History’s Continental Divide
Once or twice in a lifetime maybe, for someone like me, the time comes to stand in a place that represents a major turning point in history. This summer I had one of those moments. It came late in the afternoon at the western edge of Turkey. I stood on the crest of a hot, windy wall covered with tall grasses and scrub oak trees, surveying ruins of the Roman city of Alexandria Troas. Nothing much is left there now except a few square miles of huge hand-carved stones half buried in the sandy soil of the Aegean Sea region. Twenty centuries of wind and human neglect have turned the once proud city into a deserted waste. My friends and family had followed some sheep trails through the underbrush, up and over piles of dirt, and found a high spot where we could get a better view. In the distance we saw the crumbling remains of a tower and an archway. After a short drive we got closer to the remains of two huge arches and a wall stretching across a grassy waste which turned out to be what was left of a massive sauna for the city’s ruler.
So what makes this deserted Aegean city a turning point in history? My friend dug a well-worn bible out of his backpack and read to us from the Book of Acts Chapter 16. The Apostle Paul, no stranger to Turkey, having been born there, had trekked his way slowly across the Asia Minor heartland with hopes of taking his message eastward into Asia. We don’t know the details, but Acts simply says he couldn’t make the progress in Asia he wanted to make. So he wound up in Troas, looking out over the same awesome sunset we saw over the Aegean Sea. Maybe he took advantage of the beautiful, restful landscape of Troas to reflect on his journeys and goals. That night he had an inspiring dream in which a man from the Roman province of Macedonia appeared to him, earnestly asking for help. All Paul had to do was climb up one of the multi-storied buildings and follow the sun’s pathway to see his way Westward to Macedonia.
Before we left Troas we carefully hiked along the top of the massive stonewall, the West to our left, the East to our right. I pondered Paul’s predicament. What would the world look like today had he successfully entered Asia with the revolutionary message of Jesus of Nazareth instead of heeding the Western call of Macedonia? Historians tell us that in later centuries the monasteries of Europe not only saved the Bible through the Dark Ages, but they also preserved Greek and Roman literature for future generations. Medicine and the scientific method owes much to the Christian worldview of early pioneers like Newton and Paschal.
Standing on that ancient wall made me feel like I was standing on the continental divide of history. Yet as we made our way back along the dusty trail to the van, I wondered, were Paul and his traveling companions really that different from us, could they have been perhaps just ordinary people making seemingly daily decisions?
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