It’s a really overwhelming feeling walking amongst the ruins of a city that’s 2,000 years old.
To touch the massive columns that were once covered in polished marble, and to walk on the cobbled remains of the main street, where the water fountains and cisterns still stand, and intricately carved statues stand tall at intervals on either side of the street. It doesn’t take much to imagine the city in its prime, bustling with people going about their lives in a time and place so different to today.
I found myself in that position in December last year when I was at a conference in Turkey. I grabbed the opportunity on the last day I was there to join a tour of the ancient city of Perga.
I have to be honest and admit that the significance of Perga didn’t register with me until a colleague on the tour said ‘….of course Perga is one of the cities the Apostle Paul visited on one of his missionary journeys, and it’s mentioned in Acts 13’. Oh yeah…of course. I knew that.
So a group of us from the conference crammed into a small coach and bounced along the crowded streets for 2 hours to get to the site, craning our necks to see as much of the passing countryside as we could, while firing questions at our tour guide, who proved to be a wealth of knowledge on ancient biblical history.
The ‘old’ part of Perga is actually 7,000 years old, while the ‘new’ part is a mere 2,000 years old. The old part is still being excavated, so you can’t walk around it, but the new part is mostly uncovered and you can wander around the buildings and streets. It’s not as well known, or well visited as sites like Ephesus and Antioch, but like those ruins, 2,000 years ago Perga was one of the Roman Empires finest cities.
Standing in that ancient city, hearing from the tour guide what life was like for the residents bought those stories I’ve read countless times in the New Testament to life in a whole new way. Maybe like me, you are familiar with lots of the Bible, and struggle to identify with those people and places you read about. They may as well be from another planet.
Having ‘walked in the footsteps’ of the Apostle Paul (maybe he actually walked the same cobbled street I walked on!) those stories have a new life for me, and the people in those stories now seem more ‘real’, more human, because I’ve had a glimpse of what their world was like.
The challenge of engaging young people with the Bible, with all the ancient practices, places and customs can be difficult. Not many of us get the opportunity to visit those places written about in Scripture, and if you’re a youth pastor, you may struggle to get approval from your Church leadership to fund a ‘Holy Lands appreciation trip’ for your entire youth group. The approach of reading Scripture in different locations can be a really powerful Bible engagement tool for youth leaders. It reminds us that it’s not just what and with whom you read the Bible, but where you read it that can make it come alive in new and surprising ways.
As an example of this, check out this 4 minute video we’ve done with Marcus Curnow, where he talks through how to re-tell Bible stories on location in your community and city. He explains what he does in his home city around reading the Bible in different locations. As you watch it, think about what locations and stories you could use in your own neighborhood.