August 30, 2009

In November, over Thanksgiving, I went to Turkey. I didn’t know much about Turkey before I went there, other than it shared a name with a common American food. I was there to film a piece about a part of the church’s history. I was traveling with a tour group of missionary couples who were on vacation visiting the seven churches John sent letters to in the Bible. I knew that this assignment would pose a different kind of challenge. First off, it is the first time I was alone on a job. Second, I was not quite sure how to make a story about the history of the church. The third challenge was getting the footage I needed while being mindful of the couples on vacation because I knew I would take longer than most who were just snapping a few pictures.

We all met in Antalya, a beautiful city on the Mediterranean coast. After short introductions, we hopped on a bus with our tour guide and started our decent into the past. The first day we arrived in Laodicea and it felt like we had just stumbled upon an ancient city that no one had discovered yet. We were the only ones at the site and everything looked as if we were the first ones to find the ruins, no red tape, security, or tourists. It was our own private view into the past where a whole civilization had once gathered. Each person in the tour was assigned to a location to give a brief overview about the history and biblical significance. Laodicea was criticized for being wealthy and needing nothing, “So then because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor warm, I will vomit you out of My mouth.” (Rev 3:16) I couldn’t believe that I was standing at the church ruins where people had worshiped God, our God, thousands of years before.

Our next stop was Hierapolis (Pamukkale), a world heritage site famous for its thermal hot springs, which were believed to have healing powers from the god of the underworld, Pluto. Hierapolis is mentioned once in the Bible when Paul sends a letter to Epaphras, “Epaphras, who is one of you, a bondservant of Christ greets you, always laboring fervently for you in prayers, that you may stand perfect and complete in all the will of God. For I bear him witness that he has a great zeal for you, and those who are in Laodicea, and those in Hierapolis.” (Colossians 4:12-13)
I was amazed that a lot of the structures were still in tact. I climbed to the top of the hill to the theater to get a marvelous view of the city glowing with the setting sun. At the base of the city the white thermal springs reflected the sunset and it was one of the most memorable sights. I felt like I had stepped into another time where life was mysterious, complex, and beautiful.
In the evening I decided to go into a natural hot spring at our hotel. I swam into the cave and then put the mud on me, I don’t know if my skin felt rejuvenated, but I definitely felt like a scary swamp thing or that one was lurking in the muddy water waiting to attack me.
The next day we went to Philadelphia. It is notable that John had nothing negative to say of this church in his letters. “And to the angel of the church in Philadelphia write, ‘These things says He who is holy, He who is true, “He who has the key of David, He who opens and no one shuts, and shuts and no ones opens.” (Rev 3:7) There wasn’t much left of the church except two pillars. The most interesting part of this stop was while looking through the two pillars of this ancient church was the tower of a Muslim masque. It was just fascinating to stand in a place that John had sent his letter to thousands of years ago and be surrounded by the ancient church and at the same time in a country now dominated by a new religion.
Next stop was the isolated ruins of the church of Sardis, “And to the angel of the church in Sardis write, ‘These things says He who has the seven Spirits of God and the seven stars: “I know your works, that you have a name that you are alive, but you are dead.” (Rev 3:1)
I was still astonished that we were the only ones at the site. I wondered, “Does no one know about these places… or care? However, we are in the middle of the country with no towns or villages near by. How would people know about these places? I don’t.”
Our next stop was to Thyatira, which was criticized for the leniency towards the false profit Jezebel, “…you allow that woman Jezebel who calls herself a prophetess, to teach and seduce My servants to commit sexual immorality and eat things sacrificed to idols.” (Rev. 2:20)
This church was in complete ruins fenced off in the middle of the city. It was strange to roam the ruins and hear honking cars, people yelling, and every day city noise after getting used to soaking up the history in silent seclusion.
The next day we went up to the city of Pergamom, which is described as having the Zeus alter (throne of Satan), “I know your works, and where you dwell, where Satan’s throne is. And you hold fast to My name, and did not deny My faith even in the days in which Antipas was My faithful martyr who was killed among you, where Satan dwells.” (Rev 2:13)
Pergamum has one of the steepest Hellinistic theaters in the world. I was alone on the stage and just tried to imagine the theater filled with thousands of people waiting for a speech or theatrical performance. I couldn’t resist giving a little speech to the empty seats, “My name is Amy Brown and I’m giving a speech….” So nothing too profound.
One of our last stops was Ephesus, it was by far the biggest and obviously most popular and well known. Ephesus still looked like a city, the roads were intact, and I could see engravings over an arch showing where a pharmacy had been and secret carvings Christians would put in the walkway in front of their house to let other Christians know they were there. Ephesus is probably the most significant of the churches for Christians because it was there where Paul preached, Timothy taught, and John sent a letter to in Revelation.
This church was criticized for forgetting to love each other, “…and you have persevered and have patience, and have labored for My name’s sake and have not become weary. Nevertheless I have this against you, that you have left your first love.” (Rev. 2:3-4)
As I made my way to the theater I couldn’t believe I was standing right where Paul stood. The whole structure was gorgeous. I was just amazed at the beauty and history surrounding me. I couldn’t have stayed there long enough, but unfortunately, we had a schedule to follow.
Our next stop was to a Turkish rug seller who provided us with lunch and a tour of his business. He showed us how he took the silk from silk worms and spun them into strands and later wove them into rugs. He bragged how Turkish rugs are much better than Persians. Not knowing much about either, I took his word for it. I would have loved one of the beautiful silk rugs, but it was a little out of a volunteer budget so I just admired their beauty. Now knowing the work that is put into making these elaborate rugs I understand why the tapestries I’ve seen in museums are so rare and valuable.
After lunch we headed to Smyrna, the church where John told the Christians not to be afraid to suffer, “ … Indeed, the devil is about to throw some of you into prison, that you may be tested, and you will have tribulation ten days. Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life.” (Rev. 2:10)
I still couldn’t believe that this place wasn’t more of a spectacle. I think that I had just been to too many museums and churches where I’ve had to wait in a long line to pay to see some part of history while being overwhelmed by trigger-happy tourists. I was really glad to enjoy this experience in peace and tranquility.
I took the last night in Izmir to walk around and enjoy a bit of the city since we had been out in the county during our whole trip. It intrigued me that at night almost any city feels the same: people, cars, lights, noise.
We headed to the airport early the next morning, so early that they were able to put us on an earlier flight. Well this gave us a longer layover in Istanbul, four hours. This seemed long enough for me to take a trip into the capital. So I hopped on a bus a headed into the city. Istanbul was unlike any other city I had been to in Turkey. There was a huge river that divided the city and aligning those rivers were magnificent gold glimmering masques. Along the side of the bridge, were hundreds of fishermen catching their daily meal or wages for the fish market close behind. Istanbul was a collision of past and present with the old masques and fisherman contrasting with western shops like Starbucks and MAC makeup.
I really enjoyed Istanbul. The city had a glow. Unfortunately, my time had run out and I went to catch the bus back. I figured that I would go to the bus stop on the opposite side of the street of where I got off thinking it would be heading to the airport. Wrong. So time was pressing and I had no idea where to catch the next bus back to the airport. It was 1:00 pm and boarding was at 2:15pm. After asking many people if they spoke English or gave my version of the airplane sign language a woman came to my rescue. She told me how to get there and gave me her number in case I missed my flight, thoughtful but hopefully not necessary. The bus was not as fast as I remembered or hoped and I had to change to another one mid way. It was now 1:45 and I had 30 min before boarding. I saw some motorcyclist who looked like taxis. I was tempted, but just in case they weren’t I didn’t have time for sign language. I couldn’t find the connecting bus so I hailed my first taxi (well my first ever taxi hailing not taxi rides). Luckily, he understood airport and my urgency, but unfortunately the traffic did not. I pulled into the airport at 2:10 ran through security and sprinted to my gate to arrive at 2:20. Made it. Phew.
While wiping off sweat and catching my breath I realized… well first off I always seem to cut it too close… but more importantly that I was sad to leave. I would definitely come back. The food was amazing, along with the people, history, culture, scenery and overall experience. I loved Turkey. The country no longer reminds me of just something I eat on thanksgiving.
Oh yes and check out my final project by clicking below…

Or you can watch a slideshow with more pictures.

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