See that in the distance?! That's the Turkish flag, people...at the port of Kusadasi!
This morning we woke at 6:30 a.m. and hopped on an 8:30 a.m. ferry to Kusadasi, Turkey. After a ferry ride of about 90 minutes, we met with our tour guide Namik (pronounced "Nah-Meek") and went straight to the ruins of the Basilica of St. John. The Basilica of St. John is the site at which John the Apostle resided after his return from his exile to the island of Patmos, so for the past few days we followed in John's footsteps rather than just Paul's. The basilica is also the place where custom says that John is buried.
Next to the Basilica of St. John sits the Mosque of Jesus. Not named directly for Jesus of Nazareth, the mosque is named after a man who was named Jesus. Still, an amazing juxtaposition considering that the man was surely named after Jesus Christ. The Imam of the mosque was extremely welcoming of the students, and he gave each student (and adult!) a gift of a postcard with their name inscribed by him in Arabic. More interesting still, both of these sites -- the Basilica of St. John and the Mosque of Jesus -- were largely built with borrowed materials (brick, stone, marble) from a ruined temple of the goddess Artemis from the Greek and Roman eras. It was amazing for students to see how the religous landscape of hundreds of years was playing out literally right in front of their eyes in one place.
After a stop at a local Turkish restaurant with a delicious Turkish buffet, the group continued to the ruins of the ancient city of Ephesus. As you may know, this is the city in Asia minor that Paul would have preached in and lived in multiple times during his ministry and life, and home to the group of believers that received his letter to the Ephesians in the New Testament. Ephesus is also considered the second best preserved ancient ruins in the world, bested only by Pompeii. Namik helped our group imagine what the city would have looked, sounded, and felt like in the first few centuries as we walked down the marble streets and saw the homes and places of gathering and worship. We even got a group picture in front of the library of Ephesus, which was the third largest library in the ancient world!
After what Nam called possibly his hottest day in Ephesus (coming from a professional tour guide!), the group got a chance to sit in the shade near the ruins of the gymnasium, directly across from the entrance to the ampitheater. David Berry led us in a devotional and we recapped what we had experienced for the day. Special shout out to Dave who went through the entire ruins with us -- up stairs, down stairs, uphill, dowhill, mostly on slick marble and all in oppressive heat -- only months after recovering from a broken hip! He has been a great asset to our group.
After we returned to Samos, we got to once again head down to the port city to have dinners and relax with our small groups. After many gyros, sandwiches, fish platters, and even pizzas, we returned to the hotel and had a meeting to discuss our day tomorrow. Kim Berry also led a short devotion time and shared a few stories from her experiences over the past months as a Peace Corps volunteer in Ethiopia. The students had yet another chance to reflect on their experiences thus far and how that might inform the persons they are becoming.
Tomorrow we have a rest and recovery day. Students will get to sleep in past 8 a.m. and will have the chance to swim, shop, and eat to their hearts' contents before we fly back to Athens in the evening. We will arrive at Hotel Poseidon and enjoy a dinner together on the beachfront in the capital city of Greece. Since our itinerary is light tomorrow, we have a special surprise coming up for all of you blog readers out there in internet land, so stay tuned when you get up tomorrow morning, we're sure you'll enjoy it!
Until then, please continue praying for our group. Specifically, prayers for healthful rest and nights full of sleep will be coveted over the final days of our journey together. As we transition off of the island, back to Athens, and further to Rome, our already crazy schedule somehow seems to get even crazier. All of us will need a bit of extra patience, bearing with one another as we travel along our path together in this amazing experience.