From HUGer Robert:
Neaopolis. Philippi. Thessaloniki. Wow, we did so much today. Before I continue, I wanted to give a shout out to all of our incredible adults here. Their insight, helpfulness, relatability and thoughtfulness has made this trip so easy and so memorable. We are in good hands and we are thankful. Thankful, also, to have the privilege to be here and experience such nourishment and fellowship. Now, to the good stuff that I'm sure all of you are here to read about...
We stayed at an incredible hotel (with an incredible rooftop restaurant) in Kavala (Neaopolis). We woke up early to enjoy a delicious breakfast. Some of us even mustered enough strength to walk up the steep streets and visit the local castle overlooking the sea and city before we took off. Once we got onto the bus, we hit the ground running. Our tour guide James began telling us the rich history of both Neaopolis, the road to Philippi and the introduction to the challenging and beautiful story that happened in Philippi.
Looking out the window on the bus driving up to Philippi was incredible, listening to the words of our tour guide, trying to imagine the massive armies of Brutus and Marc Anthony clashing. And that was all before we stepped onto Philipanzian (not Philippian) soil. We got off the bus and walked to the place of prayer that Lydia met Paul and gang by the river. It took me by surprise by how much of the story contextually I didn't know or had forgotten. We listened as James told us the story of Acts 16, which I encourage you to read, and unpacked it, plugging it into a larger narrative that touches us even now. Incredible. I was truly humbled. Then we visited the church building there and carefully looked at the art there and once again listened to the wisdom and insight of James, common place on the trip. We sang two songs, "It Is Well" and "Father God", and the acoustics were wonderful. The fellowship was tangible and the worship was sincerely beautiful (even if my pitchy voice quality didn't really help the cause). We took a quick pitstop, which for some reason James didn't want to give commentary during this part of the trip, and we continued onward.
We then drove to the city center of Philippi. I was impressed by the site (it'd make a great paintball course in my opinion) and loved exploring. While there, a committee was there to judge and appraise the city center to see if they wanted it to become a world heritage site, to which we are hopeful it will be after so much history. We then ate lunch at the site's fantastic tourist restaurant. We ate quickly and gratefully, after burning so many calories from walking and learning, and returned for a brief siesta and interlude as we made our way to Thessalonica (Thessaloniki).
We got to Thessaloniki, which has three large universities and is known for being the best in Greece for food and music (we are really roughing it), and were brought back, again, by the story here. We dropped of our bags off at the hotel, which is stunning, and explored the church building dedicated to St. Demetrius. It was great learning about the church, the delicate relationship and unfortunate fallout between the East and West parts of the Roman Empire (which led to Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy), and the story of its members. We then went to the outer wall of the city, which is where Paul is thought to have probably entered through. We then, got some snacks and drinks as we transitioned to another part of the city. We moved to where Jason is thought to have been brought and tried. It was still in good condition. We got back on the bus, once more, for the last time today as we went to the hotel to eat.
Whew. Mouthful, or keyboard full as it were. Wonderful day. I'm not sure if today was my favorite day but it may have tied for it. Incredibly humbling. What I kept going back to while typing was story and our role in it. We all are from different places but we've come together because of a commonality in belief of the same story, which engages, challenges and encourages us. I couldn't, or rather the space for an email wouldn't let me, tell you all what we learned today. But I will say we won't forget it. So ask us. We share in the same story. And it's a beautiful thing. God bless you and thank you for investing in your child. I love them all.