Rector Pastor and Wife Enjoy Trip of a Lifetime
Rector First Baptist Church's pastor Laramie LeQuieu and wife Kathy recently had the opportunity to take a trip of a lifetime, visiting Turkey, where they followed in the footsteps of some of the very first New Testament missionaries like Paul and Barnabas.
"Being in those places enriches the study of the Bible," Laramie said. "Studying the text of the Bible in the context where it happened is very rewarding."
The couple travelled with GTI Tours of Holland, Mich., and tour guide Brad Gray, a teaching pastor at Central Wesleyan Church, also in Holland.
They began their tour in Antalya, a modern city that stands around the harbor where Paul likely entered Asia Minor. Gray chose the "yada" approach for their trip. Yada means to know by observing or experiencing, which "is a deeper knowledge than simply having heard about it," Laramie said. The tour group followed the ancient mail route, visiting the cities where the book of Revelation written by John the Apostle was circulated and read.
"In the letter Jesus is speaking to the churches in a way that lets them know He knows what's going on inside their cities, good and bad," Laramie said. "He was calling them to live, love and act the way they're supposed to." Cities on the list were Laodicea, Philadelphia, Sardis, Thyatira, Pergamum, Ephesus and Smyrna.
On this journey most of the sites were archaeological digs inside national parks; those that were not digs were not excavated. In each place they visited, a learning opportunity arose. Gray would stop and teach lessons in each place. Sometimes the group could travel by bus, but most of the places visited had to be walked to or hiked up. "In the ancient world cities were built on hills, because it made them more difficult to attack and conquer," LeQuieu said.
On their first day in Asia Minor they visited the Antalya museum, where items from an archaeological dig at Perga were on display. Perga was a city Paul would have passed through. "It was neat to walk the streets they would have walked," Kathy said. They also visited Aspendos, where one of the most complete and well preserved stone handcrafted theaters from the first century still remains. The Aspendos theater still holds music festivals and other festivities to this day.
From Antalya, the couple travelled to Hierapolis, which isn't on the list but holds other biblical and historical value. It's the site of what is believed to be the tomb and martyrdom of Phillip the Apostle as well as impressive hot springs with mineral deposits built up along the hills that look like waterfalls. Phillip the Apostle was arrested in Hierapolis, drug by chariots through the street and then crucified for his Christian beliefs. "It was illegal to be a Christian in those days, and if not for the sacrifices made by those martyrs we wouldn't be able to study or teach the Bible like we can today," Laramie said.
From Hierapolis the couple went to Laodicea by way of Col
Laodicea is being excavated, but as one of the cities its story was the point. Historically, Laodicea was known for its banking center, medical school that invented an eye salve, black sheep and its undrinkable water. The town used aqueducts to carry water from five miles away. The city was very wealthy and self sufficient to the point of arrogance, and apparently the church had become too much like their city.
In the part of the letter to the church in Laodicea Jesus called them out saying, "I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other. So, because you are lukewarm--neither hot nor cold--I am about to spit you out of my mouth. You say, 'I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.' But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked. I counsel you to buy from me gold refined in the fire, so you can become rich; and white clothes to wear, so you can cover your shameful nakedness; and salve to put on your eyes, so you can see."
Jesus used physical illustrations they would understand to teach them a spiritual truth.
On day three the group travelled to Aphrodisias where a sculpture school once stood. Many items of Roman-inspired art and several buildings have been reconstructed after being uncovered by archaeologists.
Then the group went to Philadelphia, an unexcavated site, also known as a "tell", where a modern city now stands.
The fourth day the group went to Sardis, where the "dead" church was. In the letter it reads "I know your deeds; you have a reputation of being alive, but you are dead." Sardis was a three-level city, but the upper and middle levels were destroyed in the Lydia earthquake in 17 A.D. The city never fully recovered. Today this is another area filled with beautiful ruins and archaeological excavations.
Next they travelled to Thyatira, where historical ruins can be found in one city block with a bustling modern city all around.
On day five they arrived in Pergamum, "where Satan's throne is," Jesus says in the book of Revelation. At this location multiple temples dedicated to Greek and Roman gods have been pieced back together and a large piece of a theater still remains. Also located at Pergamum was one of the largest hospitals and medical centers in the first century.
Day six, the group visited Ephesus and the museum where the group sat in the theater looking out onto an agora or marketplace. Gray had the group open their Bibles to Acts 19 and read the story of the events of when Paul was in Ephesus. Paul came into Ephesus to spread the word of Christ, and it came to pass that a silversmith in the marketplace became angered as he lost money, because people quit buying idols when they accepted Jesus. The silversmith incited a riot that spilled over into the theater. After the group read the story, Gray told them it had happened where they were sitting. "Being in the same places these stories occurred the Bible goes from black and white to living color," Laramie said. "It's not just a history book or a fable; it's real."
The LeQuieus feel that study tours to learn more about the Bible are very worthwhile so they are paying it forward. A trip to Israel is planned from Sunday, Jan. 22, to Thursday, Feb. 2, 2017. The trip will consist of visiting sites with both Old and New Testament significance, but especially those sites where Jesus lived, died, and rose again. Anyone in the community who would like more information about this opportunity to visit the places where the Bible actually happened can contact LeQuieu at (870) 595-3668 or email Laramie@rectorfirst.org