It is good to be back in our own beds after an unexpected overnight delay in Philadelphia on the way home. The second week of the CMDA-CMDE Conference was every bit as good as the first and the PAACS residents’ juried competition was a highlight. The first week, all of them presented their work and five were selected for the final competition on Wednesday. Three were ultimately given prizes.
Being in Greece, we were pleased to be able to take advantage of the Biblical history that was all around. The first Saturday, we visited three Greek islands along with 120 other conference attendees. They were beautiful, but not as exciting to us as the tours to sites of great Biblical significance. On Sunday, three busses of attendees went to visit the site of old Corinth. One guidebook I glanced at just brushed it off, but looking at the city through the eyes of a Christian Greek was another thing entirely. Seeing it through the filter of the Bible made it – and the Bible – come alive. There are only three Evangelical tour guides in Greece – and we would have the privilege having two of them over our time there.
On our five-day bus trip at the end of the conference (we were accompanied by many missionaries including the Thelanders from Gabon), we visited the port city of Neapolis (later named Christopolis and now Kavala) – the port has not changed location in all these years. It was here that Paul first brought the Gospel to Europe.
We traveled to nearby Philippi. We saw the little river where Lydia, the first Gentile convert, was baptized a few miles away from where we were. There were so few Jews that they could not have a synagogue – but the faithful gathered by the “Living Water” to pray that day that Paul met them. We went to the ruins of upper and lower Philippi. It was here that Paul cast the Pythian Spirit out and was dragged by the slave’s owners to the agora for restitution (Acts 16). We were in the corner of the agora where the strategos met (the generals – v. 20) and stood before the bema seat where Paul was whipped (v.23). It is unknown where the Philippians jailed him and the earthquake opened the doors. The guide brought out that the fear that the Roman-appointed generals had (after whipping a Roman citizen) may well have protected the first fledgling church during the times of persecution.
We followed Paul to Thessoloniki – and saw the agora where we knew Paul was again beaten (Acts 17:1-10). We saw the bema seat there as well. We visited the Jewish Quarter of Berea (although nothing is left that dates back to Paul – Acts 17:10-13).
The last day was spent in Athens. I confess that the Acropolis was smaller than I expected and the Parthenon bigger. They are doing some remarkable restoration and the pieces are all keyed by computer and someday is may regain something like its original glory. We were actually more interested in two rocky places that have lost all their structure – the first place where the Athenian citizens were called to meet for legislative and political reasons (the ekklesia – the called out ones) and the Aeropagus (Mars Hill). Mars Hill has lost all of its structures – torn apart over the ages for the building materials. It has lost the built up retention walls, stadium/Supreme court structure that was there and temple of the Furies, so that only the bedrock remains. But a carved stairway dating back to 400 BC is still there. We climbed it as Paul did. He went up those steps to the Aeropagus and gave his famous speech to the Greek Philosophers about the unknown God (Acts 17:22 and following). Speakers of the time were only given six minutes, timed by a water-clock, to give their reasoned argument – their “logos” (John 1:1). I had the honor of reading the passage from Acts and the guide asked Sean to time the speech. I must confess that in what was likely to be my only oration on this famous ground, I did put a bit of the orator into my voice (but not as much as my thespian tendencies cried out for). One minute, forty-three seconds by Sean’s timing – and according to Scripture that was enough for two people who were named to come to Christ. He argued no more with the philosophers but went to Corinth from Athens, arriving in time for the upcoming Isthmian games (a great place for a tentmaker who would be able to sell all he made to the crowds coming for the athletic/spiritual competition).
Between those events above, we visited some famous churches and historical areas on the tour. We visited Aigai where the tombs of Phillip II (father of Alexander the Great) were recently discovered. We also visited the Meteora where once 21 monasteries graced the top of these freakish stones. Now only 5 remain, most destroyed by the Ottomans in the 1700s. Most still do not allow tourists, although pilgrims may be welcome if they will participate in the daily life of the monks. Hermitages were visible in the tops of some the caves around the area – it is believed that there remain hermits yet. Until 1920s, rope ladders and rope heists were the only access to these enclaves. Through our guide, I gained an appreciation for the theology which underlies Greek Orthodox iconography, even if I don’t agree with their reasons for this style of decoration.
One afternoon, C.T, our guide, gave a very emotional testimony. This man had planned to be an Orthodox priest but fell in with the “heretics” after the death of a family member gave him great existential angst. At his conversion, his father threatened to kill him and yet, several years later, when his father lost his mind from what sounded like a stroke, he came back at the challenge of his grandfather to prove his “heretic” Christianity – for several years, he took care of his demented father day and night. When his father mistakenly ingested a petroleum distillate before he could be stopped, he developed a severe aspiration pneumonia and nearly died. God gave C.T’s father sudden lucidity after years of dementia – and he damned his son for his faith yet again. C.T. did not waver and his father did not die – instead, he was subject to a series of hospital roommates all of whom were true believers from the small remnant scattered throughout the country. His father accepted Christ finally (they are the only ones in their immediate family who have), kept his lucidity and is now in his 80s. God is faithful but we must be faithful.
Now that we are home, we have a lot of loose ends to tie up from the conference, get the S3 Ministries tax reports in, get the PAACS exams formatted and edited and send out over 4,000 fund-raising letters for PAACS. We must also get ready for our trip to Gabon in July and get Sean back into the daily grind of studying (he had some great field trips!)
Praise and Prayers:
- Please pray that God will provide the money for the surgical instruments and scopes that we would like to contribute
- Praise God for traveling safety and the privilege to have the journey of Paul come alive for us.
- Pray for the few and faithful Greek evangelicals.
- Pray for us as we strive to get all the PAACS and CMDE Commission work done.
Yours, striving for the incorruptible crowns,
Bruce, Micky and Sean