What it's like going where Paul walked and talked

Tim Costello’s first visit to Bible lands was a heart-charging trip

Along with 44 other Australians, my wife Merridie and I left our shores earlier this year to lead a “Steps of St Paul” tour of significant sites in Greece and Turkey.

It was the first time we had seen the places that brought to life treasured Bible passages.

Most radically, Paul declared in Jesus there is a new humanity …

I thought it was only theology that mattered and had never paid much attention to geography. But context is everything and, given Paul walked at least 16,000 kilometres to preach the gospel, I marvelled at how the Acts of the Apostles came alive.

Paul preached to Jews that their Messiah – the Christ – had come. A crucified Messiah who had ended exile through forgiveness of sins and, with a final Passover meal, inaugurated a new exodus.

He preached to the Roman world that Jesus, not Caesar, is Lord.

He disturbed the peace by declaring they were giving over their independence to powers that cripple and distort human life. He named the multiple gods of Greco-Roman worship as idols.

Most radically, he declared in Jesus there is a new humanity – the true humanity – called to reflect in praise the image of God and find true vocation as stewards of this earth. This dethroning of idols speaks to our captivity to the idols of sex, money and power today.

Our tour group visited the seven churches addressed by John the Evangelist in the Book of Revelation. Some of these ancient cities are largely unexcavated. But in places such as Pergamum, Laodicea and Ephesus, there is evidence of house churches and even early church buildings. It brings to life those letters and the context of persecution the believers were facing. It was also wonderful to visit the Patmos cave from which it is believed these letters in Revelation where dictated in exile.

They asked us to pray for them and remember the churches facing persecution today.

A highlight of our trip was hearing the testimony of two Iranian Christians in Istanbul. They shared stories of meeting Christ while refugees in Turkey. They now lead training for new pastors of the many churches springing up both in Turkey and in Iran. The group Elam Ministries oversees this wonderful work.

They asked us to pray for them and remember the churches facing persecution today – like those we were reading about in Acts, the Epistles and Revelation. And the Iranian church is the world’s fastest-growing church in new believers who embrace the Good News.

Great fellowship happened naturally among our 44 travellers, ranging in age from 29 to 86.

Community through shared meals, daily devotions and listening to our guides in both countries, as well as the humour on the bus, was the glue that made the tour a feast for the mind and spirit.

Faith creates deep community which is a gift of grace.

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