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Greetings from Istanbul !!

We had good flights and arrived safely.  Some sleep, but when we changed  our clocks from 7:30 AM to 3:30 PM our bodies wanted to argue that there hadn’t yet been a night to our day.
Our guide is named Orhan, and he met us with Turkish Delight.  (Now we understand how Edmund was captivated in Narnia.  J)
Orhan understands weary travelers, and he also understands how to banish weariness.  Our first stop was the ancient walls of Constantinople , and climbing replaced thoughts of sleeping.  ‘Awesome’ was the word that everyone was using.
Our next stop was the Spice Market with its incredible variety of colors and smells.  We are convinced—we truly are in a foreign (and fascinating) place!
Just a brief taste—but it has sparked our eagerness for the adventures ahead.  Now for dinner in the lobby of our hotel, devotions, and sleep, sweet sleep. 
Day 2 Wednesday, June 4 9:37 p.m. ( Istanbul time)

Today began with many students (chaperones and parents as well) gaining some much needed rest after a full day of traveling previous.  What was supposed to be a 6:15 a.m. wake up call turned into Mr. Welton and Baillargeon knocking on people’s doors and calling rooms. Nonetheless, the group all assembled for a Turkish authentic (along with some western amenities) 7 a.m. breakfast on top of the hotel building with a magnificent view of Istanbul .   We were told to be in the lobby by 7:55 in order to board the bus at 8 so that rush hour traffic could be avoided.  Our first stop was the magnificent Blue Mosque.  Made from the ruins of the Roman stadium that was right next door to the sight today, the Muslim Blue Mosque was created in order that it could dominate the Christian church of present Hagia Sophia.  Before we entered we were asked to take our shoes off and we encountered an amazing large room, supported by 4 huge pillars.  Fenced off was an area where local Muslims gather to pray only on Friday.  After a brief explanation we were given some time to roam.  Within walking distance was our next stop, the Christian church turned Muslim mosque, and now a museum today, Hagia Sophia.  Throughout Hagia Sophia were amazing displays of archaeology, Islam, and Christianity.  When the Muslims overtook the church and made it into a mosque, they covered any Christian marking or display with plaster and painted over it with Muslim displays.  The plaster they used to cover up Christian displays ended up helping preserve the Christian mosaics of John, Jesus, and the Virgin Mary which have been uncovered and continue to be as well. There also were some Muslim paintings where we could see the cross of Christ shining through in the background.  What an amazing display of God’s providence and His working over so many years!!  One last stop for the day included the Topkapi Palace , the palace for 24 of the 36 Ottoman sultans during the reign of the Ottoman Empire .  Like the Hagia Sophia, Topkapi has been turned into a museum as well.  We were given about an hour of free time and the students were able to browse through many rooms which included ancient religious artifacts, an Ottoman treasury and armory room, and numerous views of the Seas of Marmar, Bosphorus, and Golden Horn .  If we thought today was busy, tomorrow will be even more as we cruise the Bosphorus Straits and Seas of Marmar in the morning, then make our way to the airport for an hour flight to Adana (Southeast Turkey), and then drive 3-4 hours to Syrian Antioch!  Everyone is doing well; the kids are keeping busy and enjoying the country.  We are so thankful for your thoughts and prayers.  We will update when we can.

Day 3, Thursday, June 5
Our Thursday began with a wonderful cruise of the Bosphorus Straits.  During the cruise we were able to view the city of Istanbul from the water.  The Bosphorus Straits are what connect the Black Sea to the Mediterranean Sea and much of the world’s trade takes place here.  One of the best parts about the cruise is that we were able to see the point where Europe and Asia meet and the direction in which we were sailing had Europe on our left and Asia on our right.  On the water we were able to see many sites of Istanbul that we would not have been able to see on land.  We saw one of the oldest houses on the Bosphorus which was made out of wood and built in 1699.  We also saw the most expensive house which just recently sold for 50 million dollars!   There were so many other sites we saw but we will leave that up to your kids to tell you!  After the cruise, our bus picked us up and we were on our way to the Chora Church .  Once again this was an old Christian church, which then became a mosque, and is now a museum today.  Inside the church were numerous mosaics and paintings containing different stories of the New Testament such as the Birth of Jesus, Jesus performing miracles, the temptation of Christ, Christ’s resurrection and many more.  We then had to say goodbye to the Chora Church (much too soon for most of us), had a quick lunch, and headed back to the airport for our flight to Adana .  Once we landed in Adana we were faced with a 3 hour bus ride to Antakya ( Antioch ) but were greeted with numerous sites of the beautiful Turkish countryside which kept the kids interested and ready to take more pictures.  Every single one of the kids has taken numerous pictures that we are sure they cannot wait to show and explain to you when we get back.  They are truly enjoying themselves!  Tomorrow we are off to explore Antioch , the cave church of Peter and the early Christians, Vespesian Tunnel, the monastery of Simon and then back to Adana afterwards.   Good night all!
Friday June 6, 9:25 p.m.
Our Friday was a more adventurous day as the students were greeted with a more challenging landscape than what they are used to back in South Florida .  Turkey is a very mountainous and rugged country and we were able to see that today.  Our first stop was the former port town of Seleucia which served as a harbor on the Mediterranean Sea for many people wanting to make their way to Antioch .   Paul and Barnabas set out from here on their first missionary journey.  In Seleucia was one of the top engineering feats of its time, the Vespasian Tunnel.  Built in 69 A.D. by Titus, the son of the Roman emperor Vespasian, the purpose of the Tunnel was to redirect mountain rainwater runoff from going into the city.  The runoff was then redirected into the ocean.  This construction took many years to build by numerous Jewish slaves possibly from Israel .  After walking up the hill in the tunnel the kids took time to explore, take pictures of the breathtaking view, visit the many rock tombs cut into the mountain, and then make our way back down to our bus.  On our way down, our guide, Orhan, treated us with some Turkish tea from a small café on the shores of the Mediterranean Sea and then the whole group took time to stick our feet into the Mediterranean .  Our next stop was the monastery of St. Simeon situated on the top of a mountain 1,500 feet above sea level.  We were able to somehow make our way up the hill on a small country road with a huge tour bus!  There we found the ruins of the monastery where self deprivation and isolation were practiced by the people who lived there as a way of earning their salvation.  Of course we know that Paul says in Ephesians that it is by GRACE we have been saved, and NOT by works.  The students were able to realize this as they wondered their way around the ruins and saw the pillar Simeon situated himself on and would not come down.  Our final stop for the morning was St. Peter’s Grotto (cave church) which unfortunately was closed due to renovation for damage sustained after a land slide 2 weeks ago.  So we snapped some pictures and had a very late lunch.  Once we finished lunch we made our last stop in Antioch at the archaeological museum which houses one of world’s largest collections of mosaics, statues, and coins.  As you can see, it was yet another busy day in Turkey .  The kids were able to gain some rest on our 2 hour bus ride back to Adana for the night.  Tomorrow will include stops at Tarsus , the hometown of Paul and then Cappadocia to view the cave churches.  We all say “Hi” back to you at home and we are greatly enjoying our time here in Turkey where we can see God’s Word come alive each and every day.

Saturday, June 07, 10:59 p.m

Everyone is healthy and happy.
Our 5th day in Turkey began with a visit to Tarsus , the hometown of the Apostle Paul.  We entered Tarsus by the Cleopatra Gate, and then visited an excavation of an ancient street, a church which was built in the 11th century to honor St. Paul , and also St. Paul’s Well and the remains of a 1st century house.  Although Turkey is 99% Muslim, we also sensed a real pride that Tarsus has in her native son.  Before leaving Tarsus , we stopped to see the Tarsus Waterfall.  Besides the ice cream, the best part of that stop was the way teenagers from two cultures found each other.  Very soon our students were sharing laughter and Turkish words with a group of students from a Turkish school.

Our next stop will always be a highlight for us.  North of Tarsus are the remains of an ancient Roman road which Paul used at the beginning of his 2nd and 3rd missionary journeys.  We walked a mile on the road, and the only other visitors to this remote site were a herd of cows.  Seeing and feeling our own tennis shoes on these ancient stones was an unforgettable experience.

Our fearless bus driver then took us up the Taurus Mountains and through the Cilician  Gates .  The average elevation of these mountains is 7500 feet.  Quiet impressive scenery for these travelers from flat Florida !  Traveling in an air conditioned bus is one thing—but doing this in sandals?!!!  Our admiration for Paul is growing.
During our bus ride, Orhan gave us some fascinating insights into the contrasts and contradictions of Turkish society.  Orhan is so eager to teach and to learn with us.  We’re very thankful for him.
By now we had reached Cappadocia .  We have been looking forward to visiting an underground city here, and we were not disappointed.  Kaymakly was built by Christians to avoid persecution in the 1st century and also the 7th century.  2000 people could live for three months in this underground city!  Only 10% is open to the public, but as we crouched and crawled and wiggled through the underground passages, it truly was a maze to us.  What an amazing testament of faith how they went through so much just to preserve that faith.
We stopped for pictures of Uchisar Castle —a gigantic natural rock with man-made tunnels and rooms.  Both the castle and the area around it feel like one has stepped into some sort of fairy tale.  Fantastic rock formations made formed by volcanic dust, covered with lava. 
Our final stop of the day was to see the Whirling Dervishes.  Again, Orhan helped us to understand the history and beliefs of this mystic sect of Islam.  Dizzy just watching!!  Although we don’t agree with much of what they teach, they certainly do give a dramatic picture of being blessed to be a blessing.
Tomorrow we travel to a more remote area of Turkey so if there is no post on the website, or e-mail, or phone calls home please don’t be alarmed.
Sunday June 8
This Sunday was very special for the kids and the adults as we were able to witness some truly amazing displays of faith in the cave churches of Cappadocia .  All throughout the hillside there were different churches and homes carved right out of the rock.  Each one had its own unique style and different paintings of the gospel story and the Christian faith.  After exploring the churches for a while we were able to move on to the fairy chimneys which were more settlements within the rock, but with a little different look.  We had a great time exploring the intricate tunnels and home and cannot even begin to describe the beautiful landscape.  You will have to wait to see the pictures you child shows you and even then you may not believe it!  Overall these settlements were such a statement of faith to us.  Throughout their rural setting they left no doubt about what values they stood by, what they believed in and who they were.  It is really a statement of faith that we can take from it as well.  After the churches we made a quick stop at a pottery shop to view how the local pottery was made and also buy some of their product.  We traveled to Bodazkoye and settled in our hotel nestled in the mountains of Central Turkey ready for yet another wonderful day. 

Monday June 9

Today we were able to sleep in-7:00!  We explored the ancient ruins of Hattussas, the capital city of the Hittites which many scholars said was a civilization that never existed.  Besides this skepticism, the Bible mentions the Hittites over 50 times, yet so many believed they were a myth.  We explored the immense sight for about 2 hours and then made our way to Ankara , the capital city of Turkey .  In Ankara was the Hittite museum which housed many of the artifacts that had been excavated from the site we had been to earlier in the morning.  Many of the artifacts were between 3,000 and 4,000 years old and were very interesting to see.  The best part about today is the affirmation and evidence it gave to us about the truth of Scripture.  What an awesome testament to God’s faithfulness through His Word.  Tonight we are staying overnight in Ankara and are looking forward to following the Biblical order of a part Paul’s first missionary as we visit the sites of Iconium, Lystra, and Derbe.

Tuesday June 10

In order to fully understand our travels today you will have to read Acts 14.  After breakfast, we spent our morning in the bus taking a 3 hour ride to Iconium (modern day Konya ).   There we visited the Mevlana Museum , dedicated to the founder of a Sufi sect of Islam, the Whirling Dervishes.  There are no remains in Konya of Paul’s visit here, so after lunch we drove 20 miles to Lystra.  Finding this site was a challenge for our driver and Derbe, 60 miles away, was even more difficult.  Today, both sites are large, abandoned mounds (tels) with the city ruins buried below layer upon layer.  Despite the fact that Lystra and Derbe are mounds today, they still have much significance for us as Christians.  Lystra was the place where one of the prominent leaders of the early church (Timothy) was from and was also where Paul was left for dead after being stoned for what he believed.  Derbe was where Paul wintered and recovered from his wounds.  Finally, as we bounced along in our air-conditioned Mercedes Benz bus through the Turkish countryside, Paul’s walk and passion to tell others about the resurrected Christ was even more vivid to us.  Tomorrow we move on to Pisidian Antioch, Colossae , and Hierapolis .

Wednesday June 11

Today was definitely one of the highlights of the trip.  There are no words that can describe the sites we saw and the acts of faith that happened at those sites.  Our first stop was Pisidian Antioch where Paul preached his first recorded sermon and was exiled from the region.  We viewed the colonnaded walkway, theater, and the church dedicated to Paul. Some say the church sits over the synagogue where Paul preached.  All we can say is WOW!  Next we hopped in the bus and drove for three and a half hours to Colossae which is today a mound but still a biblically significant site.  Next was Hierapolis which was a substantial Roman city where the apostle Phillip preached and was crucified for his beliefs.  Here we viewed Phillip’s tomb, the theater, Temple of Apollo , the Domitian Gate and so much more.  The only words to describe Hierapolis were WOW! WOW!  Everyone is healthy but ready for bed. We just finished dinner (10p.m.) and it’s been a 14 hour day.  Sleep well!
Thursday June 12
Our adventures today are captured in Revelation 2 and 3.  In those chapters, the apostle John receives revelations from Jesus.  In those revelations are information and warning for a certain 7 churches in Asia Minor .  Today we visited 5 out of the 7 churches: Laodicea , Philadelphia , Sardis , Thyatira, and Smyrna .  Some of the sites were immaculate with numerous displays of what the city once looked like, while some were quite minor with little uncovering done. But either way, the power of the message in the letter stays the same regardless of what the site looks like today.  Tonight we are staying in Izmir (modern day Smyrna ) for the next two nights which is a nice relief.  At dinner, our day ended with an unexpected blessing.  An elderly Turkish gentleman was playing the piano during our dinner.  Just before we left for devotions, he began playing “Amazing Grace” and as he played a few of our students joined him at the piano and sang along with the tune.  We wish that all of you could have heard it.  After the song, he shook our hands and in broken English said he loves the United States , he feels badly about the events from September 11, and that we are his friends.  Amazing Grace, indeed.   Good night all!
Friday June 13
Today was what some consider to be the most exciting part of the trip.  Today was Ephesus .  In order to beat the rush of people going to Ephesus , we awoke to a 6 a.m. wake-up call and were ready to leave by 7:05.  Getting up so early was definitely worth it because we were able to see all the sites and take many pictures without the hassle of a large crowd.  At Ephesus we witnessed the incredible colonnaded streets, the 3 story library, and the enormous theater.  At the theater we read from Acts 19 where the people of Ephesus rioted against the Christians.  We were even treated to a short song by some of our Jubilate members!  While the group sang, we noticed the amazing acoustics within the theater and when the group was done, they were greeted with applause from other groups as well as ours.  After a two and a half hour tour of Ephesus , we then visited the Ephesus museum, the Church of Mary , and the Church of John .  Once Ephesus was over, we made our way back to Izmir to view the Agora of ancient Smyrna .  We had one more stop on our list for the day and that was the church of St. Polycarp , but we were unable to set up a time to go in.   Sometimes on a large trip like this, you cannot see everything!  As each day passes we are continually blessed to be here and re-live the stories of the Old and New Testaments!  Have a good night and we will see you all soon.

Saturday June 14

After a two hour bus ride right away in the morning, we made our way to our final destination of the 7 churches of Revleation, Pergamum .  In Revelation 2, Jesus mentions “Satan’s throne” which is located in Pergamum .  There are many possibilities for Satan’s throne such as the Temple to Zeus, or worship of Demeter, Dionysius, and Asclepius.  We visited all of these sites today.  We also saw the ancient theater, which was the steepest in the world for its time. Then we visited the Asclepion which was a medical school and practice at the same time.  After Pergamum we made our way to the heralded site of Troy , where the famous Trojan War took place.  We viewed all 9 levels of ancient Troy and also took some pictures of the kids inside the Trojan Horse.  Once Troy was over we traveled to our hotel which is situated on the Dardanelles .  Everyone enjoyed a refreshing swim in the Dardanelles and the pool, which included a wonderful dinner outdoors as well.  Tomorrow we make our final stop on the trip at Gallipoli, a famous World War I battle site, and then make our way to Istanbul for our final night in Turkey .  Enjoy the rest of the weekend and we will see you early next week!

Sunday June 15

HAPPY FATHER’S DAY!  We love you!
This morning we took the ferry across the Dardanelles .  We said farewell to Asia and greeted Europe .  Then we drove north on the Gallipoli Peninsula , scene of horrific fighting in WW I.  We stopped at Anzac Cove and several of the 22 memorials there—a sobering drive.  Our afternoon was spent completing the drive to Istanbul and Euro Cup fever.  We’ve done our share by buying t shirts and cheering for the home team.  Go Turkey !!  We’ve also been celebrating Paul’s birthday today.  Many reasons to be thankful—seeing you soon is at the top of the list.  We won’t be posting tomorrow from Paris , but we’re eager to see you Tuesday!  (HUGS!)


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