A number of years ago when I was teaching a class on the book of Acts I ran across two passages referring to a place by the name of Troas, a town on the western coast of Asia. The first passage is in Acts 16:8 where Paul waited and received a vision from the Spirit directing him to go to Macedonia. The second is in Acts 20:13 at the end of Paul’s third missionary journey before he went to Jerusalem following the Spirit’s warning of future trials. It was this second occurrence that sparked my imagination.
Acts 20:13 says, “But going ahead to the ship, we set sail for Assos, intending to take Paul aboard there, for so he had arranged, intending himself to go by land.” While this is a fairly simple verse and one I would normally pass over, as I thought more about it and then read the surrounding context, I wondered why he didn’t board the ship with everyone else at Troas.
It may be that he was meeting some people on his way to Assos, it may be that he was sea sick and needed a break from riding the boat, or it may be some other reason. This is a point on which Scripture is not clear. But as I thought about his first visit to Troas where the Spirit had directed him to an expansion of his mission work, and then about this second time in Troas where the Spirit warned of imprisonment and afflictions to come, I wondered if he might have been trying to prepare himself for the days ahead.
The journey from Troas to Assos is about 20 miles by foot and would have provided ample time for him to think. I know it is pure speculation to consider, but I wondered what it was that he was thinking? Did he take this time to look back on his life, his calling, his work? Was he second guessing anything he had said or done? Did he wonder what might be awaiting him in the future? Was he wondering if he would have adequate strength for the future? Or did he, like Jesus in the garden, ask to avoid the pain?
I know Scripture is silent on a great many things, and rightfully so for it is not a book about everything. It leaves many things unsaid that are not central to its central purpose. Even so, that doesn’t stop me from asking questions and pondering answers, something I have done for as long as I can remember. My way of wrestling through these thoughts and questions has been to write. I have a number of notebooks, some piles of loose papers, and many scraps full of diagrams, questions, notes, and ideas that I have written over the years, most of which would be meaningless to anyone other than myself and few of which anyone has seen. But for me they are meaningful because in the act of writing I find I am able to sort through my life of questions.
But with this passage my writing took a different direction. Instead of questions, diagrams, and notes, I wrote a journal entry as if Paul himself was speaking. I tried to imagine what he might be sorting through on this journey and I put to words the dialogue I imagined Paul was having on this trip. It was not well written and certainly not brilliant, but it helped me sort through Paul’s life in a way that helped me with my own.
It has now been many years since I first wrote that small piece, a story I titled Journeys from Troas, and in the time since I’ve often processed other portions of scripture in the same way, rarely putting any on paper. Recently, for some reason however, I have started to record some of these stories. I find them to be a unique way for me to touch the people of scripture as I seek to understand them and their struggles. They lived in a different time and under different circumstances, but they are not very different from you or I. They are still fallen humans created in the image of God who struggled, failed, and sometimes had success. I found that I am able to understand my own life just a bit more clearly when I process their lives in this way.
It is with these thoughts in mind that I offer the stories found in this section of On The Foothills. I hope they are encouraging and challenging to you. I hope they help you ask questions of Scripture. I hope you might be inspired to write a few of your own, (and if you do, I’d love to read them). But most of all I hope they guide you to the one whose presence is the answer to all of our questions.