The first view of the Soganli valley in central Cappadocia takes your breath away. We descended from an agricultural plateau dried out by the recent summer into a ravine largely hidden from the world above and far removed from the regional capital, Kayseri (Caesar's city). To enter Soganli is to step back in time. Rugged rock faces tower over green leafed poplar trees that fill the valley floor. A gentle stream flows quietly alongside the solitary road that winds its way through this ancient land. On the valley slopes millenia old caves mark where God's people, the followers of the Way, once worshipped. My gratitude grew as I walked the dusty trail that leads to the many churches built inside cone shaped sanctuaries. It was here that believers bravely lived out their faith whilst under fire during successive eras of persecution. Their faith story began in Jerusalem with Cappadocian Jews and God fearers attending the Pentecost festival and hearing the wonders of God from the word of God spoken in their own language. Some believed the good news that 'God has made this Jesus Lord and Messiah.' (Acts 2:36) and brought the story of God's salvation to Soganli. Full of faith, they practiced and preserved the Christian faith by adorning the cave ceilings with art depicting how Christ has come and won the victory over evil. That good news held the Soganli saints through centuries of hardship and persecution from Roman, Arab and later Selcuk powers. The same apostle Peter, from whom the Cappadocians had received the Gospel at Pentecost, later wrote to encourage these believers to rejoice in the eternal hope God gives us in Jesus - a hope greater than the sum of all the terrible yet temporary hardships they were facing.
"Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade. This inheritance is kept in heaven for you,who through faith are shielded by God's power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time.In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed." (1 Peter 3:3-7)
In the Soganli valley, God's people grieved deeply, but God, who is acquainted with grief and full of grace, matched their pain with his invincible power, his imperishable promise and an inexpressible joy that carried them deeper into Jesus. The faithfulness and patient endurance of the early church is humbling. Their trials shame how I (and perhaps you too) complain about what is really trivial. Lord Jesus, give me the virtue and the vision of these valley Christians, to the praise and honor of your name.