"When local merchants wanted to meet Saint Paul, they asked the Christians where to find him," recounted our tour guide during a recent trip to Turkey. "The Christians said, 'Go out on the way to Lystra and look for a man of short stature, with a crooked nose, hollow eyes, and a face like an angel.' "
We were also "on the way" to see Paul. Not to Lystra, but to modern-day Konya (formerly Iconium, near Lystra)—another of the apostle's haunts. And the Christians on our tour, like those first-century merchants, wanted a glimpse of Paul's world. That's not easily done in this country where minarets pierce the skyline in places where Paul's footprints have long since disappeared.
Paul and Barnabas fled to Konya after a successful ministry tour in Pisidian Antioch (Acts 13). They "spent considerable time there, speaking boldly for the Lord" and performed "miraculous signs and wonders" (Acts 14:3, niv). But you'd never know it from the tourist's point of view: The main attraction in Konya is the sema—the mystical trance-inducing dance of the "whirling dervishes," an Islamic sect. But the Christians on our tour wanted to see something related to Paul in Konya, so with a coveted free hour we made a spontaneous visit to the Church of Saint Paul.
We arrived unannounced in the early evening (the first building we had seen enclosed behind a security gate). Mass, we learned, was being held inside for the five Christians who attended the church, but the overseeing nun was so pleased we had come that she invited us to hold our impromptu service in the garden. (The fact that this was a Catholic church was beside the point for us Protestants; we were thankful for any sort of a Christian presence.)
Withering marigolds and snapdragons ...1