Last week I had the awesome opportunity to get away from Istanbul for the weekend and travel down to Kuşadası with a couple of English teachers from Ankara. It was an awesome trip! We got to spend time on the beach relaxing, go to a little village called Şirence that is famous for its homemade fruit wines (that were so delicious), and eat meals with a breathtaking sea view. All those amazing aspects aside, my highlight of the trip was getting to go to the ruins of the ancient city of Ephesus.
Before we got to Ephesus however we went a little further up the mountain to where it is believed that Mary, the mother of Jesus, lived with John after Jesus was crucified and John was given responsibility to watch over her. It was incredible. There was a tangible presence when you stepped onto the property. Completely enshrouded in huge trees, there was this little stone house that you could walk through.
People from all over the world came and visited this house and there was a wall where people could hang mementos and notes with prayers and thank yous. Seeing that wall gave me a little taste of home reminding me of the memory wall at the Oklahoma City Bombing Memorial.
Now this might be a little weird, but our taxi driver continuously insisted that we go to the bathroom while we were at Mary's house because it was free and it would not be free at Ephesus. We all obliged not wanting to have to pay to use the bathroom, but it turned into a testament to how beautiful Turkey is. There was an opening at eye level above the urinals and this was definitely the best view I've ever had while going to the bathroom. It is crazy to think that one minute you could be by the beach, letting the water and sand engulf your toes, and 15 minutes later be surrounded by huge trees that are reminiscent to the Redwoods of California.
Now our journey had brought us to Ephesus, the same city we read of Paul, Silas, and Timothy going to in Acts 19, it was this city to which the book of Ephesians was written to. As we walked onto the cobblestone streets I could not help but think, "Are these the same streets Paul and Timothy walked on?" "Were they telling jokes to each other as they walked by the fountains?" "Where was it that they prayed over the Ephesians to understand the power of the Holy Spirit?" All these thoughts rushed through my head and I was so overtaken by emotions as I walked the streets and looked at the ruins.
We got to see some awesome things, and we are told that Ephesus is one of the best cared for ancient cities in Asia Minor. As we walked through the streets with the help of our audio tour, it was neat to imagine chariots rushing by and what the fountains looked like in their former glory. To imagine the sounds of city officials arguing in the city hall or to hear soldiers laughing and picking on each other as they patrolled the streets.
We got to see the underground houses that have recently been excavated and are continuously being restored in order to learn more and more about what life was like back then. Some of the floor mosaics were amazing! To think that they still look so good and detailed after being buried under rocks for hundreds of years! The craftsmanship!
Speaking of craftsmanship, that is something that I love about the Turkish people. They really care deeply about what they do. They are always asking how their food compares to other food I have eaten, how my tea was compared to other teas. Hospitality and care run deep here in Turkey. Even with barbers, I had one of the most intricate haircuts I have ever had in my life here in Istanbul. Normally when I go get my haircut (shout out to Caroline and Mazey!) I am in and out in 30 minutes and it looks great. Here, it took 1 1/2 hours, they washed my hair twice, made sure I had no stray hairs, gave me a head massage, deep cleaned my face, lit a cotton ball on fire and burned off my ear hairs, and cleaned my face with mineral water. I am officially ruined for any haircut I will get in the states...
Okay, back to Ephesus.
The size of some of the buildings we saw was amazing! They were the equivalent of ancient skyscrapers (not nearly as tall, but HUGE for their day). The ruins of the three story library in Ephesus was incredible. I found myself thinking if Paul would go in and have conversations with the Ephesian academics, and to walk by the once prominent shrine to Artemis and know about the riots that happened there because of Paul's ministry, I was smiling ear to ear.
Finally, we came to the huge amphitheater in Ephesus. It is said that it could hold upwards of 25,000 people, which, to put in perspective for my fellow Okies, is 7,000 more than what can fit at Chesapeake Arena! The acoustics in the amphitheater were incredible, I was sitting on the top row (that they still allowed people to go to) and I could hear things said from the stage. How did they know so much about acoustics back then? It's fascinating!
It was at this point that I took out the small Bible that I brought with me and cracked it open to the book of Ephesians and began to read. I began to read the same words that were first read in that very place almost 2,000 years ago in Greek. "To the saints who are in Ephesus, and are faithful in Christ Jesus" wait a second. That was me. I was a saint in Ephesus at that moment. I was floored when that hit me. The power that surged in those words for the following 20 minutes was amazing. Time and time again I was brought to tears by the beauty in those pages. "I was dead in my trespasses and sins,...but God, being rich in mercy,...made us alive together with Christ" YES! SO GOOD!
I will look back at that day fondly for the rest of my life and I cannot wait to go back again and share that experience with so many people. It was in those moments, walking the same streets that Paul, Timothy, and John walked, sitting in that amphitheater, and standing before the tomb of John, that the Lord stirred by heart for the beauty and importance of discipleship. Today, the church is standing on the all the work that was done by believers almost 2,000 years before us did. We are, to quote my friend Thad's blog last night, on a mission from God. It is our responsibility to continue to raise up new believers on the same truth that the Ephesians, Colossians, and all the First Century Churches were raised on. It is the same gospel. We needed the same good news yesterday, we need it today, and we'll need it tomorrow.
As we are standing on the shoulders of giants, let's begin to prepare our shoulders to be stood on.