I just returned from a two-week Mediterranean Cruise with a group from our church. We followed the footsteps of the Apostle Paul as we traveled to Italy, Greece, Turkey, and Israel. There were countless blessings from the experience, but three that I want to highlight:
Places: I love where I live, and am blessed to be at home in our community. In essence, I don’t need to travel to be content. Nevertheless, the experience of visiting distant places should not be missed. Especially when those places are rich in culture, history, beauty, and biblical significance. For example, I loved being in Naples and enjoying the physical beauty of the Amalfi Coast, the Island of Capri, and Sorrento. To sit on a cliff on Capri overlooking the Mediterranean and enjoy prosciutto di parma, mortadella, true parmesan cheese, and rustic bread from a local salumeria is idyllic. To see the extensive archaeological site at Pompeii, and glean greater understanding of ancient life prior to the city’s destruction by the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius was insightful.
But, the most amazing and memorable sites for me are intimately connected to the Scriptures. Although it was my eighth time visiting Israel, I am always excited to return. And I wasn’t disappointed. Standing at the Western Wall is always a moving experience. As a Jew it is my people’s holiest site. As a follower of Christ, it is remarkable to walk where Jesus walked. It is a worthy pilgrimage to visit the site of the Upper Room and contemplate Jesus’ commencement address to His disciples. It is sobering to journey along the Via Delorosa and imagine Christ’s suffering for us. It is poignant to see the place of the skull (Golgotha/Calvary), and then to walk a short distance to the Garden Tomb and once again discover the empty tomb. The foundation stone of the Temple, and the foundations of our faith are all there.
In addition, I was able to travel for the first time to Ephesus and Athens. Ephesus is arguably the most significant church of the New Testament. And the archaeological site is truly remarkable. The ancient city’s significance as a seaport and epicenter of ancient trade produced great wealth, and glorious monuments. The ancient beauty that has been uncovered is extensive and the display is impressive. I stood in the 25,000 marble-seated theater of Ephesus and considered the riot initiated by the silversmiths whose business had been hamstrung by the city’s repentance and abandonment of idolatry. I discovered that you could hear someone speaking on stage in a conversational voice as you sit in the furthest seat from the stage. I could imagine an angry, confused mob chanting, “Great is Diana of the Ephesians!” I dreamed of God doing a mighty work of reaching my community.
Athens is the birthplace of democracy and Western Civilization. In Athens’ Golden Era during the 5th Century before Christ the Acropolis displayed the Parthenon, temples to Athena, and places of worship of other pagan gods, including Mars. Paul shared the gospel with Athenian philosophers there [Ac.17]. The restored remains are visible for us today. The grandeur and glory is arguably incomparable outside of possibly Rome. In our hotel, not far from the Acropolis, there was a room one level below the lobby that had a window displaying the actual wall built in 487 B.C. to protect Athens from invasion by the Spartans. I was amazed by the seemingly random presence of 2,500-year old objects of antiquity so readily on display in Athens. I get excited about being in Boston or Philadelphia and seeing 200 year-old objects, and I’m stoked to see Cathedrals in Europe that are 700-1,000 years old. But Athens, in many ways, exceeded them all.
People: Being on a large cruise ship with people from all over the world was really fun. Inevitably you have time to meet people and make new friends and share experiences with fellow travelers. On several days at sea we had worship gatherings. During the cruise we met other believers on board who attended and worshiped with us. There were other church groups on board, but our group apparently developed a reputation on the ship as the group that loves God and welcomes people.
I was also blessed to get to meet and make new friends with the group from Cross Connection Church in Escondido that joined us. Pastor Miles DeBenedictis and his wife Andrea have been friends for years, and their group and the group from Calvary Nexus quickly merged into one group. The sense of unity and love that was displayed was a special treat to experience.
But arguably the greatest blessing was to spend quality and quantity time with a large group of people who attend Calvary Nexus and get to know them better. Sharing meals, activities, and tours was a great way to share life and Christ. I am very fortunate to have so many wonderful friends in my life. Best of all, my wife Karen was with me. In the last 20 years, I’ve led countless trips to Israel and foreign missions without my wife. Having Karen there to share the experience together was a gift for me (and all those with us).
Perspectives: While we were at sea our nation elected a new President. The level of interest in our election among other passengers from different countries was peculiar. Our country seems generally disinterested about world events and politics. Most of the passengers, and most of the people I spoke with in other countries, were very curious and generally knowledgeable about U.S. (and world) news and wanted to discuss these topics. It was refreshing to glean various perspectives. In Israel, I’d estimate 80% of the people I spoke with were pleased with the outcome of our elections. In Europe (and Turkey) the opinions were mixed. I had a chance to see how other people live (albeit if only a limited perspective in some select cities), and that helps to influence and improve my perspectives on life and eternal life.
Finally, after many hours in airports I was home. Back to my sons, our friends, a wonderful church community, In-N-Out, my dog, and my comfy bed. Back to familiar, but with some new perspectives. And grateful to God for the blessings of traveling where I did, with the people I was with, and the life I live at home.
In essence, I would highly recommend a Mediterranean cruise following the footsteps of the Apostle Paul.