Surprised by Snow: Study Tour through Greece and Turkey
Published by Calvin Seminary
They didn’t tell us there’d be snow. “It will probably rain,” Professor Weima warned us, “and it might not be as warm as you think.” But snow, adorning palm trees and turning marble streets into long slip and slides? Unexpected. Some of us thrilled at the novelty of witnessing the largest snowfall in Greece in thirty years. And almost all of us said, at one point or another, “So, you mean, Paul might have seen snow? Would he also have wandered through the valley below the Taurus mountains and glanced up at their snowy caps? The early Christians might have worn something on their feet other than sandals?!”
The January study trip to Turkey and Greece was an exercise in shattering perceptions. Many of us pictured the Biblical lands as flat and dusty. But we were met with mountains, rivers, lush valleys, and everywhere we looked, the sea. We learned that the white marble statues and temples we value so highly for their pristine, calm purity were actually colorful and intricately decorated. In museums we cocked our heads in astonishment at the technology of ancient safety pins and gazed closely at gold jewelry so intricate it can’t be replicated today.
In just two or so weeks, we saw so much. We walked through the city of Ephesus on a cold, clear day, unhampered by the usual crowds of tourists. We climbed over the massive ruins of the temple in Didyma, climbed to the top of the theater in Aspendos, built snowmen on the acropolis in Assos, felt small wandering through the cliff monasteries of Meteora, and stood tall next to the Parthenon in Athens.
And everywhere we went, we felt the layers of religion built up over time. In Antalya we stopped by a 2nd century pagan temple turned 6th century church turned 10th century mosque turned 14th century church turned 16th century mosque, finally destroyed by a fire in the 19th century. In Turkey we heard of the challenges that come with being a Christian in a Muslim country. In Greece we visited a Protestant Church, and I was surprised to hear that Protestant Christians also face pressure and disdain in a predominantly Greek-Orthodox country. In our study sessions, we learned of the particular challenges the early church faced because religion was so closely tied to social and political life – following Christ was strange, unpatriotic, and an economic burden. It seems not much has changed.
And so the trip was surprising and fascinating and informative, but mostly, it was humbling. I was humbled by the grandeur of creation. I was humbled by the faith of Christians much stronger than my own. And I was humbled and awed by the faithfulness of God, who has caused his church to persevere and continues to use broken vessels to declare his praise.
by Laura de Jong, MDiv 2017 graduate
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