course of history.
The sounds of seagulls echoed across the harbor as we gazed out at the turquoise waters where sailboats drifted.
As the scene unfolded in the ancient port city of Antalya, still juggling the impact from Romans, Lycians and Ottomans throughout the past 2,000 years, we envisioned the ancient ships that once crossed these very seas carrying messages that would transform the world. My wife Mary and I gave one final glance at the shimmering seas before together turning towards the winding cobblestone streets of the old town. We were in the heart of Mediterranean Turkey, eager to walk in the footsteps of the first followers of Jesus who spread his teachings across the Roman world. We have a general plan that will take us to places like Perge, Hierapolis, and Ephesus - sites that still whisper the names of faith that impacted the continent. We will wander Roman remains, merely echoes to the unprecendented heights of Rome, all the while turning over stones that harbor stories of faith and sacrifice from two thousand years ago that still resonate through the ages.
PERGE - THE START OF PAUL'S JOURNEY
Our journey first took us south along Turkey's Mediterranean coast to the ruins of ancient Perge. Founded by the Greeks, this city later thrived under Roman rule. The soaring columns and crumbling walls spoke to its former prominence during the first century AD when the apostle Paul passed through. According to the Bible, Paul and his companion Barnabas preached about Jesus here during his first missionary journey around 47AD. As we strolled Perge's preserved marble streets, I pictured Paul's passionate speeches echoing off these walls, drawing crowds with his radical message of salvation through faith alone. For people steeped in rituals and sacrifices to multiple gods, this was a revolutionary concept.
Yet something about Paul's words resonated. Standing in Perge's massive theater, I could imagine early Christians gathered here, soaking in his message of hope and liberation from sin. The ruins around us testified that though Perge continued worshipping Roman gods, the seeds of Christianity had taken root here to slowly take hold in coming generations. Treading the same ground Paul did 2,000 years ago, I felt awestruck by his courage in preaching an inclusive gospel and making converts in this grand city.
His risky faith changed the world forever.
THE LANDSCAPES OF TURKEY
As we journeyed on from Perge, I gained appreciation for the diverse natural landscapes the apostles experienced as they spread the gospel. We hiked through the cedar forests of the Taurus Mountains, cool mists veiling the steep slopes. At mountain passes, stunning vistas emerged. Upon descending, the otherworldly stone formations of Cappadocia greeted us, carved by volcanic eruptions eons ago.
Reaching the coast again, we walked sandy beaches and harbors dotted with fishing vessels much like the ports that connected Rome to its territories in ancient times. I pictured the apostles boarding ships in these same towns to sail to lands near and far, embarking on dangerous voyages to share their message.
Inland, endless golden fields of wheat and barley reminded me of Jesus' parables. Olives, grapes, apricots - the fertile land supplied bountiful harvests to feed ancient societies. Everywhere we gazed,Creation’s diversity astounded us. The apostles traversed each terrain on foot through blinding sunlight, storms, and cold nights, persevering to spread the Word.
HIERAPOLIS - A CLASH OF CULTURES
One magnificent Roman city we explored was Hierapolis, founded in the 2nd century BC. Sara and I spent hours roaming its extensive ruins – curving theaters, grand arches, the remains of lavish baths. People traveled from all over the empire to bathe in Hierapolis’ natural hot springs and worship at its massive temple to the goddess Cybele.
According to tradition, the apostle Philip lived in Hierapolis around 80 AD. Walking the colonnaded streets, I pictured him boldly preaching to crowds steeped in excess and ritual. His teachings of selfless love and charity were radical departures from Roman values. At the remnants of Cybele’s temple, we imagined Philip urging Christians to leave pagan idols behind and embrace Christ’s way of compassion.
While challenging, Philip’s words took hold. At his tomb just outside Hierapolis, we reflected on the risks he and so many early Christians took to spread the gospel. Persecuted by Roman authorities, they courageously persisted in the face of danger. Hierapolis testified to the power of their conviction.
EPHESUS - HOME OF THE BELOVED
Our last stop held special meaning – Ephesus, where the apostle John lived with the Virgin Mary around 50 AD. Walking its grand avenues, we saw evidence of Christianity supplanting pagan faiths. At the massive stadium, we read about Paul’s visit in 53 AD that incited riots amongst craftsmen who built idols worshipping Artemis. The new faith threatened their livelihoods.
Outside Ephesus, we entered the modest stone house where Mary spent her last years under John’s care. We were awestruck imagining their conversations about Jesus. Nearby, the Apostle’s simple tomb moved us to tears. His gospel of love has endured over 2000 years.
REFLECTION - THEN AND NOW
Boarding our flight home, Mary and I quietly reflected on our pilgrimage. Retracing the apostles’ footsteps illuminated how their steadfast faith grew Christianity amidst persecution. Speaking boldly in cities steeped in paganism, they lit a fire in believers’ souls. The Word was carried through endless miles over seas, deserts and mountains to forever alter society. Turkey's landscape still echos their names. Though kingdoms rose and fell, the seed of truth they planted flourished into a faith spanning millennia and continents. We left with profound gratitude for their sacrifice.
MAKE IT HAPPEN