updated on 18 Jun 2001 (best view with netscape communicator 4.77)

"A Citizen Of No Mean City" (Acts 21:39)
When Paul stood before the Roman "chief captain" in Antonia’s Tower at the northwestern corner of the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, he showed the kind of civic pride that was characteristic of that period. It was our joy to fly to Istanbul, then to Adana and visit Tarsus as well as Antioch (Antakya) where the Christians were first known as "Christians". I was overjoyed to find sewage and flotsam on the Orontes river on whose banks Antioch was built. Why? Long ago, Juvenal, a Roman writer, sarcastically remarked that the sewage from the Orontes had polluted the pure water of the Tiber river on which Rome was built. He meant also the rest of the Mediterranean. He was expressing his dismay that some Jews, especially Christians, had spread their useless teachings and influence far and wide into the Roman Empire, causing people to abandon the worship of the Roman gods and culture. The beautiful mosaics recovered from the floors of rich houses in Antioch (and Daphne) reveal ancient Antioch as a wealthy city which attracted immigrants from Cyprus and Cyrene who founded the first Christian church there. Tarsus also was a prominent city and boasted an ‘open’ university and abundant natural resources. We drove up to the cool highlands and enjoyed the beautiful scenery. During the long hours of travel we had plenty to think and pray about. 

Bandit Country?
The guidebooks describe the sprawling region from Tarsus to Lystra as teeming with bandits
who terrorized unsuspecting travelers along the Roman highways. But for Paul the work of God was far more important than the material pleasures of this life. 

He traversed this region several times during his missionary journeys recorded in the Acts of the Apostles. He was familiar enough with this region, having grown up among the mixed, Celtic and Lycaonian peoples with their rich Roman and Jewish cultural background. What we found in our journeys as we rode in comfortable air-conditioned coaches was a beautiful country with stunning scenery. We left Tarsus and went past the famous Cilician Gates, which have lost somewhat their ancient splendor, what with bulldozers and modern highways which have leveled the terrain. The magnificent cedars which studded the mountain sides are long gone, but an aggressive tree-planting campaign has restored the forests and what we saw was a very pleasant sight: a small low-gauge railway track beside gurgling streams, plenty of wild flowers, interesting cafes and pizzeria with clean toilets, trucks piled high with beetroot waiting to be processed for their valuable sugar, and (because of the volcanic soil) plenty of tasty vegetables and fruits. The ascent to the plateau which covers much of central Turkey was very gradual. The long hours of travel were compensated by picturesque sights of mountain scenery punctuated by clear blue freshwater lakes which collected the melt-water. We met friendly people, especially youths and children eager to practise the few English expressions they had learned in school. Few of them knew where Singapore was and, as usual, we were often mistaken for Japanese.Turkey is a country worth visiting for its own sake. We have consciously to jolt our minds and recall the circumstances that led the Apostle to establish the first major missionary thrust into the Gentile world, after the preliminary efforts by Peter,  Philip the Evangelist, and others. We appreciated afresh how Paul and his co-workers in particular braved the hazards of travel in this region. They were undeterred by the risks as they evangelized the area, established churches, appointing elders to supervise the ministry and, Paul reminded his beloved Gentile Christian brethren, "the care of the churches" weighed heavily on his missionary, pastoral heart (2 Cor 11:28).

The Whirling Dervishes
Konya or biblical Iconium is today the centre of an unique Turkish cultural, religious phenomenon, the Whirling Dervishes. I was delighted when our guide was able to arrange a special performance for our small group right at the hotel where we stayed. This had nothing to do with the biblical orientation of our tour. But it was one of the interesting side benefits of visiting places that enabled us to compare modern Turkey with the biblical places associated with the Apostle Paul. The sight of men dressed in white, with wide, flowing skirts, twirling round and round with arms raised and heads tilted to one side was fascinating and frightening to some of us. Were they in a trance? Why were they not giddy? We were told not to use flash photography as it would disorientate them. The haunting music accompanying their dances, combined with looks on the faces as the dances moved gracefully with closed eyes, produced an eerie effect. The literature on the Dervish movement describes these dances as the planets revolvng around the sun. The dancers are carefully trained

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and selected. A strict code of conduct regulate the dervish movement and, like the sumo wrestlers of Japan, those who violate this conduct can be banished. We were told that the dancers were educated persons, often professionals who in their daily life were high officials. I was reminded of Acts 14:3 where Luke tells us that Paul stayed for a long time in this city and God enabled him boldly to proclaim the Gospel, with miraculous happenings ("signs and wonders"). 

Mute Testimony 
To the delight of the trippers we were able to include several unscheduled visits so that eventually we were able to visit places not usually included in religious tours. Even our driver had difficulty locating some of these places because few tour groups went there. I am referring to Lystra and Derbe, which today are simply low mounds to an untrained eye. But they were once the administrative centres of ancient cities important for Bible students. Some of us were able to pick several thousand-year old pottery pieces (potsherds) lying exposed on the surface of these archaeological hills (tels). The reading and explanation of Bible passages associated with each site made the visits more meaningful. And these were enriched with daily devotions, prayers and exhortations from the Word of God.

A Light to the Gentiles
Paul’s long message at Antioch-in-Pisidia (Yalvac) to the Jews and the "God-Fearers" (Gentiles who had embraced Judaism) brought ‘light’ to the hearers, especially to the Gentiles who were touched by the encouraging words of the Gospel (Acts 13:47). We were told Yalvac was a small town with nothing much to see.

 On the contrary we found substantial ruins, especially when Iconium, Lystra and Derbe had few material remains of ancient buildings. It was exciting to walk down the well-preserved "cardo" (or main street) of Pisidian Antioch and know that Paul must have walked on the same large blocks of stones that formed the well-built street which was lined with pillars and extensive shops on either side of the street. We visited an ancient basilica church which was built over the site of the synagogue where Paul must have preached. We saw preparations being made for a major celebration of Paul’s visit to that place. Although Paul and Barnabas were declared persona non grata ("undesirable persons") at Pisidian Antioch because of their bold preaching of the Gospel (Acts 13:50), there was much joy among the new believers who had turned to Christianity.

The White Cliffs of Pamukkale
Most travelers to Turkey will echo the sentiment that this amazing spectacle of what looks like snow is well-worth visiting. The hot springs rich in calcium emerge from the mountain at Pamukkale (ancient Hierapolis) and turn the whole place white. We enjoyed ourselves immensely as we joined the hordes of tourists from many countries who went to this famous destination. A quick visit to Laodicea enabled us to appreciate the words of Christ to that the Christians and we were able to see the evidence of the polluted water supply which made the water reaching Laodicea undrinkable. We also saw Colossae, which today is just an unexcavated archaeological mound, and we took pictures of the opium poppy fields in the vicinity. 

The delicate white and purple flowers were a great contrast to the grave danger associated with the opium habit. We were told that there was strict government control on the production of opium. 
(to be continued next week) 

Looking Ahead.......
If you are interested in finding out about our Bible Lands Study Tours, you can call and speak with Serene at 3538071. We are planning a similar tour of Turkey and Greece in 2002. In Nov-Dec this year, travel conditions permitting, Dr Quek is planning a tour of Israel.

There was a time of worship and prayer. We sang some hymns and Dr Satterthwaite read from Psalm 103 and spoke about this text. We prayed for the needs of BGST and other matters.
The Dean Dr Quek will be taking chapel this week. He will present a virtual tour of Greece and Turkey by Powerpoint. He will also introduce the latest book and artefact additions to BGST Library.

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