Scenic view of trees at camp

A Glimpse of the 2024 Forge Turkey Trip

by Karissa Pitaniello


This year, our Forge students had the chance to experience parts of what they’ve been learning throughout the year in Turkey! Every stop throughout their trip was an experience—through hiking, teaching, and visuals, the group got a hands-on lesson at each location. 

We love hearing what the Forge students learn from their trip each year, so enjoy a part of their experience and read about some of their favorite memories made! You can also read their entire trip’s journal entries here

We had a fantastic first day in Turkey! While sitting at the harbor in Antalya (Attalial), with a beautiful view of the coastline, Jared laid a foundation for who Paul was and why his ministry of spreading the gospel was so impactful for the 1st century church. Paul was culturally trilingual and able to understand the law as a Jew, appeal to the Hellenists as a Roman, and proclaim the gospel as a Christian. He was uniquely set apart for ministry!

After lunch we walked an ancient Roman road system that Paul would have likely walked during his missionary journeys. We learned how the roads were built and that they brought quickness and efficiency in travel while also showing off Rome’s power and ingenuity. God used Paul, an unlikely instrument for the gospel and former persecutor of Christians, and Roman roads, things intended to bring power and pompous to Rome, to bring about His glory and gospel! It was a powerful reminder that God is always at work even when the pieces make no sense!

On our second day of the trip, we made our way to the ancient city of Perga. We saw a stadium and talked about the influence of sport. We also spent some time exploring an old bath house or gymnasium as it would have been called. Then we walked down the main road of the city and hiked up to a lookout over the whole city. It was incredible to see how vast it was, and was another sweet moment where we got to really sit in the text we were reading. We finished up by talking about Paul’s companions on his missionary journeys. We began to connect their influence on Paul and how they lead with a lot of faithfulness. The most impactful thing for this lesson was: How would the church be different if we realized one another’s gifts and celebrated them rather than try to compete?

On our third day, we went to the Great Basilica (also known as St. Paul’s Church). Here, It was revealed to us that the church is believed to be built upon the old synagogue that was in P. Antioch, which means we were likely at the exact location where Paul gave his first ever sermon. Paul’s sermon was simple in nature; “You who fear God, here is how we’ve come to arrive to this moment and here are the reasons to show that Jesus is the one we’ve been waiting for – for the tomb is empty and forgiveness of sins is here.” Jesus’s ministry boils down to: “I’ll give you life, but you have to give up yours.”

On our fourth day, we traveled through Hierapolis, Laodicea, and Colossae. When in Hierapolis, Jared began to tell us the story of Philip the apostle, how he faithfully preached the word of God to the pro counsel’s wife (think the Secretary of State’s wife) and upon hearing the word she believed and was saved. This however, resulted in her husband hating Philip and having him arrested, tortured, and hung on a cross while his family was tortured in front of him. By all worldly standards Philip was not “living the life” at this moment. In fact pretty much anyone (even you and me if we’re being truthful) would do anything to avoid ever being in this type of situation. Philip however, knew that “the life” wasn’t worth living if it wasn’t with God. Philip knew that while the present troubles of this world were great there was prosperity to come that this world would never be able to compete with.

Finally, to end our excursions for the day we arrived at Laodicea. This place was a true marvel to be seen. It featured an intricate water system, a variety of architecture, and two massive theaters. Once we got a good look around, we sat down and Jared began to unpack the letter from Jesus written to Laodicea revealed to John in the book of Revelation. What we learned here was that Jesus didn’t just use his surroundings to teach during his time on earth (see the Sermon on the Mount!) but in these letters too. You see, the towns that sandwich Laodicea are the ones we had already been to that day, Hierapolis and Colossae. One known for its hot water and the other for its cold. Jesus here points out that Laodicea is not just known for their lukewarm water but their lukewarm faith. The Laodiceans had everything they could ever want, again by worldly standards they were living “the life.” However, Jesus in this letter reveals to them that they are rich in body but poor in spirit. He offers them a better way, a richer way, a true prosperity free and available to them through Jesus’ death.

The common threads of our fifth day were love and life in community, and we got to rejoice in the way our Forge class has experienced this firsthand. The celebration started right off the bat as we piled into hot air balloons for a sunrise ride! It was magical. We got a bird’s eye view of the Roman sites we walked yesterday, and seeing the city grids from that perspective made the lessons come to life even more. 

From there, we headed out to Aphrodisias, a city dedicated to honor Aphrodite, the goddess of love and beauty. We sat in one of the most significant stadiums in the Roman Empire (the Olympics were often hosted here), and Kristen cast a vision of Rome’s obsession with sport. We so often slip into the same temptations: finding identity and idolatry in competition and doing whatever it takes to be esteemed or claim victory for ourselves. She contrasted this with the race that we are called to live as Christians: wholehearted, with eyes fixed on Jesus who ran the race perfectly. Sitting in the stadium, I was reminded of the faithful people who have linked arms and pushed me forward/championed my faith. It was a visual I will never be able to shake.

On the sixth day, we traveled up to the city of Pergamum, which had one of the greatest high cities (called an acropolis) in antiquity. We walked through the ruins, gleaning knowledge from Jared at many sites such as the temple to Zeus, the theater/temple to Dionysus, the temple to Hera, and the temple to Trajan. If you couldn’t tell by now, the people of Pergamum had an affinity for worship. I want to focus on the last temple and the lesson we learned there. In 29 B.C., Pergamum became the first to offer worship to an emperor of Rome ushering in a new kind of cult all throughout the empire. This is important, because now the emperor is hailed as a god. 

With the deification of Caesar now understood we looked at a familiar passage and an event that would’ve been very well known in the Roman Empire: the Triumph. The Roman triumph was the procession of a Victor through the streets, including elements wearing a purple robe and a crown. When we read the mockery of Christ from the gospel of Mark, we begin to see the parallels. The Romans saw what they did to Christ as a mockery; Mark used the scene to mock the Romans, because Mark knew the Truth. Christ is king. The security of Rome nor its peace still exist today, but the prince of peace, our defender Jesus is and always will be reigning over all creation.

The seventh day was another great day in Turkey! We began in the lower part of Pergamum. We walked around the Asclepion, the ancient hospital of the time named after its patron god, Asclepius, the god of medicine. It was the premiere hospital of the day with the best medical practices, and they claimed a 100% success rate of healing, boasting that “Death does not enter here.” If someone wanted treatment, they would have to purchase a small model of whatever body part ailed them as an offering to Asclepius. We were challenged to consider again how we live by faith rather than by sight in the midst of the pressures of the world, our sin, and our enemy.

Next we got to visit a local co-op that makes Anatolian (Turkish) rugs! We got to learn and see how the rugs are made, and even got to try our hand at tying the knots that make up the rugs.

On our eighth day, we were in Ephesus. This was one of the most remarkable archaeological sites we’ve seen, and only 10% of the city has been excavated! We learned all about the size and significance of the city, and got to explore several parts of the uncovered city. All of the teachings this day pointed to the extraordinary wealth and importance of the city of and how this influenced Paul’s time with these believers, as he spent over two years teaching them. Despite all of the evil and misplaced worship of the city, the Christian church worked hard and served faithfully; yet, they had “abandoned their first love.” They had lost, not their love for God, but their brotherly love for one another and for those around them. Jesus commands them to remember and repent in a powerful way.

After lunch, we got to enjoy one of the most unique cultural experiences of the trip so far! We went to a fur and leather factory store that put on a fashion show for us, and some of our own joined in on the runway!

Our final site of the trip was the theater at Miletus. This was our last time sitting in the text. This was where Paul ministered to the elders of Ephesus in Acts 20. We specifically looked at their exhortation to be alert and take care of the flock. In the midst of suffering, many can wander from their faith. Being even one degree off course can greatly impact our destination. Thankfully, the Lord has graciously given us community to help us stay on course. We prayed in small groups that we would not wander from our faith and finished by singing the Doxology. As we set out to keep running the race, we have this truth to cling to: I grow strong. You grow strong. We grow strong together.

Posted Apr 10, 2024

Karissa Pitaniello

Content Coordinator

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