We concluded our time in Izmir after three days of touring the seven cities of Revelation. It was so eye opening to walk through the ruins of these biblical cities. As a group, we read the letters from Jesus to each city, and it was amazing how each letter contained metaphors that corresponded to the local setting. The first recipients would have easily made the connections and would have gotten the message loud and clear. We felt so privileged to be able to visit these places and to consider our own lives in light of the messages in Revelation. Our last stop was in Miletus, where Paul met the elders of Ephesus in Acts 19. There is a large theater mostly restored and old streets. We saw where the harbor used to be where they accompanied Paul to the ship to sail away. I thought at the time that being there did not make the Bible more believable, but it did make it more accessible to my mind. We were looking at places that were described 2000 years ago and now we could picture the scene more accurately in our minds. I suspect people who visit Israel feel much the same way.
Turkey was a complete surprise for us. We had expected a topography much like the middle east and for the people to be clearly Muslim in dress, etc. Where we were was so different than that, so green and beautiful and the people seemed more European than Muslim. It is true that 99% of the country is Muslim, but our guide told us only about 20% are actually serious about their faith. But the cultural commitment is strong for Turks making it difficult for them to convert to Christianity. It is estimated that there are only 5,000 true believers in a nation of almost 80 million. There is no severe persecution but continuous vexing opposition, government rules, etc.
We had our usual grueling flight on to Thailand on Wednesday night through Thursday. We arrived fully confused about our time. We had been 8 hours off our mountain time and now were five more off. Our bodies, and minds, are having a hard time figuring this out. It was spring weather in Turkey and now summer in Thailand. We had a couple of days to rest and then attended the Lahu national conference where I preached this morning. It was a wonderful experience with about 2,000 people attending the conference hosted by a village that probably usually has a few hundred residents. We were reminded again about the amazing work God is doing through his gospel throughout the world, often in far off places we can never dream of but actually have a chance to visit from time to time. It was wonderful to hear them singing hymns I grew up singing as a boy. What a blessing.
Tomorrow we start our last workshop with the men here. We are looking forward to our time together but also dread leaving, knowing we will not return anytime soon. We heard one story today that explains why we do what we do. One of our pastor trainees lives way up in a remote village without electricity. Our missionary friends visited in January and said that the men of the village gather at his house each night. They asked why. The pastor responded that they come to discuss his sermon every night. Before his training, the men had little interest in the Bible. Now they want to discuss it each night. He is teaching them some of the study principles we taught him. We are so blessed to be a part of this.