In Search of Paul

April 11 – April 27, 2023

2023 Registration is now open

The Rev. Dr. Don Carlson and The Rev. Travis Meier are the co-hosts for LEAD’s 2023 study pilgrimage for rostered leaders and inquiring disciples.
Contact with questions.

This trip is open to anyone over the age of 18 who is serious about studying scripture and growing their understanding of the first-century Christian movement. Registration closes October 1, 2022. Preparation is required.

Contemporary scholars often describe four “Pauls”:

  • The Paul of the autograph letters: Philemon, 1 Thessalonians, Philippians, 1 Corinthians, 2 Corinthians, Galatians, and Romans.
  • The “Paul” of the pastorals: 1 & 2 Timothy and Titus.
  • The “Paul” of Ephesians, Colossians, and 2 Thessalonians.
  • The “traditional Paul” of Acts.

Lutherans and other churches of the Reformation may also have a “fifth Paul”: the “Paul” of the 16th century.

How did Paul understand justice, righteousness, salvation, faith, law, and gospel as he wrote to diverse urban people living in a society dominated by patronage and Roman Imperial Theology? What does his 1st century gospel mean in a 21st century context?

These are some of the questions we will explore as we travel through the world of the early church focusing on Paul’s autograph letters.

Tuesday, April 11th

Fly out of Houston or other Turkish Airlines hub; direct flight to Istanbul. Tutku Tours can arrange departures by other carriers.

Wednesday, April 12th

Arrive in Istanbul, meet our guide for Turkey, Cenk Eronat, and travel to our hotel. Dinner together in the hotel dining room overlooking the “old city” of Istanbul.

Thursday, April 13th

We start at Istanbul where we glimpse the “imperial church” of the early 4th century under Constantine. We visit the hippodrome, archeological museums, Hagia Sophia, Hagia Irene, and the Topkapi Palace.

Friday, April 14th – Orthodox Good Friday

We depart early for the Greek border, meet our guide for Greece, Voula Kalapoda, and then travel to Philippi. We visit the traditional river site where Paul met Lydia and see the magnificent baptistery built there. At the river we discuss Paul’s letter to Philemon and its patronage subtext. 1st century city life then emerges in the ruins of ancient Philippi. Overnight in Kavala, modern Neapolis; experiencing the Orthodox Epitaphos before turning in.

Saturday, April 15th

We get another glimpse of the Via Egnatia that Paul walked from Neapolis to Philippi, then on to Thessloniki where we see the Roman forum, the arch and mausoleum of Galerius, and the archeological museum. We stop at the tomb of Phillip II of Macedon, father of Alexander the Great, to appreciate the roots of imperial theology. Overnight at Kalambaka/Meteora; at midnight, the church square will fill with people, candles, and pealing bells as the resurrection is announced.

Sunday, April 16th – Orthodox Easter

Visit Varlaam Monastery, built 1541, high atop the rocks of Meteora; reflecting upon the medieval theological worldview of its art. After visiting Varlaam Monastery, we have a traditional Easter meal; discussing Philippians in the afternoon.

Monday, April 17th

We stop at a studio where icons are hand painted and can be purchased, then go Delphi to explore the cult of Apollo. After visiting the archeological museum, we overnight in Delphi; taking a look at 1 Thessalonians and Paul’s understanding of Christ’s return.

Tuesday, April 18th

In Athens, we visit the Areopagus where Paul delivered his sermon about “an unknown God” and then climb the acropolis to see the temples of Athena, Nike, Poseidon, and Augustus. There will then be free time to visit the new archeological museum or to have a leisurely meal “al fresco”.

Wednesday, April 19th

We visit the site of ancient Corinth with its excellent ruins and museum. While on the grounds, seated in view of the Temple of Apollo and the ancient meat market (1 Cor. 8), we discuss 1st Corinthians. After lunch we head for the port of Athens, say “Goodbye” to Voula Kalapoda, and board our 7:00 PM ferry to Patmos. Good dining aboard and cabins with clean linens and bath. Arrive in Patmos about 3:00 AM, walk a short distance to our hotel, and go back to bed!

Thursday, April 20th

Still in Greece, we will visit the traditional “Cave of St. John”, reflect upon the imperial context of Revelation, and then visit the Monastery of St. John. Lunch will be by the seaport and then we take a 4-hour boat ride to the Turkish port of Kusadasi – discussing Romans on the way. At Kusadasi we meet up again with Cenk Eronat and go to our hotel.

Friday, April 21st

The ancient city of Ephesus gives the most impressive glimpse of 1st century urban life. The Library of Celsus, Temple of Artemis (one of the 7 wonders of the ancient world) Temple of Hadrian, Temple of Domitian, and the “terrace houses” are but a few of the restorations. After a “1st century lunch” we will visit a local “cottage industry” store to see how Turkish carpets are made; and an opportunity to purchase carpets!

Saturday, April 22nd

Leaving Kusadasi, we will see the magnificent Temple of Apollo at Didyma, Asian counterpart to Delphi – complete with oracle. Then on to Aphrodisias with the Temple of Aphrodite, the Sebasteion (the best eample of Roman imperial theology), monumental gateway, stadium, and museum—where “the god fearers” are mentioned. Overnight at a relaxing thermal spa hotel at Pamukkale.

Sunday, April 23rd

At Hierapolis we see the tomb of Philip the Apostle and the thermal springs, then journey to Laodicea with its many newly excavated and restored ruins; including a magnificent 4th century church. After a brief stop at Sardis and its restored gymnasium and synagogue, we will arrive at Izmir (ancient Smyrna) and have dinner on the waterfront.

Monday, April 24th

We head for the acropolis of Pergamum with its great theater and temples to Athena, Zeus, and Trajan; then visit the Asclepion, a center of healing where the great physician Galen practiced. Overnight at the picturesque seaport of Assos.

Tuesday, April 25th

After climbing the acropolis of Assos – Turkish coffee on the climb – that has a temple to Athena dating from 530 BCE, we head north to Alexander-Troas (Acts 20). Then on to Troy; founded 3000-2600 BCE. We overnight in Canakkale, discussing Galatians before turning in.

Wednesday, April 26th

We cross the Dardanelles by car ferry and drive through the area where the Battle of Gallipoli was fought in WWI. Arriving back in Istanbul, we visit the Spice Market before going to the hotel to enjoy our farewell dinner.

Thursday, April 27th

After a leisurely morning and breakfast, we leave for the airport for our fights; chasing the sun back to our home destinations. Welcome home!


  1. While many sites are visited, this is not primarily a “sight-seeing” tour. It is a continuing education emersion in which participants, through personal reflection and mutual conversation, seek to grow in their understanding of Paul, his theology, and the context of the 1st century church. The program assumes sharing and participation.
  2. The many archeological sites visited may have uneven footing, ramps, stairs, changes in elevation, and are certainly not ADA compliant. Some days may require 5000 – 10,000 footsteps. Almost 100 people of diverse ages (see pictures) have participated, but please inquire if you have concerns, questions, or mobility issues.
  3. We will travel over 1500 scenic miles by bus, ferry, and water taxi.
  4. Minor changes to the itinerary may occur due to unforeseen circumstances.


Print-ready Travel Guide 2023

2023 In Search of Paul – FAQs

Is it safe to travel in Turkey and Greece?

LEAD, in partnership with TUTKU Tours, has been offering this pilgrimage since 2014. Over 160 people have participated. People have always been and felt safe. The trip is registered with the US State Department and we receive all travel updates.

How much spending money should be brought?

Always a tough question in that people’s spending habits vary widely. Perhaps about $250 USD worth of Turkish Lira and $350 USD worth of Euros. ATMs in both Turkey and Greece can provide additional monies should more be needed.

What about passport and visas?

No visa is required for Greece since they are in the EU. A Turkish e-visa ($50 USD) can be purchased online within 90 days of arrival. Participants must carry a US Passport that does not expire within 6 months of April 14, 2023, the day that we enter Greece. If you need to renew or secure a passport, do not wait. Do so ASAP.

How many people will be in the group?

We have had as few as 12 and as many as 31. We anticipate there will be between 20 and 30 participants.

Is the trip physically demanding?

People from age 28 to 70+ have done this trip. However, many archeological sites may have uneven footing, ramps, stairs, changes in elevation, and are certainly not ADA compliant. Some days may require 5000—10,000 footsteps. Walk if you need to get in shape. Please inquire if you have questions or mobility issues.

Is there any other preparation needed?

Yes. There are three “essential readings” listed in the brochure. Upon registration you will be invited to join the Facebook Group for ISOP 2023. It is a way to get to know people prior to the trip and to share ideas and information. There will also be 3 online ZOOM meetings (January, February, and March) in which we will discuss the readings listed in the brochure. (This is not primarily a “sight-seeing tour”. It is a 1st century emersion in which participants, through reflection and conversation, grow in their understanding of Paul, his theology, and the context of the early “church”.)

What airline will we fly?

TUTKU will try to book everyone on Turkish Airlines. If you need to fly to get to a Turkish Airlines hub, TUTKU usually makes those arrangements at no extra cost. TAL is a Star Alliance member. If you want to use Star Alliance miles/points you need to make your own flight arrangements, in which case TUTKU will generally give you a “land only” rate of $3390. Contact Pr. Don Carlson if you plan on doing this.

Can we tour on our own before or after the LEAD event?

Yes. But then you also need to make your own flight reservations. Contact Pr. Don Carlson if you plan on doing this.

What kind of clothing is needed?

Very casual and comfortable. Bring items that can easily dry after being rinsed out. Dress in layers. Have two pair of good walking shoes: well broken in.

Is this mostly for “rostered leaders” – pastors and deacons?

No. Our groups are usually about 50/50 rostered and laity. Makes for better conversation!

Do I need travel insurance?

That is up to the individual. It is recommended that you at least have medical travel and medical evacuation insurance, which is very nominal.

Is any scholarship assistance available?

There are a limited number of $1400 scholarships for ELCA leaders rostered 10 years or less. Contact Pr. Don Carlson.  To advocate for the participation of more recently rostered leaders, a letter to the Congregational Council can be downloaded from the website.

What is the cancellation policy?

Cancellation Penalty: 90-60 days prior to departure: No Penalty
59-45 days prior to departure: 10%
44-30 days prior to departure: 25%
29-15 days prior to departure: 75%
14 days & after: No refund
Air Cancellation Policy is subject to airline standard rules.

Where will we be staying? 

Hotel list can be downloaded from the website.

2023 Cost: $4,390
per person, double occupancy room
(For single occupancy room, add $990)

This includes:

  • Roundtrip airfare between any Turkish airline hub in the United States and Istanbul
  • 9 nights at 3-4 star hotels in Turkey
  • 5 nights at 3 star hotels in Greece
  • 1 night on overnight ferry from Athens to Patmos
  • Daily breakfast and 15 dinners
  • Transportation by private bus with A/C
  • English-speaking, Bible-oriented, professional tour guides throughout the pilgrimage
  • All entry fees to sites and museums
  • All tips for hotels and restaurant staff
  • All tips to tour guides and drivers
  • All service charges and local taxes

It does not include:

  • Turkish Visa fee ($50 per US citizen, obtained electronically before departure from USA)
  • Lunches and beverages
  • Personal discretionary expenses, shopping


I knew Paul and Empire in my head, but to travel the roads he walked brought a new depth and nuance to my understanding. Now I can more competently and confidently connect our tradition of church and culture in my preaching, teaching, and advocacy.

The Rev. Ashley Dellagiacoma

St. Stephen's Episcopal, Houston, TX

To see, touch, read, and feel the archaeological findings in each site we visited, introduced me to the Paul I never knew. It was a transforming experience to understand the first century and begin to grasp what that means for teaching and preaching Pauline letters in the twenty first century.

The Rev. Solomon Hailu

Sharp Hospice Care, San Diego, CA

“In Search of Paul” was a wonderful experience that enabled me to see with my own eyes the places where Paul traveled and the context of the communities he created. I came away from this trip with a much greater understanding of his letters and would highly recommend this learning opportunity to anyone.

The Rev. Rudy Flores

Messiah Lutheran, Aurora, KS

The opportunity to travel with LEAD “In Search of Paul” was life changing for me, and experiencing the cities in Greece and Turkey where Paul shared the Jesus movement was captivating. Many empires fell and turned into ruins, but the powerful Jesus movement lives on!

The Rev. Jenny Sung

Free Range Lutheran, St. Paul, MN