Columbia Seminary, Decatur GA
As our group gathered in mid-May for the first time, many were worried about taking this trip this year. Some had already withdrawn. Some thought about it, and one didn’t come back for our second day of orientation. Would it be safe? Our friends and families prayed that we would come back alive; we prayed that we would be a good group and that we would learn a lot. Both prayers were answered!
From the moment we landed in Damascus until the moment we returned to Atlanta (or for some, wherever else they flew on to) we seemed to go non-stop. The many hotels, bus rides, 7am wake up calls, “short five-minute walks,” and endless meals of hummus were part of our daily routine. Also part of our daily routine (which wouldn’t have been routine anywhere else, or with anyone else!) were ruins. So many Bronze Age/Roman/Byzantine/Crusader ruins, so little time. We explored these tells, these ancient civilizations. We learned history, archaeology, culture, and more. Imaginations came alive as we pondered what life was like in Apamea. What was it like when part of daily life involved walking on a mile-long colonnaded road, bustling with carts and people? What was it like to daily feel dwarfed by the several-story high columns? And then, what was life like for the archaeologists who found a whole city buried under a meadow and began to “reconstruct again” (as Walid would say) the sparkling white colonnade? The very place was alive with those who had walked the same Roman pavement before us.
History itself came alive for me when we visited Crak de Chevaliers. My courses in the Crusades served me well as I recalled Raymond of Giles and his armies and successors taking this castle and holding it even against Saladin. Walking the corridors where hundreds of years of life had taken place was truly breathtaking, as was the view. People had lived and died there, poured hot oil on invaders, ridden horses in the hallway, hidden behind the safety of slanted walls and a moat, admired the view, expanded the castle, lived in its walls, and been asked to leave by the government’s historical preservation interests. Amazing.
Imagine life in a city carved out of the mountainside, with bright watercolor-type streaks and swirls lining your walls and ceiling. Imagine attending plays in theaters with perfect acoustics. Imagine living in a ruined city, adding your own layer to the thousands of years of life below. The several thousand years of civilization in these places still lives today, in ruined cities, in art and even writing, and in the people who continue to go about everyday life in the places tourists flock to.