This fall, Todd and I were gifted a chance to travel to Israel and Turkey and study under Bible teacher, Ray Vanderlaan. I have dozens of stories I could tell, but I wanted to share my overall impression of Turkey.
God is love.
That’s not what I thought I was going to come home understanding better. I imagined grand insights into Paul’s journeys, the house church, maybe persecution. I thought I would get my head wrapped around geography or theology. I thought for sure I had already learned all there was to know about God-is-love.
I think it most struck me when we first visited Bethsaida, a small fishing village in Israel where five of the twelve disciples hailed. At its peak, there were 80 total residents. I always imagined those boys, coming alongside Jesus, watching His God-like miracles, hearing His God-like teachings and then traveling after His resurrection to Asia Minor, and telling people who were godless about God.
Man, was I wrong.
They did all those things for sure, but when they arrived, they found the people of the Roman and Greek cultures perfectly happy with their own gods (who they believed healed, saved and provided, whom they had built temples to and hosted holiday festivals for.) What did these disciples have to offer these foreign cultures?
They had love.
Jesus had already prepared them for it. He told them they would be known by their love. He gave them great commandments and great commissions that were all about love. And so immediately upon arrival, they began their mission. (Again, with my uninformed ideas, believing they somehow passed around flyers, “services at 9:00 and 11:00”) Instead, they took the church to the people (instead of the people coming to a church.) They loved on the widow and the orphan. They reached out to the slave, the hungry, the sick. And as they fleshed out this God-is-love theology, people became curious about Jesus of Nazareth and His teaching. The house churches flourished as communities began to care one for another, sharing what they had and celebrating together.
The church grew and grew and grew and grew, until four centuries later, they are the dominant faith in the region. His plan works.
P.S. The church in the fourth century becomes a cautionary tale that demands a closer look in history. Around the time of their dominance, they stopped loving. They started judging, separating, demanding, punishing, and the church fell.
Without love, the foundation will crack, and the house will fall. Today there is less than 2% Christ-followers in modern-day Turkey.
It’s time for us to love again.
Beth Guckenberger is the mother of a bunch of biological, adopted and foster children. She and her husband, Todd, direct Back2Back Ministries. Beth is the author of several books on the journey of their life abroad.