Central Anatolia is a land of colorful contrasts. We travelled through the dusty, pastal colored cave pinnacles of Goreme and Urgup down into the beautiful 'land before time' Soganli Valley.
Trekking along the valley's slopes we entered many fifth and sixth century monasteries, places of sanctuary and for Christian service, hewn out of the high cliffs by early Christians. The cave walls are lined with murals depicting Biblical scenes. For early Christians leaning was visual and verbal and life was communal. A late night flight took us west to the Aegean, to the region of John's Revelation. Smyrna (Izmir) is a working archeological site, the ancient agora surrounded by the modern city. This poor, persecuted church, threatened with prison, was commended by Jesus for their faithfulness. Sixty years later eighty six year old bishop Polycarp was martyred in the stadium. In Smyrna success equalled faithfulness - to death. It still does!
Driving north we headed for Pergamum (modern Bergama), a church site located on an acropolis accessed by an Italian constructed cable car. On the citadel temples to the Greek gods Zeus and Athene and another dedicated to the imperial Roman stood with brooding malevolence over the city below. No disabled or impaired person was permitted to climb the slopes to worship at these holy places. Perfection was the standard. How different the Gospel! An impressive theatre slopes down to where a temple to Dionysis sits. Here entertainment would end in the worship of the god of wine, women and song! In Pergamum idolatry and immorality merged into an intoxicating menace for the young church. To them Jesus said, 'There are some among you who hold to the teaching of Balaam, who taught Balak to entice the Israelites to sin so that they ate food sacrificed to idols and committed sexual immorality…….Repent therefore! Otherwise, I will soon come to you and will fight against them with the sword of my mouth.' We should heed this warning: 'Whoever marries the spirit of the age will find themselves a widow in the next!
An hour's drive brought us to Thyatira, to Lydia's land, that travelling Asian businesswoman who heard and believed the Gospel in Philippi - becoming the first Christian in Europe. God opened her heart and a continent. Rain was falling as we arrived. Taking shelter under a tree in the small site we waited for the weather to clear, and as it did, a double rainbow hung in the sky. For one group member, Rachel, whose sister Lydia faces serious surgery in one week's time, standing in the Biblical Lydia's city with a rainbow of promise arching over ruins, this was a meaningful moment. God's timing is perfect and his healing is possible!