We landed at dawn and began with a one-day tour of Istanbul. It was a wet, windy and cold day. We toured the main tourist sites and manage to squeeze in an hour of shopping at the grand bazaar in the late evening. We visited the ancient ruins of the cities where the seven churches mentioned in the book of Revelation once existed. They are all in modern-day Turkey. We crossed over to Greece by bus and visited holy sites, ancient ruins and museums in Philippi, Thessalonica, Berea, Athens, and Corinth. From Athens, we flew and transited in Istanbul, then flew back home.
We stayed at eight hotels in ten days. That should say something. It meant living out of our suitcases and early morning calls that mercifully became sane morning calls in Greece. It also meant being on the road an average of about 2 hours between sites. We all expected it as this was a familiarization tour and we visited many different sites. This would then help us in our planning to lead a tour from our church in the future.
Personal highlights of the tour
The fellowship was wonderful. There were 39 participants in all—mostly pastors from different denominations and background. There were Methodists, Baptists, Assemblies of God, Independents, Brethren, Presbyterians, Anglicans, and Vietnamese Alliance. There were about 25 meals we had together and I heard many inspiring stories from the pastors: how they were called and what their churches were about. A few of these pastors had successful careers, but they heard the call and became pastors in mid-career changes.
Naturally the pastors were tasked to give devotions at the major sites. It was edifying to hear God’s messages to the seven churches in Revelation come alive with probing relevance and power across the centuries. I was blessed. For me it was like a personal invitation from the Spirit to look more deeply at the book of Revelations and consider preaching through it in my church. The book lit up like a burning bush.
This tour was well-organised and packed. The tour guides were very good in terms of their expertise, people skills and humour. We had our meals at restaurants and most breakfasts and dinners were in above-average hotels. Not sure about the cuisine, but I prefer the Turkish meals to the ones in Greece for greater variety. There were salads in every meal. I never ate so many vegetables in any ten days of my life till now.
If I were to plan a pilgrimage/study tour for the church, I would concentrate on Turkey. I would do the Istanbul bit, fly to Tarsus, get lost in the Cappadocia caves, do the seven churches circuit, and have a day cruise to the island of Patmos (part of Greece). The tour will focus on the book of Revelations and the relevance of its message to us. I feel that the Revelations tour could be very impactful. I would also add some elements like staying an extra day in a city, and have some fun shopping or hot air ballooning. I would have a separate pilgrimage for Greece, probably with more of a missional slant.
My favourite sites were the ancient Ephesus site and Pamukkale “cotton castle” in Turkey; and the Meteora in Greece.