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In the Steps of Barnabas and Paul

by on Jul.18, 2011, under Jeff Patton

Cyprus Journal –Preaching the Good News

Sunday—January 16, 2005
We flew into Paphos, Cyprus, for our vacation about 8 o’clock at night in the midst of a winter storm complete with lightning flashes and blustery winds. After clearing immigration, the representative from the travel company cracked the expected jokes to the planeload of Brits about bringing in the bad weather so as to feel right at home. But then, maybe it was the five Canucks from British Columbia’s Vancouver Island who squeezed on board that were responsible for what would be our typical BC January weather blowing off the Pacific Ocean—wet but rather mild temperature-wise.
It was thrilling to come to Cyprus despite our thunder and blitzen welcome and to be on the island anciently known as Kittim, the reputed birthplace of the fertility goddess Aphrodite. So many exciting things happened here during the early days of the Church. It was here that a crucial opening act took place in the struggle for the hearts and minds of what passed as the civilized world—an ideological competition between a nascent Judeo-Christianity and the long-established, multicultural, pagan belief and philosophical systems of the Roman Empire. This island is where the apostles Barnabas and Saul launched their first missionary tour (Acts 13:4).

Perhaps the apostles chose Cyprus since it had been Barnabas’ home and it was really just a short hop from Antioch where both men had been working as teachers for the Church (Acts 13:1). Then again, there were quite a few Jewish synagogues in Cyprus during the first century A.D. and it was to these Jewish communities, as well as to those in Antioch and Phoenicia, that many of the church members from Jerusalem had fled a few years previously following the persecution that took place after the deacon, Steven, was martyred (Acts 8:1 and 11:19). Cyprus was a place of refuge for the early Church.
Among their most precious possessions, the Judeo-Christian religious refugees took the Gospel of Jesus of Nazareth with them and began sharing it with others in the Cypriot Jewish community. Some of these Cypriot believers were probably merchants who regularly traveled the eastern Mediterranean trade routes. Whatever their means of livelihood, these Jewish believers began preaching the Gospel to Greek gentiles during a stopover in the nearby mainland city of Antioch. The results of their boldness were astounding: “The hand of the Lord was with them, and a great number became believers and turned to the Lord. News of this came to the ears of the church in Jerusalem and they sent Barnabas to Antioch… a great many people were brought to the Lord. Then Barnabas went to Tarsus to look for Saul, and when he had found him, he brought him to Antioch” (Acts 11:21-25 NRSV). Ironically the persecution carried out following the death of Stephen was with the assistance of the then unconverted Saul of Tarsus. There must have been some interesting opportunities for apologizing and forgiving as Saul met in Antioch and Cyprus some believers whom he had formerly run out of Jerusalem (Acts 8:1).
Now the real name of the apostle we know as Barnabus, whom the Jerusalem apostles sent to teach the new believers in Antioch and who recruited Saul of Tarsus for the ministry, was Joseph. He was a Levite and a native of Cyprus who in the earliest days of the Church had the courage to affiliate with the rag-tag band of assorted Galileans who were the disciples of the publicly condemned and executed Galilean “criminal,” Jesus of Nazareth. Joseph helped bankroll the new movement at a critical point of time by selling some of his property on Cyprus, and for that reason the group nicknamed him “Barnabas, which means ‘son of encouragement’” (Acts 4:36).
Jesus himself started the Church’s tradition of sometimes giving his followers the various nicknames by which we most commonly know them today. He did this to highlight some defining personality characteristic of those called to be his disciples. Simon, the fisherman’s son, was cast as “the Rock” or perhaps “pebble”—that is to say, Peter (Luke 6:14). John and James were humorously called the “sons of thunder” (Mark 3:17) for their willingness to call down lightening to fry a Samaritan village that showed their group a lack of hospitality. It was here in Cyprus that Saul of Tarsus began to be referred to exclusively as “Paul,” a Hellenized version of the Hebrew name Saul (Acts 13:9). It was an attempt to sidestep the anti-Semitic biases of their Greco-Roman target audience.
The bus finally arrived at the Eleni Tourist Village and the five of us tumbled out tired but excited at the prospect of a week’s adventure on this island of palms. We were starved, but the restaurant was closed. The only food the bar had to sell was ham sandwiches and potato chips. So, we made do with a few bottles of the local beer and crisps for a late night dinner. It was past midnight Cyprus time and we made quick work of crawling under the cool comfy sheets for a night’s repose. Tomorrow would be a day of exploring the sights both modern and ancient. A week is a very short time but we would make the most of it to get to know the island and its people. I think to be effective evangelizers we must really know how the people we want to reach feel and think. We must speak and dialogue in their language and culture as Barnabas and Saul did.

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