We headed to Syria as the sun was rising over Beirut. Not knowing how long the journey would take or exactly what we would be doing once we arrived, our team was content with allowing flexibility to be the name of the game. But nonetheless, we were excited to visit Damascas and our other destinations in Syria!
After about an hour or two, we stopped for some coffee and a traditional Lebanese breakfast sandwich called Lebnah Arouss (I may or may not be taking some liberty with the spelling! ha) – it was somewhat reminiscent of a crepe with a spread of greek-strained yogurt and olives – I will be honest that the taste took me off guard at first, but it really grew on me and you would definitely not have to twist my arm to eat another one!
Onward we pressed through the snowy mountains to the Lebanon/Syria border. I will say that riding in a car in Lebanon and Syria is a whole experience in and of itself – and we had more than a few close calls!
After about five hours, we made it to Damascas, and Joy brought us to a lookout on one of the mountains on which we could view the vast city and take a few photos. It was a bit surreal overlooking the city that is now bursting at the seams but also holds so much rich history.
As we drove into the city, we were greeted with many of the old stone walls and pillars that have been there for centuries, which drove the history of this place even more firmly into my mind. Our next destination was one of my favorite places to visit in a city to really get the feel of that rhythm I talked about a few days ago – the market! We strolled around for a while, taking in the sights and smells, doing a little shopping and bartering, and we even got some delicious homemade ice cream rolled in pistachios. And yet somehow I always seem to take the most time in the shops with scarves and rings – I know those of you who know me well are probably shocked 😉
Also in the market, we met the pastor of the Church of God location in Syria and Shant, the worship leader. They became quick friends and helped show us around Syria during our stay there.
Next, we visited one of the places all of us were very eager to see – Straight Street – the road where Jesus told Paul to go after He had appeared to Paul on the road to Damascas. An old city gate, weathered by many centuries, still proudly stood on the street (which was indeed very straight).
Many old bases of pillars still lined the street, and my mind continued to race with thoughts of all those stones have seen over the years.
As our bellies began rumbling, we stopped for a late lunch before visiting Ananais’ house. The restaurant where we ate was remarkable!!! The decor was gorgeous, accompanied by a retractable roof and an open kitchen. However, there was a bit of a mix up with how large the portions were as Joy was ordering another family style meal for us, and we ended up getting more food than perhaps I have ever seen in my life! But oh how it was delicious, especially accompanied by a mint lemonade!!
After filling our stomachs to the brim, we continued down Straight Street and came to Ananais’ House, where Paul’s conversion took place. I’m not sure my mind could fully comprehend standing in the very vicinity of the place where that took place – that which would in turn shape the Christian faith forever. Underneath the house was a quaint little chapel that dates back to the early centuries, although it was rebuilt in the past century or two.
That night, we drove about an hour away to a place called Sednaya in ancient Antioch, which was central to the early Christian Church, and we stayed in St. Christopho’s Monestary. Again, my brain was still trying to wrap itself around the history I was experiencing first hand. As I write this, the reality of these images and experiences is beginning to sink deeper and deeper.