In light of recent events in Turkey and around the world, we would like to share with you a letter from one of our group leaders who recently returned from Greece and Turkey. As they share below, even with some inconvenient delays, the group took situations that could have been irritating and instead joyfully turned them into opportunities to pray, study, worship together, and encourage locals. Their attitude and outlook on every situation reflected Christ’s love and peace and contentment.
As always, the safety of our passengers is our top priority, and we are in constant communication with our groups traveling and our partners overseas. Our tours to Greece, Turkey, Israel, Jordan, and Egypt are continuing as scheduled.
We returned at the beginning of March from a meaningful tour of Greece and Turkey with 23 people. There was some apprehension on the part of several travelers due to the recent bombing in Istanbul, (and now in Ankara) but mostly people did not appear to be in dread or fear of travel.
In Greece we were met with some delays due to farmers who were protesting the paying of taxes and were lining up their tractors blocking entrance onto the freeways in northwestern and northern Greece. Even so, we enjoyed seeing the Acropolis, Corinth, Delphi, Meteora, Berea, and Philippi. We read scripture and used time when the bus was not moving due to the backup to share a Bible study on the Apostle Paul. On one night of a long journey we sang hymns and songs for over an hour to pass the time. The hospitality in the hotels was marvelous even upon late arrivals! Dinner was served graciously and we were blessed.
We also came upon buses of refugees from Syria who were stalled and could not travel. We shared a few moments with some of them giving them gloves, a bit of food and money. They had been at this rest stop for 2 days. These were families and people who were upset that they had paid much money to get this far and now could not get out of Greece due to border closings in Yugoslavia. What was their future? The conversations we had with them left our group with hearts full of compassion. When we were delayed getting to our hotels, no one could feel sorry for themselves. We at least had a destination and would get there! Our prayers continue for these misplaced persons.
When we came into Turkey, many of our people were amazed that it looked so clean and modern. I think some thought it would appear more like a war zone or a third world country. Everything was beautiful in the fields and farms along the Aegean Sea. The food was fabulous and all of the sites, Troy, Pergamum, Izmir, Ephesus, and House of Mary were amazing experiences of history and Biblical truth. The hotels were gorgeous; everyone was pleased. Many came away with rug purchases in Ephesus for a lasting memory.
Our last days in Istanbul were full with the visit to the Blue Mosque, Hagia Sophia,and Topkapi Palace. There was a greater understanding of the history of Christianity, Islam, and the Turks after being here. We took a cruise on the Bosphorus which revealed the spacious and populated area of Istanbul. We were not hassled by anyone except some vendors in the Grand Bazaar and Spice market just encouraging us to buy. It was sobering to be at the site of the Egyptian obelisk where a suicide bomber killed several people a month earlier. We prayed over this place for our enemies and for God’s love to overcome evil.
We realize that there is no place on earth that is exempt or free of suffering or possible terrorism. But, I do see how this trip confirmed the faith of people to be free of fear and controlled by a deeper message of living by grace and surrendering themselves to what the Apostle Paul witnessed: “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith” (2 Timothy 4:7).
Thank you Rick and all at Imagine Tours & Travel for making this kind of travel possible!
Pastor Johan and Sonja Hinderlie