Sabbatical Travels: Following Paul, Part 1

Here at Flowers for the Pastor’s Wife we schedule pieces in advance, making the calendar a year at a time. When this topic was put on the calendar the world was a different place and now it feels incredibly indulgent to write a piece on my journey last summer through Europe. But our God is still good, He’s still faithful, and He’s still the same God He was when we were traveling internationally, and when Paul was making this journey shortly after Jesus walked on the Earth. 

We were fortunate enough to be chosen for a grant to have a sabbatical the summer of 2019. Our church is a small independent Bible church and so the likelihood of us having a paid sabbatical did not cross our minds until we met the McConnell family in 2017 and heard their story. You can read part of their sabbatical journey here. You can read a bit about the planning and find helpful tips on sabbatical here.

When dreaming and planning our sabbatical, we knew we would love the opportunity to travel to visit some New Testament places and walk where saints before us have walked. We thought that might be a little easier since we would have two of our three children with us, and we finally settled on focusing on places Paul visited. We couldn’t travel the exact paths of Paul in order, or visit every single stop on his journeys, so we pieced together as best we could a trip that would combine a good mix of church history, biblical experience, and fun for the kids as well. 

If you’ve met our family in person, you’d know we have big personalities and we love a good time and a challenge. I made it my personal challenge for each of us to travel with only our own backpack for 25 days, on two continents, and in five countries – part cruise, part tour-led, part trains, part planes, part on our own driving on the wrong side of the road! We boarded the Chicago to Rome overnight flight with just the bags on our backs, ready for adventure. 

We did the best we could to prepare our minds and hearts for what God might do through this trip and of course we fell short. But we did find that the Holy Spirit worked through those we interacted with, the places we got to visit, the relationships in our family, and even held a few surprises for us as well. 

Rome

We landed in Rome at 9 am but my body said it was 2 am and we were to trudge through the day. After checking into our hotel, we hit some highlights of the Pantheon, the Colosseum, and many other Roman sites, to gain our bearings in such ancient surroundings. The most important connection to our Paul journey that day was visiting the Roman forum and seeing where Paul might have walked, heard the news of the day, and purchased goods while under house arrest there. He shared the gospel and preached for two years there, had many visitors (possibly Luke and Mark among others), and wrote some of his letters to the churches: Ephesians, Philippians, and Colossians. (See Acts 28:16-31)

Roman Forum

We spent a few more days in Rome seeing the sites, visiting other important places of church and world history, with a disastrous day trip to Pompeii involving being yelled at in a Roman grocery store, blistering heat, a bit of dehydration, and a kid with nose bleeds. 

I knew we would be going to Greece for a portion of our trip because Paul spent a lot of time there. We were to go from island to island where so many important biblical scenes and stories happened. We would spend the rest of our time on the Greek mainland with a driver and tour guide. I was thankful for this in planning because I knew little about Greek culture or geography beyond which I (correctly) assumed were stereotypes. 

We flew to Athens and boarded a small cruise ship to tour islands in the Aegean. We made a few touristy stops on Greek Islands such as Santorini and Mykonos, but the two biblical foci of the trip for us were the island of Patmos (where John was imprisoned and wrote the book of Revelation) and a stop in modern day Turkey to see Ephesus. 

Ephesus

Ephesus was a treat to behold. By this point in our journey we were starting to understand the depth and character of Roman and Greek settlements and starting to feel immersed in understanding New Testament Bible times. The care and continuous preservation of the site of Ephesus helped bring the Bible to life for us and helped us understand deeper the culture of Paul’s time. We know he was in Ephesus multiple times, especially in the company of Aquila and Priscilla (Acts 18:19-21 and Acts 19) and he lived there for a few years, preaching to the Jews and often in the various lecture halls. 

Ephesus Theatre

Adam walking where Paul walked

Corinth

We disembarked the cruise ship and drove with our tour guide to the Corinth Canal and on to the ancient site of Corinth and its museum. We wandered the streets of Corinth and saw the places where Paul met Aquila and Priscilla, lived as a tentmaker for almost two years, and spread the Word of the Lord. (Acts 18:1-18) It is also believed that while here, Paul wrote his letters to the Thessalonians.

Jewish Column Decoration in Corinth

Our Family Atop the Agora Stage in Corinth

Athens

We drove back to Athens and stayed in our favorite hotel, the kids liked that it was more of a suite and they had a little space after the time spent in a cruise ship cabin, and I enjoyed that it had a bathtub in which to do laundry and a balcony to dry it on. We spent the rest of the day at Mars Hill (Areopagus) and the acropolis where the Parthenon sits. This is where Paul addresses the religious leaders of Athens and gives his famous sermon on Mars Hill referencing an altar to an unknown god. (Acts 17:16-34) We wandered that area and learned quite a bit of Greek history along with the biblical history we knew we would learn there. 

Looking from Mars Hill towards the Parthenon

Our family in front of the Parthenon

A balcony means Laundry Day on a 3.5 week trip

We slept well that night, knowing much more adventure awaited, resting in the knowledge that God had provided us this chance to learn more about Him and His world. 

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