It began, of course, with saying goodbye. Many good byes had been said the night before at the farewell dinner. The Roma children who met us morning and night outside the hotel had worked their way into many of the teams hearts and those may have been the hardest goodbyes.
|Bruce with Ponce|
Even our waiters at the hotel lined up outside to see us off, which told us without words we had made an impression on their lives. The people we met were all truly outstanding!
We were a sober sniffling group as the tour bus wound its way out of Strumica. No one spoke for quite some time, each lost in his or her own personal reflections. It was Wendi's turn to lead devotionals and she delayed it until she was able to work words around the choked up feelings in her heart. It was okay. we were all feeling that way.
When she was ready she asked each of us to share what did we feel was our small personal victory during our time here. I have asked Wendi to share about this in her own words and will post that at a later date. Suffice it to say, our small victories are actually large ones for each of us.
|authentic gyros for lunch~~oh my~~!!|
It took my breathe away, literally. the very first glimpse of the stone amphitheater rising up on the mountain side made my heart pound. We had agreed earlier in the week that we would visit the amphitheater first off and would each read a section from the book of Philippians. Knowing we were standing in the center of a place where Christians were martyred for their Christian beliefs made reading this joy filled letter from Paul much more deep. the words lept off the page, making the statement about how the word of God is living/breathing very clear.
It was a tremendously powerful experience. Each of us took a turn and so the whole book was read aloud. Reading certain passages were especially moving. There was much emotion as verses like ' at the name of Jesus, every knee shall bow and every tongue confess that he is Lord" "forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead, I strain to reach the end of the race and receive the prize..." "fix your thoughts on what is true and honorable and right. think about things that are pure and lovely and admirable. think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise." and of course, "for I am convinced that I can do all things though Christ who strengthens me." were read.
At one point i found myself no longer able to stand, I had to sit. the feelings were just too strong and the tears were just too heavy. I am not fully able even yet to put this into words but the living presence of the Holy Spirit was so strong, so real, that I was overwhelmed in it. I could do nothing but let the tears flow. Why it was so strong I can not answer but I knew I was to submit to it and let the Spirit just move in me as He so desired.
Eventually we each meandered our way through the ruins beyond the amphitheater. The 'town' stretched out over quite a large area. We saw the jail where Paul was said to be held when he was arrested (Acts 16). We contemplated what it must have been like to have lived in those times. It was a very warm day and hot breezes blew over the dry grass. We wrapped up our time there with iced coffee in the shade back at the cafe near the entrance.
|the 'jail' where Paul was held prisoner|
|looking down over the Basillica|
Then it was back on the bus and over to what I am calling "Lydia's place". The river here is where it is said that Paul and Silas met and witnessed to the towns people and a woman named Lydia, seller of purple cloth, came to faith in the resurrected Jesus Christ. She was then baptized in this river and went on to help establish the first church in this town.
Under shady trees with a berm , the river has a monument constructed in her honor and a place for baptism constructed of concrete, has been built over the river. Just beyond the river is a beautiful small cathedral. We sat at the river and listened as Jyl read from Acts 16 about Lydia's conversion. We sat in contemplative silence each processing our thoughts.
I was baptized when I was 14 and it was a very special time in my life. But sitting there in the shade that day, reflecting on what had happened for me at the ruins, I knew God was speaking to me, calling me. For what purpose i do not yet know fully but what I did understand was a compelling desire to be baptized again, here in this river at this time. I turned to Kate and quietly voiced my desire. She was affirming and encouraging.
We worked out the logistics.... I could either go in fully clothed and enjoy the rest of the day with cool wet clothes on, or pretend my under clothing was a bathing suit....
We asked the men to go over the little berm and make sure my privacy was maintained. Then with the ladies looking on, Kate and Bruce stepped down to the river with me. Kate asked me if i had anything I would like to say. I teared up and found it very difficult to speak, but I managed to croak out that I had been baptized at age 14 but after what I had experienced at the ruins this day, it seemed right to do this; it was imperative that I do this.
Kate spoke of my faith, my calling to minister to women, through my writing, being reaffirmed and that this re-baptism was to demonstrate that. That I was being cleansed of anything that was weighing me down in my Christian walk. Then Bruce put his arms around me and with a voice that resonated into my heart, said those beautiful words; "Robyn, I baptize you in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit".
I came up out of the water, refreshed and renewed. There was cheering and clapping and laughing and crying. I dressed and joined the rest of the group over by the church. We entered this beautiful cathedral and stood in a circle inside under the rotunda.
Have you ever stood in a rotunda? And sang? Oh my. We sounded like angels. LoL! the acoustics were incredible!! We sang "Come thou fount of every blessing" and "amazing grace", 'how great thou art" to name a few. Of course there were more tears as we sang, or couldn't sing. what an absolute Holy Moment. Pure. Simple. Profound. Holy.