Biblical Turkey & Greece Pastors’ Familiarization Tour 2015

Hagia Sofia: church turned mosque turned museum
Hagia Sofia: church turned mosque turned museum
Gymnasium at ancient Sardis (city of one of seven churches in Revelations)
Gymnasium at ancient Sardis (city of one of seven churches in Revelations)
Beautiful chapel that celebrates Lydia's conversion in Philippi (Greece)
Beautiful chapel that celebrates Lydia's conversion in Philippi (Greece)

Packed itinerary

We landed at dawn and began with a one day tour of Istanbul. It was a wet, windy and cold day. However we toured the main tourist sites and still managed to squeeze in an hour of shopping at the grand bazaar in the late evening. We visited the ancient ruins of the cities where the seven churches mentioned in the book of Revelation once existed. They are all in modern day Turkey. Then we crossed over to Greece by bus and visited holy sites, ancient ruins and museums in Philippi, Thessalonica, Berea, Athens, and Corinth. From Athens, we flew and transited at Istanbul, and flew back home.

We stayed at eight hotels in ten days. That should say something. It meant living off our suitcase. It meant early morning calls that mercifully became sane morning calls in Greece. It also meant being on the road on average about 2 hours between sites. We all expected it as this was a familiarization tour and they were trying to give us a sampling of as many different religious sites as possible within the limited time-frame. This survey would then help us to choose from a wide range what we think is suitable for ourselves if we want to lead a tour from our church in future.

The group picture taken at ancient Laodicea
The group picture taken at ancient Laodicea

Personal highlights of the tour

The fellowship was wonderful. There were 39 participants in all – mostly pastors from different denominations and background. There were Methodists, Baptists, Assemblies of God, Independents, Brethren, Presbyterians, Anglicans, and Vietnamese Alliance. As there were about 25 meals we had together I got to hear many inspiring stories of pastors, and how they were called and what their churches were about. A few of these pastors had successful careers. But they heard the call and became pastors in mid-career changes.

Fellowship over meals
Fellowship over meals
Baked fish
Baked fish
Salads
Salads
Soups
Soups
Lamb cuts and other meats
Lamb cuts and other meats
Sweet desserts
Sweet desserts
Old friend Pastor Richard  & Nancy Loh of Queenstown Baptist Church
Old friend Pastor Richard & Nancy Loh of Queenstown Baptist Church
Renewed fellowship with pastors' prayer group leader Rev Sng Chong Hui and wife Irene
Renewed fellowship with pastors' prayer group leader Rev Sng Chong Hui and wife Irene
The ladies enjoyed the fellowship
The ladies enjoyed the fellowship
Pastor Ezekiel giving the devotion at site of Lydia's conversion at Philippi
Pastor Ezekiel giving the devotion at site of Lydia's conversion at Philippi

Naturally the pastors were deployed to give devotions at the major sites. It was edifying to hear God’s messages to the seven churches in Revelation come alive with probing relevance and power across the centuries. I was blessed. For me it was like a personal invitation from the Spirit to look more deeply at the book of Revelations and consider preaching it through in the church. The book lit up like a burning bush.

Sela, boss of tour company humouring us in the bus
Sela, boss of tour company leading us in the WI-FI equipped bus
Excellent informative guide telling us about ancient Ephesus toilets that St Paul probably used!
Excellent informative guide telling us about ancient Ephesus toilets that St Paul probably used!

This subsidized tour was well organized and packed. The tour guides that were handpicked for us were very good in terms of their expertise, people skills and humor. The Bible Society of Singapore and the Omega Tours and Travel did a thoughtful job of planning all these and selecting the local tour companies to partner with. We had our meals at restaurants and most breakfasts and dinners were in above average hotels. Not sure about the cuisine, but I preferred the Turkish meals to the ones in Greece for the greater variety. There were salads in every meal and I never ate so much vegetable in any ten days of my life till now.

Short cut on the ferry to and from the European and Asian parts of Turkey
Short cut on the ferry to and from the European and Asian parts of Turkey
At Parthenon, ancient temple dedicated to goddess Athena, in Athens acropolis
At Parthenon, ancient temple dedicated to goddess Athena, in Athens acropolis
Admiring ladies hairstyles in the Acropolis Museum, Athens
Admiring ladies hairstyles in the Acropolis Museum, Athens

If I were to plan a pilgrimage/study tour for the church I would concentrate on Turkey. I would do the Istanbul bit, fly to Tarsus, get lost in the Cappadocia caves, do the seven churches circuit, and have a day cruise to the island of Patmos (part of Greece). Such a pilgrimage/study tour would focus on the book of Revelations and the relevance of its message to us. I feel the Revelations tour can be impactful. And add some restful elements like staying to linger an extra day in a city, and having some fun shopping or hot air ballooning. Adding Greece in would be too much. Have a separate pilgrimage for Greece, probably with a missional slant.

My favourite sites: the ancient Ephesus site, and Parmukkale“cotton castle” in Turkey; and the Meteora in Greece.

Taking a selfie at Ephesus ancient library ruins
Taking a selfie at Ephesus ancient library ruins
Ephesus amphitheatre
Ephesus amphitheater
Pamukkale: cotton castle World Heritage site
Parmukkale "cotton castle": a World Heritage site
Soaking our feet in the mineral water supplied by hot springs
Soaking our feet in the mineral water supplied by hot springs
Natural hotsprings and beautiful terraces of carbonate minerals
Parmukkale: natural hot-springs and beautiful terraces of carbonate minerals
Monasteries built on top of rock formations - cool
Meteora - Greek Orthodox monasteries built on top of rock formations - cool
Monks and nuns in those which permit visitors and tourists
Monks and nuns in those monasteries which permit visitors and tourists
How heavy loads are carried up in the old days
How heavy loads were carried up in the old days
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