Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary Blog

Naples and Pompeii

June 27, 2013

Wesley Richard, scribe

Perhaps the Ocean View Café on Deck 14 was busy this morning at 6:30 because we gained an hour during the night, or, more likely, because we were all anticipating the final step on our Mediterranean Tour. At any rate, as we watched the Celebrity back slowly into its place at the Naples pier, the first question we heard Lores Hochstetler ask was, “Have you started to pack yet?” Today was a day of last things.

As Randy Longenecker opined, our half-day tour of the Pompeii ruins provided a fitting closure to our AMBS tour. By now we knew what to expect when we disembarked—a skilled bus driver and a knowledgeable tour guide. We were not disappointed. Nadia began to describe the landscape as soon as we started motoring through the main square of Naples, and with good humor and occasional wise cracks provided cultural and historical insights the entire time.

We learned that Naples had been bombed in World War 2, but that it was really a new town because Pompeii used to be on the sea coast until Mount Vesuvius erupted in 79 AD. Since then it has often erupted at 50-year intervals. Its next eruption is now overdue! But not to worry: there is always an earthquake first!

Mount Vesuvius used to be 9,000 feet high, but it lost two-thirds of its height when it exploded, spewing ash and fire and covering some areas with up to 96 feet of lava. Many people died at the beach because the water cut off their way of escape.
As we walked the mile-long Main Street of old Pompeii, lined with its shops, marble columns, and tiled floors, we exclaimed at the amenities the Romans had supplied over two millennia ago: sewage system, central heating in the spas, and running water, albeit through lead pipes, which probably contributed to the deterioration of the mental health of its aristocracy. We were so impressed with the acoustics of the reconstructed theater that our voices erupted in singing the Mennonite version of the Doxology (#606) to the amazement of other tour groups standing nearby.

But we stood speechless as we scrutinized the plaster bodies of volcano victims in glass displays. (The ash had hardened around the bodies and the flesh had decayed inside, leaving only the skeleton. The space was then injected with plaster to fill the cavity, and when the hardened ash was peeled away, only the shape of the body remained.)
We did not have time to get to the Catholic Church, but when the bus engine suddenly died at an intersection and refused to start, Nadia reminded us that we should have taken the time to stop and pray to the Virgin Mary. “This is a place of miracles,” she told us. Fortunately, the driver was able to apply his charm and the bus started again, much to everyone’s relief, especially the honking drivers behind us.

Last things continued to unfold the remainder of the day. At lunch, Ricky Schrag decided to visit the dessert bar one more time because, “This is the last day,” she said.

Sue and I decided to make our way to the hot tub for one last soak, where we met our new friend from Chicago one more time, an Iraqi who came to the U.S. with his parents in 1976 after Saddam Hussein became president, . . . because “he would not be good for the country.” Our friend is now in pharmacology with 70 employees under him, working on what he is sure will become “personalized drugs” for cancer and other diseases, drugs that will target specific genes. He said we will not likely see it in this generation, but our descendants certainly will.

Later, we went to the Café to say goodbye to our friend Mildred from the Dominican Republic, a devout Christian who appreciated Sue’s daily words of encouragement. The group gathered around our designated tables on the third floor for our last supper of a rich assortment of foods from the printed menu. We were able to help celebrate Earl and Margaret Sutter’s 60th wedding anniversary by singing as a waiter placed a cake with a candle in front of them.

We then moved to the pool deck on top for a final photo and a couple of wonderful choral numbers, including “The Lord Bless You and Keep You.”

On our way up, Galen Miller told me, “When I got on this ship, I thought it would last forever, and here it is, the last night!”

I guess it is true that all good things must come to an end.


Cruisetour photos from Turkey

June 26, 2013

1. The AMBS cruisetour group poses in front of the Library of Celsus in ancient Ephesus.

The AMBS cruisetour group poses in front of the Library of Celsus in ancient Ephesus.

2. The cruisetour ship, Celebrity Reflection.

Cruisetour ship.

3. Local artisan Ayşe demonstrates to the group how she weaves Turkish rugs.

Ayşe demonstrates to the group how she weaves Turkish rugs.

4. Deborah-Ruth Ferber sits at the tomb of the Apostle John in St. John’s Basilica in Ephesus.

 Deborah-Ruth Ferber poses at the tomb of the Apostle John in St. John’s Basilica in Ephesus.



June 25, 2013

The ruins of Pompeii in the foreground, with Mount Vesuvius in the background. Mount Vesuvius was more than twice as high before it exploded, leaving a larger crater between the two peaks visible today. The eruption in 79 AD buried Pompeii in more than 20 feet of ash and killed an estimated 16,000 people in the area.

The ruins of Pompeii in the foreground, with Mount Vesuvius in the background. Mount Vesuvius was more than twice as high before it exploded, leaving a larger crater between the two peaks visible today. The eruption in 79 AD buried Pompeii in more than 20 feet of ash and killed an estimated 16,000 people in the area.

Debbie Baergen, scribe

The morning sun shone bright in the cloudless blue Grecian sky as 38 members of our group boarded a bus for our day in Athens. Unfortunately three of our group were unable to join us.

We left the busy port of Piraeus and headed into the sprawling metropolis of Athens. We passed recognizable buildings from the 2004 Olympics. According to our guide, many of the Olympic venues have been abandoned—somewhat ironic in a city that holds some of the most ancient buildings known. We headed into the “old city” with its narrow streets packed on either side with apartment buildings—maximum 7-8 stories tall—built and maintained in a neoclassical style. Laws prevent the changing of the exterior of these buildings. We also saw the new metro and places where excavations for its construction had unearthed further ancient ruins—a common occurrence in this city and one most North American city planners do not even consider.

When we arrived at the bottom of the acropolis, we got off the bus full of anticipation for seeing the ruins. At the same time, however, we also felt some trepidation, since our goal stood nearly 500 feet (150 meters) above us. We started up the pathway, stopping to hear the legend of the Areopagus, or Mars Hill. While the story of the Amazons’ revenge was interesting, we resonated more with the realization that it was here that Paul came to debate the Athenians and teach them about Jesus Christ and Christianity. As we climbed the uneven, slippery marble steps, we knew we were walking where Paul had actually walked. The top of the hill was a rough, uneven, natural rock but the view was amazing! It is difficult to understand how animated debates could have taken place there. But this is where Paul started the Athenian church—and now roughly 95% of Greece is Eastern Orthodox, with another small percentage being Roman Catholic or Protestant. We proceeded up the hill toward the Acropolis, stopping at one point to look down and see the Dionysus and Odeon Theatres and the temples of Zeus and Hephaistos (or Hephaestus).

We marveled at the size, beauty, and preservation of these ancient sites. Our guide, Daphne, informed us that the theaters were still used for festivals and that the temple of Hephaistos had been used as a church for many years, which assisted its remaining so complete. We continued to trudge up the steep slope, finally reaching the Propylaea. We climbed the marble steps and went through the arch and found a breathtaking view of the Parthenon and the Erechtheion, with Athens far below. It was amazing. These buildings had been built around 2,500 years ago (447 to 432 BC). They were there when Paul came to Athens. They had withstood earthquakes, fire, and even a major bombardment. Yet they were still impressive in size and craftsmanship. How fragile and insignificant one feels in the presence of this long-lasting beauty!

The later trip to the new archaeological museum gave us a glimpse of what it may have been like for ancient Athenians approaching the Parthenon. On the top floor the museum had created its own Parthenon—a space of the same dimensions oriented parallel to the original, which we could see through the wall of windows. This space had 46 metal pillars placed the same distance apart as the carved ones of the Parthenon—17 on each side and 8 on each end. It also had the recovered pieces of the carvings from the temple as well as casts of the missing metopes and portions of the frieze of the cella, with missing pieces reconstruct¬ed. The museum also had a model of the incredibly detailed sculptures from the east and west pediments so we could better imagine the look of the temple before it fell to ruins. Walking in this space and seeing all the artwork brought down to eye level helped us to experience once again a sense of awe for the sheer size of the building and incredible craftsmanship involved in its creation.

On our return to the ship a number of us took advantage of the opportunity to tour the ship’s galley. After spending a day exploring the ancient, it was quite the contrast to hear about how the galleys were run on the newest cruise ship in the ocean. From the complications of creating multi-course dinners for 3,200 guests and over 1,000 staff to serving the food efficiently and at the right temperatures, it was an interesting tour. Food for people with special dietary needs is prepared in a separate section in order to avoid cross-contamination. Meats and vegetables are stored in separate storage places. Different foods need different temperatures for optimal freshness and taste. Food left on plates is not thrown away. Instead, it is pulverized, then turned into fuel for the ship. The staff must follow rigid health and safety policies. Although they work long hours, they seem to enjoy being here. People from around the world apply to work on this ship—yet only a few get chosen as there is a stringent application process and little turnover in staff. What amazing technology and management!

It was quite a day, full of contrasts and juxtapositions as we saw the new being built on the old and the ancient preserved high above the modern city, but then we returned to the model of modern efficiency that has been our home for this cruise.



The island of Mykonos

June 24, 2013

Bruce Baergen, chair of the AMBS board, and his wife, Debbie, pause for a rest in the “Little Venice” part of Mykonos, with windmills in the background.

Bruce Baergen, chair of the AMBS board, and his wife, Debbie, pause for a rest in the “Little Venice” part of Mykonos, with windmills in the background.

Sue Richard, scribe

Today is the tenth day of our excursion with four more days to enjoy the beauty of the Mediterranean Sea on the ship as well as search out the historic ancient sites on land. Breakfast at the Oceanview Café this morning was our first opportunity of the day to exercise choices—which ethnic breakfast foods would we indulge in. So far I have not had a craving for pickled herring with coffee, but sautéed eggplant in olive oil along with my regular serving of stewed Mediterranean figs was indeed satisfying! I have observed that the American breakfast bar does not include Texas toast or large Danishes, long johns, or Dunkin’ Donuts. The more petite pastries encourage nibbling on a variety of pastry delicacies.

I am grateful we have the time each morning to carry out our normal after-breakfast schedule of shared devotions. Our Scripture this morning was from Luke’s travel blog (i.e., Acts), when Paul left for Macedonia, where he gave the believers much encouragement. Then he went on to Greece, where he stayed for three months. Tomorrow our ship docks at Athens, where we will spend only one day visiting the ancient sites, some of which are referred to in Acts.

My interest in Macedonia was piqued when at dinner the very first night our waiter introduced himself as Alexander from Macedonia! And now this afternoon while recording my thoughts of the morning’s events in a quiet place on the 14th deck, Alexander spotted me and came to my table to say hello. Unfortunately he did not have time for conversation. How I would like to ask him if he comes from the seaport city of Thessalonica or from the interior, and whether he knows how important his province of Macedonia is in the biblical story.

Today’s off-ship destination was the island of Mykonos, a place not mentioned in Paul’s journeys. It sits on the same southern edge of the Aegean Sea as Samos, Kos, and Santorini, and is not all that far from Patmos. I wish we could have stopped at Patmos instead, where John received his revelation.

Mykonos claims to be “extremely popular with tourists, . . . retaining a Cycladic charm with its white-washed houses, hilltop windmills, shops, cafes, and tavernas [small restaurants].” Al¬though the island consists of only 35 square miles, it has more than 400 churches!

Today’s excursion required being tendered from the ship to the island by ferry. With map in Hand, Wesley and I set out to view the most impressive Byzantine jewel on the island, The Panagia Paraportiani Church, actually a complex of five different churches or chapels, one of which is open to the public. Our search for the jewel of the island yielded more than one spiritual jewel along the way. Walking along the seafront illuminated the glory of God’s creation right before our eyes—crystal clear water flowing over beautiful rock formations with the mountains creating an idyllic scene in the background.

Reading a map proved to be misleading, just as asking for directions does not always send you in the right direction! After going in the wrong direction a good distance around the island, we realized our search was leading to a dead end and that we needed to turn around and head in another direction to find the House of the Lord for which we were looking. Thankfully, we ended up at the right destination.

Our day on the island ended early, allowing us to luxuriate in the hot tub on board before having dinner with our fellow AMBS travelers. What a blessing to share food and conversation together!



June 23, 2013

Shirley Miller, scribe

We began our time together with worship at 9:00 a.m. and from Ephesians were challenged to “sing and give thanks,” and so we sang, “If you believe and I believe,” “Lord Jesus Christ, be present now,” “Longing for light,” and “God of the Bible.”

Personal verses from Ephesians and sharing came from Lola Gingerich, Abe Buhler, and Mary Schiedel. Loren shared an introduction to Ephesus. We learned that Paul lived in Ephesus about three years—longer than anywhere else on his journeys. The apostle John and John the elder also lived there. Paul had an emotional meeting with the elders of Ephesus on his last missionary journey. He knew that imprisonment and persecution were surely awaiting him. He instructed them to be alert and watchful, recounting the example he had set, commending them to God.

Ancient Ephesus had about 250,000 inhabitants and served as the capital of the Roman province of Asia. In those days the “ocean” was much closer and could easily be seen from the great theater.

En route we learned that the area is rich in agriculture, industry, and tourism. There are many olive trees that provide olives, olive oil, and olive wood products. The healthy hazel nut oil is coming into vogue. We saw peach and tangerine trees. The fig tree produces the most expensive elite fruit. In industry they manufacture base garments on which top-tier designer companies around the world put their brand names!

Turkish carpets and the art of weaving are dying out, but not without an organized governmental effort/program to keep it alive. Our group was treated to a visit to such a program, where we saw the process from silkworm production to final carpets. We were also treated to a fashion show where models modeled many colors and styles of leather coats made of lambskin. Our own Loren Johns and Marla Longenecker were pulled from the audience to serve as models.

Also interesting were the large stork nests atop columns and street lights as these large birds often took to flight.

Our walk through the ruins of Ephesus followed the marble road known as Curetes Street. All the monumental buildings had their front sides opened to this street. Houses, shops, and statues also lined Curetes. Loren shared that it seems a certainty that Paul and John would have walked along this road. Among the highlights of ruins that we saw along this path were:

  • The Odeon, a small theater for political meetings and concerts. With 1,500 seats, it still had 500 more seats than Sauder Hall at Goshen College!
  • The Temple of Domitian, a temple built in Ephesus in honor of the Flavian family of Roman emperors (Vespasian, Titus, and Domitian)
  • The Hercules Gate, which had a relief of the flying Nikē.
  • The Fountain of Trajan
  • The Temple of Hadrian, the Roman emperor who came to visit from Athens in 128 AD
  • Latrina, public toilets with an entrance fee for gentlemen only—a “social” spot. Along the long marble benches around the room we 50 rather obvious openings and no privacy panels.
  • The Terrace Houses, which we saw from a distance. These “houses of the rich” are currently being excavated and are a model of how to display a complex archaeological site with well-preserved artifacts.
  • The “Great Theater” which could seat 24,000 people. When we got to the theater, Loren read the passage from Acts 19 about a near-riot that occurred there when the Ephesian artisans became upset that the preaching of Apostle Paul was beginning to hurt their livelihood in producing tourist souvenirs of the goddess Artemis (Diana).
  • The Library of Celsus with its two-story façade reconstructed by French archaeologists. Four female statues grace the front wall: Sophia (wisdom), Arētē (character), Ennoia (judgment), and Epistēmē (skill).
  • In the second century, it was third-largest library, with 12,000 books and scrolls.

Our guide also pointed out the Roman baths, the symbol carved into the road that represented the superimposed letters--the first letters of the Greek words, Jesus, Christ, Son of God, Savior. Together these letters spell the word ichthys, or fish, the stock market, or “bull” market, and where the “eternal flame” was and how it was used.

We left this area by the Arcadian Way, where there was a reenactment of a gladiator fight and the Olympic theme song was played.

We again boarded the tour bus and drove up a treacherous and narrow mountain road to a small cottage that “is said” to be the last home of Mary, the mother of Jesus. The house was built in 1951. Reportedly John brought her here and cared for her for the last 11 years of her life.

We also stopped at St. John’s Basilica, which contains the grave of St. John.

From this high point we could look down on the one remaining column from the 127 at the Temple of Artemis, which was four times the size of the Parthenon and one of the seven wonders of the ancient world.

We ended our day of touring with a carpet demonstration and a snack lunch, which was served just a tad late for some Turks at 5:00 p.m.! For some of us, it had been a long time since breakfast! Then we returned to our ship.

Quotes of the day:

  • At several stands in Ephesus, vendors proudly advertised “Genuine Fake Watches.”
  • While visiting the public latrines in Ephesus, Wilma Miller noted, “Paul sat here!”
  • As we prepared to reboard our luxury cruise ship, Celebrity Reflection, Mary Schiedel said, “Be it ever so humble, there’s no place like home!”



Day 2 in Istanbul

June 22, 2013

Ruth Lesher, scribe

We spent the night in the port of Istanbul (Byzantium/Constantinople) between the Marmara Sea, which is itself between the Aegean Sea and the Bosphorus Strait, which leads to the Black Sea. The dock area was called Karakoy. The Galata Bridge connected us to the Old City across the Golden Horn. Party boats with music and lights carried lots of folks back and forth from Europe to Asia, and back, across the Bosphorus until late into Friday night. While we were docked to the European continent, we could easily look across the water onto the hills of Asia from our cabin on the ship.

Taksim Square, the location of many anti-government protests in the last two weeks (protests designed to protect the last bit of urban green space in that part of the city from being developed into a shopping mall) was in the same general section of Istanbul where we docked, but it was still some distance from our ship and not visible from it. Our guide said there was no need to worry because the police ran out of tear gas, having used as much in six days as is normally used in a year by all of Europe! We later learned that they had switched to using water cannons!

This morning Emerson, Gerald Shenk, and I walked across the Galata Bridge to the Spice Market and the shopping area around it, which seem to be where the locals were also shopping this Saturday morning. We had until 1:00 p.m. to visit Istanbul on our own.
There were stands of spices: cardamom, cinnamon, red pepper variations, mint, saffron from Iran (the best!) for food and some ground mounds to add color to both food and textiles.

The stands of fish, cheeses, and olives seemed to be grouped together, perhaps because of the smell.

And there were lots of sacks of nuts, dates, and figs, along with mixtures of all of them, made into Turkish delight candies and pastries.

There were also lovely linens and some hand-carved spoons from local wood. We were able to use Euros instead of Turkish lira to make a few purchases. Then we returned on the same bridge with busy fishermen on the traffic level, and restaurants on the lower level. Two prior attempts to build this bridge were unsuccessful—one by Leonardo da Vinci and another by Michelangelo! Perhaps it had to do with how fearful the sultans were of everyone. Would you want a bridge that connected the city with the palace if you saw people more as a potential foe than a potential friend?

We enjoyed a long, leisurely lunch with dear friends as we left the port of Istanbul. For about two hours at sea, the city skyline of this immense surrounding metropolis remained in view. It even seemed to grow as we left the port.

This was our first experience on the trip with a culture that was predominantly Muslim. There were five calls to prayer, though not as loud and dominating as in some Muslim countries. Women had head coverings—mostly scarves, though some had burkas that covered the whole face, except for the eyes. Many people knew English and were familiar with both Euros and U.S. dollars. We tried to remember that the U.S. dollars was worth about 1.92 Turkish lira, and that the Euro was worth about 2.56 Turkish lira, but the shopkeepers seemed familiar with all three currencies.

The rest of the afternoon and evening was relaxing. I finished Walter Wangerin’s novel on Paul and read in preparation for our visit to Ephesus, coming up tomorrow. The sea remains calm and the skies were mostly sunny. We are starting to feel some sunburn on the back of our necks.

Good dinners continue to be served. The 43 of us in the tour group configure ourselves variously at our assigned tables. Every evening we have our choice of appetizers, soup or salad, entrée, and dessert. After dinner some may find some live classical guitar music, attend a show somewhere on the ship, or enjoy the evening in our cabins or on our verandas.



June 21, 2013

Ellen Herr Awe and her mother Mary Herr don shawls in preparation for entering the Sultan Ahmed Mosque in Istanbul. The mosque is also referred to as the “Blue Mosque”.

Ellen Herr Awe and her mother Mary Herr don shawls in preparation for entering the Sultan Ahmed Mosque in Istanbul. The mosque is also referred to as the “Blue Mosque”.

Mary Lehman Yoder, scribe

I wakened early, before our ship arrived in Istanbul, before the sun rose. From our veranda I could look east, seeing the skyline of Istanbul with a low-lying bank of clouds just above it. The rising sun was behind this bank of clouds, illuminating the very edge of the cloud bank as if it were an illuminated manuscript. I stood gazing intently over 20 minutes, waiting for the sun to be visible. Then the sun burst through, a brilliant golden ball, just as it has each morning on this trip.

In Istanbul, we headed toward our first stop, the Hagia Sophia. We learned that this building is actually the third constructed on this spot, the previous two having been destroyed by fire in riots, first in the fourth century and the second in the sixth. The current building was constructed with amazing speed (five years from start to finish [532–537] by 10,000 workers, including architects, working day and night). The domes and the mosaics are the most striking features, but what is really interesting now is the way Christian and Muslim features co-exist in the building.

In 1453 the city fell to the Turks, and under the Ottomans changes were introduced to the Hagia Sophia. Many, though not all of the mosaics, were covered over with plaster. Yet the plaster was also beautiful – intricate designs with blue, red, gold, and green. Some mosaics were adapted.

Our guide said, “For Christians, a church is a house for God, but for Muslims a mosque is a house for prayer in the name of God.” Hmm … and for Anabaptists a church building is the place where the people of God meet. In this way, Anabaptists historically have been closer to Muslims than some other parts of the Christian church. Yet, even we Anabaptists have learned that we need some times and places that are holy so that we know that all times and places are holy. And a building—or even a cave or a bridge—is changed when prayer is made there over decades, centuries, millennia. All this stretches my imagination, my intellect, my heart and soul.

Next we walked to the Topkapi Palace, home of the Ottoman Empire with building begun in 1455. Each of the sultans continued to modify and add to the buildings until 1857. There were armed guards present as we entered, but I was drawn more to the many red flower beds—with roses, begonias, salvia, always red lining the paths—and huge trees, sycamore and cypress of some kind?

Our third stop required time on the bus, dropping us off in the shopping district. Here we visited a rug dealer who welcomed us and seated us around the periphery of a large room. We were served apple tea and black tea in glass “cups” without handles and a sesame soft pretzel while we received a lecture on the various kinds of Turkish rugs and how they are made.

From the rug dealer our guide pointed us to the Grand Bazaar. What a place! Hundreds of small shops all along a maze of 53 streets (actually small walking lanes): lots of jewelry, pashminas, ceramics, leather goods, Turkish Delight, and nuts, especially pistachios in various forms.

By this time Friday prayers in the Sultanahmet Mosque (aka, the Blue Mosque) had ended, and visitors were again allowed entrance. As we waited in line we saw many places for the ritual footwashing generally performed before entering. The women in the group began getting out scarves (some newly purchased) as we approached the entrance. We all received plastics bags in which to carry our shoes, which we needed to remove.

The mosque itself was a picture of beauty and proportion, both balanced and expansive. The simple blue lines and gold lettering were stunning. Yet at this time of day it was for me no more a place of prayer than the Sistine Chapel. People of all faiths moved through fairly quickly, with little chance for reflection and certainly not contemplation. In the center was the carpeted area for prayers.

Our final stop was the Spice Bazaar, close to the Galata Bridge. This market was also chaotic, but much smaller than the Grand Bazaar, and our guide pointed us to a specific shop where he said his mother still buys her spices. A lot of us made purchases there, all nicely vacuum sealed for the return trip home.

One other observation and question: This was the first I have seen so many women in various forms of dress. Scarf only, scarf and shoulders covered, scarf and shoulders with flowing dress, with plain-colored flowing dress, with numerous variants on black burka. Is this like the Amish and old-order Mennonites? Who decides who wears what? And do the more-covered judge the less-covered? And what about the designer scarves, leather bags and shoes showing beneath the clothing? I read the pamphlet I was given about the hijab. At some level I understand the sense of freedom it describes; you don’t have to dress in order for men to notice how good you look. You can be true self without worrying about the impressions you convey in public. And how does this same high motivation not apply to men?

We returned to the ship just in time for yet another delicious evening meal around the tables. Good food and good conversation after a marvelous day in an amazing city where we have only barely scratched the surface.


Day at sea

June 20, 2013

Ellen Awe, scribe


“Unhindered” is the word Loren emphasized this morning as we gathered to further discuss the life and work of Paul. The book of Acts ends with, “He [Paul] lived there [in Rome] two whole years at his own expense and welcomed all who came to him, proclaiming the kingdom of God and teaching about the Lord Jesus Christ with all boldness and unhindered.”


Today was a day at sea. This massive vessel “Reflection” cruises on, unhindered, into the Dardanelles Straits to the Sea of Marmara, where we hope to port early tomorrow morning.


In several conversations today, there were discussions among members of the group about the uneasy feelings some of us had adjusting to a cruise ship. It isn’t necessarily an easy fit, and we wonder how to be appreciative of the opportunity to relax and enjoy while also maintaining the values of simplicity and service. We discussed ways to offer hospitality to the crew members on the ship who are around every corner, graciously anticipating every need. Our life of faith should be lived out, unhindered, in every setting . . . and we discussed ways to do that.


It is a wonderful group of people and there is wisdom, life experiences, and humor shared freely among the members.


Among the highlights of today: our morning group meeting, playing ping pong with Merrill Gingerich, doing the Zumba with Debbie and Bruce Baergen, “mixing it up” at the dinner tables, and listening to an a capella men’s group singing some favorites.


Onward to Istanbul!


Quote of the Day
Wesley Richard, pointing to a cream puff shaped like a swan:
“Are these in the Mennonite cookbook?



June 19, 2013

Lola Gingerich, scribe

I have been pondering the opening shared by Sara Wenger Shenk a couple of days ago (#197 in Sing the Story):
Sovereign Creator of earth and sky,
Savior always with us,
Spirit sweeping over the waters,
Renew our hearts today
Surround us with wonder and awe,
So we may honor you
With our gifts of love and praise
And worship you with our whole life.

We awoke to rough water and high winds, causing the ship to rock back and forth. This created a new off-balance sensation for some in the group—quite different from the calm, gentle movement of the ship until now. Again I was reminded of that powerful Spirit of our Sovereign Creator who is evident in earth and sky, who sweeps over the waters surrounding us with wonder, who comes to each of us personally with gifts of grace and peace for each new encounter along the way. Praise God for the abundance of love, new each day, available to all who call on the name of Jesus, as power filled as the wind and water that move our ship.

Bruce Baergen, a member of our travel group, picked up enough tickets for all who wished to travel off ship to Santorini, Greece, today. There we took the cable car to the top of the cliff or the switchback stairs—a 45-minute walk to the top on 588+ steps! Once on top we found crowded streets filled with hundreds of vendors on narrow, stone-covered paths through this town of Fira. Its terraced streets filled with white-washed buildings with shops, restaurants, and domed churches.

We found a small Catholic church and we were welcomed by the voices of monks singing. It was a peaceful and restful sound and only a few people were there, where I sat quietly to reflect, pray, and ponder the events of this journey so far.

Next we walked back streets rather than those on which all the shops were located, and we found the reality of the home life that many who live on Santorini experience: laundry on the line, children playing, a child sitting on her grandmother’s lap. We also walked through resorts where lavish swimming pools welcome vacationers.

We also found the “Cathedral Church of the Candlemas of the Lord.” This church had nuns inside the door, telling gentlemen to remove their hats. No music was playing. There was a request for money near the door. The interior was beautiful, but they allowed no photos. It appeared somewhat cold.

As we left on the walkway, a mother with a sleeping child was asking for money while seated on the ground. We walked on and saw two small girls asking for money. They reminded me of my granddaughters . . . but they were on the streets alone with a small paper cup asking for money. They held a sign that said, “My mother has died and my father is ill. Please give me money to help take care of him.”

A few steps down the path a small boy playing a small accordion was also asking for money. My heart longs to know their story—each one of these children. Our guide in Rome called them “gypsies.” She didn’t like them, it was obvious. How do we respond to their cry for help?

We had a conversation with a woman shopkeeper from Romania who had lived in Santorini for eight years. She told us the reason the buildings were white is that when Italy took over Santorini centuries ago, the Italians would not let the residents of Santorini raise their Greek flag. So buildings were whitewashed and the doors were painted blue—the colors of the Greek flag. She also told us the clothes she had hanging along the walkway to sell become salty and smell, so she washes them often to hang again to sell.

In the evening some of us attended a concert by “Eden,” a world-class female duo who sang classical and pop songs, specializing in classical crossover. They were very good!

Quote for the day:
“The power of the gospel has survived the destruction of empire after empire. We are heirs to the saints who have gone before us.” —Gerald Shenk


Introduction to Paul

June 18, 2013

Mary Schiedel, scribe

The AMBS group met together for the first time aboard Celebrity Reflection. Bruce Baergen led us in “I Sing the Mighty Power of God” and several other hymns. Sara Wenger Shenk had us join in prayer including the lines, “Spirit sweeping over the waters, renew our hearts today.”

We come from three Canadian provinces and six U.S. states and have come for a variety of reasons: to enter the story of Paul, to have fun with good friends, to celebrate special anniversaries, to get to Turkey, and to see the area where Christianity got established. Interesting questions were raised: What impact do these historical places have on my faith? Did Paul have any idea he was founding a religion? How do we see the Pope from our Anabaptist perspective?

Loren offered comments: The “Rock” on which Jesus promised to build his church may be Peter’s confession of faith in Jesus as messiah, rather than Peter himself. Amelia had pointed out that crosses were installed at the top of the Egyptian obelisks in Rome as a symbol of Christianity’s triumph over paganism. But is such “triumphalism” really Christian? Is it Christ-like? What did Paul mean when he said that all powers have been “ordained” (or ordered) by God? How did he see the role of government in light of the harshness of Rome’s rule?

Loren gave an introduction to the life, thought, and ministry of Paul. Paul was one of the more important thinkers and theologians in the early church; he can even be considered the main “designer” of what became Christianity. The undisputed letters of Paul include Romans, 1 and 2 Corinthians, Galatians, 1 Thessalonians, and Philemon. In his writing, Paul can be seen as both a missionary theologian and a missionary pastor. Loren’s imaginative reconstruction of Paul’s pastoral “To Do” list was interesting. He also reminded us that 1 Corinthians 13 was written to a congregation about relationships in congregational life; it was not intended for weddings. Loren suggested that it would be good to use occasionally in the congregational setting! In reading Romans, Loren suggested substituting the word justice for righteousness (or just for righteous) at times, since the Greek can be translated either way. In conclusion, Loren summarized that Paul experienced a life-changing conversion and call on the way to Damascus.

We spent a relaxing afternoon in our staterooms, or in other places around the ship. Some of us were ambitious enough to do Zumba Dance or to swim or to get acquainted with the ship. Our first “formal dinner” in the evening found more of us grouped together in the large main dining room. After dinner, some of the late-night folks from our group enjoyed an a capella performance by a men’s quartet called “These Guys.”


Visiting Capuchin Crypt, then boarding

June 17, 2013

Deborah-Ruth Ferber, Scribe

This morning our group had free time to explore Rome before embarking on our cruise. Some members of our group went in different small groups for a walk, or to a final destination that they wanted to see.

My group decided to take a trip to the Capuchin Crypt in downtown Rome. (The Capuchins are an offshoot of the Franciscan order.) We explored the museum, learning about the life of the Capuchin Friars. We saw several key artifacts, including the legendary “bleeding Christ,” thought to be given as a gift to one friar by the devil, which led him to conversion. We also saw the cords used by the brothers in self-flagellation for holy penance.

We were able to see the five crypts of bones from the holy friars. These crypts were made up of one bone selected from each corpse, such as a skull, a pelvis, a thigh, etc. Many bones are nailed to the walls in intricate patterns, piled high among countless others, while others hang from the ceiling as light fixtures. Originally conceived as a way to save space in the monastery, today they serve as a preservation of monastic life, a beautiful art form, and a call to embrace our own mortality: “As these are, so you shall become.”

We were told that the Capuchins regard the body as a holy instrument that would have the soul only for a short period of time. They were not afraid of death, but instead embraced it as the road leading to a greater heavenly reality. Therefore, life is but a phase of transition.

After our various excursions we boarded the Reflection, the name of our Celebrity cruise ship. It is the third-newest cruise ship in the world and can house more than 1,500 staff and 3,200 cruise guests. Guests on our ship speak at least ten different languages, while the staff speak closer to 70. Everyone on ship participated in a required muster drill (emergency drill). After apparently passing muster, we relaxed and enjoyed the rest of the evening.

The extroverts in our group are able to go to events and seminars every minute of the trip, if they so desire, while the introverts can relax, read, journal, or spend time at the pool, the sauna, the spa, or the solarium. This evening many of us enjoyed various shows, socials, and music . . . after a hearty and delicious four-course meal. More importantly, we are learning that we are able to get to know people from around the world and can also spend more time with our own AMBS community on board the ship.


When in Rome

June 16, 2013

Ponte Fabricio Bridge, Rome.

Ponte Fabricio Bridge, Rome.

Loren L. Johns, Professor of New Testament

We began the day with a visit to the Ponte Fabricio, the oldest bridge in Rome. It was built in the 1st century BC, and because it linked the Jewish quarter to the rest of the city, there is little question that Paul (and other early Christians) walked across that very bridge. Although it has been upgraded several times in the last 2000 years, my understanding is that it is still largely the original structure.

This morning we also visited the Pantheon, which is in amazing shape for having been built by the Emperor Hadrian in the early 2nd century! Originally built as a temple to “all the gods,” it is now a church. After asking permission, we sang the hymn, “What is this place?” which attracted the notice of other visitors in the building. After singing, we needed to leave (or stay for a longer time) as Mass was about to begin.

We then traveled to the Coliseum, where we met Emerson and Ruth Lesher. Their plane out of Harrisburg, Pa., had engine problems, and they needed to reschedule their overseas flight for a day later. So now our number was complete at 43. We were not able to visit Nero’s Golden House, since it was undergoing renovations. Nero’s house is underground, and there was a major cave-in last year.

We visited the San Callisto catacombs, which were used by the early Christians in the pre-Constantinian era. Many Christians who lost their lives in martyrdom were buried here, with symbols of the faith witnessing their allegiance. We ended the afternoon with a quick visit to the Roman forum, where we saw the Senate building that has been standing for 2,000 years.

We visited the Mamertine Prison, where both Peter and Paul were held as prisoners, according to tradition. I personally consider the traditional identification of Mamertine Prison with Peter and Paul a bit dubious, historically, but it is a convenient image with which to imagine the imprisonment of Peter. Perhaps not as much the imprisonment of Paul, who was a Roman citizen.

We had the evening free to explore Rome on our own and find a restaurant that served pasta.


A Day in Ancient Rome

June 16, 2013

Rachel Rensberger, scribe

We began our Sunday by singing, "I Owe the Lord a Morning Song," led by Bruce Baergen.

Our guide, Amelia, told us this was to be a day in Ancient Rome, which began in 753 B.C. There are two other Romes: the Christian Rome and the Modern Rome. "Sunday," she said, "is a good day to visit Rome, since there are not many Romans out and about!"

After singing a hymn in the Pantheon, we walked to Piazza Navona and the fountain of "Four Rivers" designed by Berlini. Then we went to the Colisseum, which is a nickname for the "Amphitheater Flavianus," one of the seven wonders of the ancient world. It is built of limestone and Travertine marble and was, when in use by the gladiators, covered by a huge linen canopy. The building was built in just eight years and was dedicated by Emperor Titus in 80 AD. Many slaves must have worked long hours in Rome to complete it in so short a time!

A busy, hot afternoon began in the second largest church in Rome: the basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls. The word basilica means "house of the king." This one is distinctive in that it has five naves and no side chapels. The windows are of alabaster. There are portraits of 256 of the 266 popes adorning the upper walls. (Artists are working on the portrait of "Papa Francesco" (Pope Francis).)

We arrived at the Catacombs of San Callisto, one of three catacomb sites. The underground tunnels held the grave of 500,000 Christians, used in the third and fourth century when Christianity was seen as a threat to the Empire. There are 16 miles of galleries with five levels of burials.

Our last stop was the Mamertine Prison, where both Peter and Paul were imprisoned, according to tradition. So we all geared up to climb one of Rome's seven hills, then down to the prison. The cell was a dank hole in the ground. Now it has a small fresco-decorated chapel above the entrance to the cells. Despite our late arrival at 6:30 to the hotel, and having climbed many stairs, many of us were off to an evening out.

We along with others, taxied to Piazza Navona for dinner with fine service and music under the crescent moon and sparklers that were ejected into the sky and back. Some brave souls even walked the two miles (one-way) to and from the Piazza.
Ancient Rome in a day ... even though Rome wasn't built in a day.


Arriving in Rome, Visiting the Vatican

June 15, 2013

Rhoda Schrag, scribe

We were awakened by the bluster of breakfast on the airplane! It was only 1:45 a.m. Indiana time, but it was 7:45 a.m. in Rome! After our short night, we landed, found our luggage, and boarded a bus to drive the 14 miles into Rome. The rolling hills, round hay bales in the fields, solar energy collectors felt a bit like Iowa . . . and then we came to Rome!

With our bus driver Corado and our tour guide Amelia, we set out to see Rome in two days. We stopped near an old bridge constructed in the first century BC—early enough that Julius Caesar may well have seen it. The bridge connects the old Jewish quarter to the Roman side of the river. We drove by a section of the ancient city wall built in the first century BC.

We visited the Basilica of Apostle Saint Bartholomew, which houses his tomb, brought from Sicily, according to our tour guide. Relics of the New Martyrs are in side chapels—one for each continent. These include persons martyred during the Nazi and Communist eras.

We then drove to the Vatican City, the smallest country in Europe, encircled most of the way by a high brick wall in the center of Rome. Within the wall are gardens, chapels, offices, residences, and St. Peter’s. The present structure took 120 years to build. It was consecrated in 1626.

The artist Michelangelo was commissioned by Pope Julius II to plan the paintings for the Sistine Chapel. This artist had earlier—in 1499 when he was 24 years old—complete the “Pieta,” a carving in shiny white marble of a young Mary holding the body of her son Jesus, which is found just inside the main entrance to the basilica. The Sistine Chapel’s dimensions are the same as Solomon’s Temple built in Jerusalem. Michelangelo planned that the ceiling would depict the creation and the fall of humanity. The life and deeds of Moses were to be on one wall, and the life and deeds of Jesus were to be on the opposite wall. The altar wall contains the Last Judgment, complete with a depiction of a cardinal suffering in hell—someone Michelangelo did not like much! On the ceiling are dozens, if not hundreds, of frescos of prophets, other biblical characters, popes, and popes. The artist spent 20 years painting ceiling frescos and five years painting the Last Judgment fresco. Other prominent artists painted some of the panels.

We spent twenty minutes crowded into the chapel with other tourists. The guards repeatedly commanded loudly, “Shh! No talking!” If they were trying to maintain a reverent ambience, it was a losing battle!

After a short night and a long day in the Vatican, we were happy to sit down in our comfortable bus. We were even happier to sleep in a real bed in uncrowded space in our own rooms at the Albani Hotel in Rome that night, most of us having been in the same clothes for some 32 hours!


Sistine Chapel and the Vatican

June 15, 2013

St. Peter's Square, Vatican City.

St. Peter's Square, Vatican City.

Loren L. Johns, Professor of New Testament

We arrived to the Rome airport on time. We easily found the two people who were responsible to meet us (one responsible for the luggage, the other for the people), but they had no idea that people were coming in at different times on different flights. Sara and I knew that we were to meet four people on the way to the Vatican City. In the meantime, two couples had difficulties getting out on their scheduled flights. There were four people we needed to meet at the airport somewhere. While most of us retrieved our luggage, others went outside of security to look for the two couples . . . and found them.

We spent the day touring the Vatican. We saw the Sistine Chapel, which was jam-packed full of people, many of whom (though not all) were trying not to talk too much or too loudly, and many of whom (though not all) were trying to obey the rule that no picture-taking is allowed in the chapel. Amazing chapel! Having seen the chapel in 1974 before its paintings were restored, I have to say that “new look” is astounding! The colors are so vivid and the chapel deserves so much more time than the 20 minutes or so that we could spend in it!

It was in the Sistine Chapel where we lost one of our pilgrims—our first, and we hope our last. One member of our group left the Sistine Chapel ahead of the rest. She thought the group was ahead of her and kept trying to catch up, but could not. Fortunately, Gerald Shenk was able to see her walking in St. Peter’s Square and was able to get her attention. So the stray sheep was gathered to the flock, which seems somehow biblical.

There was an unusual number of motorcycles in Rome this weekend. According to our guide, a Harley Davidson convention was occurring this weekend and on Sunday they were to have an audience with the Pope (presumably the riders, not the motorcycles). It was good that we went to the Vatican on Saturday, because it was quite crowded on Saturday but would have been a crush on Sunday. St. Peter’s Square swarmed with people on Sunday, as we could see when we drove by in the bus.

The day (if it can be called that) was long. Most of us were still in the clothes we had put on Friday morning. Then we toured the Vatican all day Saturday, and by the end of the day, we were all quite tired and thinking about half-straight. But it was a good day.

Quote of the Day:
Standing in the hot sun in Vatican City:
“This is a two-shirt day, but I have only one shirt!”
--Earl Sutter


On the way

June 14, 2013

Loren L. Johns, Professor of New Testament

Some of the group in the Goshen area met at Goshen College, where a Cardinal bus driven by Carl Metzler (married to my 5th cousin, Phyllis) was waiting for us. We arrived at the Detroit airport at 2:55 for a flight that was scheduled to leave at 6:05 p.m.

A couple of us were able to check in at the kiosks, but most of us were rejected, informed that we would need to see an agent to check in. After about 30 minutes of chaotic confusion, we learned that because we were all on one record, we would all need to see an agent. Because we were part of a large group, we were ushered to one particular agent with the name of "Nono" (no kidding!) who would check us all in. She started checking our passports and checking us in.

After another half hour or so, she had to leave because she had a flight that she needed to service. She flagged down a Delta colleague, saying, "I need to go service a flight and I want someone here who knows what they're doing." I was glad to hear that because I wanted someone there who knew what they were doing too!

This second agent soon had trouble checking anyone in. A Delta customer service agent on the phone discovered that the problem came from the fact that Menno Travel had included too much text in the "remarks" line. About half of us were standing to one side, waiting for everyone to get checked in so that they could get their boarding passes, while the ones who were later in line were getting their boarding passes as they checked in. While this was happening, we kept seeing the line for security getting longer and longer.

About this time another Delta agent came to ask the one who was helping us if she spoke Arabic. She had a family of four who needed someone who could speak Arabic. What unfolded was either comical or frustrating or both, depending on your perspective! Finally the second agent got back to helping us. At one point she said, "Don't worry. I'm in control of everything!" I had never heard anyone say that quite in that way, and I found it remarkable, which is why I am remarking on it.

Finally, after about an hour and a half, we were all checked in and had our boarding passes. A few of us were exceedingly happy that we were free to find a restroom! Going through security did not take long, since we had stood at the Delta counter long enough to see the security lines grow longer and longer and then also shorter and shorter!

By the time we all got to the gate, the one who was there last had perhaps 20 to 30 minutes to wait before boarding began. Once we were all on board, the pilot informed us that a person in the plane at the gate next to us was having a medical emergency and that was somehow delaying our push-back. I believe it was around 6:35 when we finally took off.


2013 Biblical Mediterranean Cruisetour itinerary

June 13, 2013

From June 14–28, AMBS president Sara Wenger Shenk and professor of New Testament Loren Johns will join 41 other participants as they visit the places where the Apostle Paul traveled. Below is the official itinerary. Visit this blog often for regular photos and updates from each stop on the tour.

June 14

Flight to Rome

June 15: Arrive Rome

Arriving in Rome, we will visit the world’s smallest state: Vatican City. Our visit will include St. Peter’s Basilica and the Vatican Museums, including the Sistine Chapel. Later we will visit the Basilica of St. Paul’s Outside-the-Walls. This evening is free to explore local culture and cuisine.

June 16: Rome

Today we will explore Rome’s witness to Christian origins, including the Colosseum, Nero’s Golden House, Roman Forum, Pantheon, Mamertine Prison, Catacombs of San Callisto, and Pons Fabricius, the old Roman bridge built before Paul was born.

June 17: Rome—Board Celebrity Reflection

This morning is free to explore Rome and do last-minute shopping. In the early afternoon, we will transfer to the port of Civitavecchia, where we will board the Celebrity Reflection for our 11-night Eastern Mediterranean cruise.

June 18

Day at sea

June 19: Santorini, Greece

Known as the sanctuary of Apollo, Santorini is famous as one of the most beautiful and peaceful of the Greek Islands.

June 20

Day at sea

June 21: Istanbul, Turkey – Optional Tour

Today we will explore the fascinating sights of Istanbul, including the Hagia Sophia, Blue Mosque, Topkapi Palace, and the Istanbul Archaeology Museum.

June 22: Istanbul, Turkey

Free morning: visit the Grand Bazaar or finish shopping in Istanbul.

June 23: Ephesus, Turkey – Optional Tour

Today will be an exciting day as we visit one of the most important cities in Paul’s ministry. We will visit Curetes Street, Library of Celsus, Terrace Houses, Temple of Artemis, the Ephesus Museum, and St. John’s Basilica and grave.

June 24: Mykonos, Greece

Mykonos is one of the most cosmopolitan islands in Greece, and is known for its sandy beaches.

June 25: Athens, Greece – Optional Tour

Today we will explore Athens, known as the world’s foremost archeological playground. Visits include the Acropolis, Areopagus (Mars Hill), Parthenon, new Acropolis Museum, Plaka, and Agora.

June 26

Day at sea

June 27: Naples/Capri, Italy

Naples is located on the southern coast of Italy and offers spectacular scenery, the wonderful ruins of Pompeii, and the invention of pizza!

June 28: Rome

Transfer from Civitavecchia to Rome airport. For those who purchase group airfare, travel from Rome to Detroit.


Welcome to this window on the 2013 Mediterranean Cruisetour. As Sara Wenger Shenk, AMBS president, and Loren Johns, AMBS professor of New Testament, and 43 other travelers explore the places where the Apostle Paul traveled, they will share photos and reports here. Come back to this space for what we hope will be daily snapshots in words and photos of what the group is experiencing.

More information

Visit Menno Travel to learn more about the Cruisetour.