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Crossroads, Winter 2005:
feature story

SAILING ACTS

Aboard Sailing Acts (and occasionally by land), they traveled to all 36 ports mentioned in the book of Acts in connection with the Apostle Paul. The entire trip lasted 18 months, including a winter spent in Israel. That first night after that first day of sailing in June 2004, having negotiated about 15 miles of the planned 3,600, Linford was seasick, Janet had a rope burn on her hand, and the windlass on the anchor didn’t work.
by Jeremy Nafziger (C 90)

The boat that would become Sailing Acts was 25 years old and not particularly well cared-for when Linford and Janet Stutzman bought it. But the ketch had what they were looking for: seaworthiness first, as well as the classic lines that Linford wanted and the wood interior that Janet had pictured. In the port of Volos, Greece, they replaced the sails and the lines, a hatch, a hot water heater, a spray hood. As they followed the trail of the Apostle Paul, there would be more to fix along the way.

Browse all the photos from Lin and Janet's trip on Sailing Acts!

They got lucky when the titling and flagging and insurance process, conducted by fax and phone across two continents (while they prepared to visit a third) went much faster than they could have dreamed. And three months after they bought the Aldebaran, they rechristened it Sailing Acts, were handed the insurance papers within minutes of untying, and headed out from the port best known for launching the voyages of Jason and the Argonauts.

There had been no time for a sea trial: the journey itself was the trial, a test of how well various parts of their lives had come together to create this excursion. In the past, there was the boat Linford built with his father for use on a Canadian lake, the sailing the Stutzmans have done over the years, the skill of existing with a limited network of support that they had acquired through years as resident aliens in far-flung lands (four years in Australia and 12 in Germany with Eastern Mennonite Missions, and a year in Israel even apart from leading the EMU Middle East cross-cultural three times), the way they worked together at problems while maintaining their own opinions, and the theological study that has made up Linford’s professional life.

Then there were some skills they didn’t know they had: Linford filled one of Janet’s teeth along the way using a travel dentistry kit they’d brought.

“It was the most challenging and rewarding experience in my life to this point,” Linford says, back at the Stutzman’s home in Park View. He is again teaching in the seminary and Bible and religion department; Janet, formerly director of alumni relations, is handling telephone fundraising campaigns for the development office. “We did things we have never experienced or thought about, and the rewards were because of that,” he says. “We were using all of life’s experiences, including academic ones, to do this.”

Here is what they did: Aboard Sailing Acts (and occasionally by land), they traveled to all 36 ports mentioned in the book of Acts in connection with the Apostle Paul. The entire trip lasted 18 months, including a winter spent in Israel. That first night after that first day of sailing in June 2004, having negotiated about 15 miles of the planned 3,600, Linford was seasick, Janet had a rope burn on her hand, and the windlass on the anchor didn’t work. They say they gained confidence just from having simply made it that far.

Even after months more of sailing and dozens of Mediterranean moorings, when they could sail the boat like the rest of us drive cars, “every meal was a celebration,” Linford says, “because even if [the day] was really hard, you had survived. Our number one priority was to continue the journey.”

“We had overall goals, but we did it one day at a time,” Janet says. Linford remembers when it started to come to him. He and Janet were at Harod’s harbor in the former Roman outpost of Caesarea, now in Israel, where Paul had spent two years in prison. An instructor on the trip had exhorted them to “read the Bible with their feet,” that cross-cultural experiences without context are “like playing chess without the board.” They were reading with their feet, all right, but on land. And it occurred to Linford that the sea beyond the harbor was the means by which Paul had gained his knowledge of the kingdom of Rome. The ocean winds as much as Paul’s curiosity, even awe, for the empire had driven him to Rome to meet the caesar.

In the Old Testament, Linford says, the sea was something to be feared. After the sea is separated from the land in Genesis, it is parted to Even after months more of sailing, when they could sail the boat like the rest of us drive cars, “every meal was a celebration, because even if [the day] was really hard, you had survived. Our number one priority was to continue the journey,” says Linford. accommodate the exodus—and then it swallows the Egyptian army (and this story is mentioned dozens of times thereafter).

The sea is something that cannot be crossed in Deuteronomy 30; Job says that God makes “the depths to churn like a boiling cauldron”; and Isaiah describes the wicked as “like the tossing sea, which cannot rest.”

To be sure, Solomon (in 1 Kings) “had a fleet of trading ships at sea… Once every three years it returned, carrying gold, silver and ivory, and apes and baboons.”

And Isaiah speaks of “righteousness like the waves of the sea,” though the point is not that the sea is forgiving, but that it is massive.

Ezekiel 27 has a description of Iron Age ships and their trade, one that archeologists who discovered a boat from that period off Ashkelon, Israel, find stunningly accurate. Of course, it comes in the form of a lament for the sea city of Tyre, whose “oarsmen will take you out to the high seas, but the east wind will break you to pieces in the heart of the sea.”

And then there’s that whole Jonah incident.

In the end, the Israelites are always finding God in the mountains, from whence cometh their help. The sea is never part of Israel, but its border.

This all changes in the New Testament, Linford says. From Acts 13, where Paul sets out from Antioch on the first of the missionary journeys that just about every printed version of the Bible feels compelled to display on maps, to the start of Revelations, the New Testament occurs in and around the sea, the Mediterranean and Aegean. Most of Jesus’ ministry occurs not around the Dead Sea mentioned often in the Old Testament, but around the Sea of Galilee. The waters are a source of sustenance for the new “fishers of men.” And for Paul, the sea became the key to the Roman world, the way to bring the Jews together with the Greeks in a kingdom of God in which there is no east or west.

The countries west of the Holy Land still appreciate it: Greece has a national holiday for Peter and Paul, and the Stutzmans were in Malta by chance on Paul Day, celebrated with bands, parades and confetti.

Not long after Caesarea, Linford started to see, through a glass darkly at first, that just maybe they could do it—read it with their feet by trying it under sail. Once he mapped it out, though the route changed many times, they could imagine it, and they started to collect things in a chest at home— nautical instruments and books and charts—and to take their pocket cruiser out on the Chesapeake Bay, and to give each other gifts that were for the trip as much as for the other person. Janet quit her job, Linford had a sabbatical coming.

While Paul made three legendary journeys, the Stutzmans compressed them into a single route that would reach the ports that Paul reached. From Volos, they visited sites along the Turkish coast on the Aegean, then the Greek ports near the northern end of that sea, working their way back down to Athens. Then it was back to Tarsus in Turkey, much further east, and Cyprus before hunkering down for the winter in Israel. Three months’ more sailing in the spring took them to Crete and Malta, and finally to Rome.

In all their searching before and since the trip, they have found no one else who has done the trip—at least no one who has written about it. Except for Paul, of course, or Luke, more exactly, generally credited as the author of Acts. It is clear to the Stutzmans that Luke— or whoever it was—was with Paul much of the way. The pronoun “we” is one reason, but more telling is the detail that survives in the text and simply must have been recorded in real time. (See Acts 27:39-44 for just one example of many.) And since the narrative contains relatively little detail of Paul’s land travels, some suspect that Luke was traveling at sea for the first time, making everything there new.

“There is virtually nothing you can dispute,” Linford says. “You could almost sail by Acts.” Even off Malta, the soundings that the sailors take just before the shipwreck in Acts 27 are within 10 feet of what the Stutzmans measured themselves at the same spot where the Roman sailors “sensed that they were approaching land.” The sailors used a lead ball on a weight, the Stutzmans an electronic depth finder. “A boat is kind of a miniature island on which a society of two people live, leaving it only occasionally for cross-cultural experiences in port,” writes Linford. Janet says the boat was a place where you wake up and “you’re always at home.”

And the shipwreck itself jives with known facts: the Romans were sailing too late in the season (Acts 27:9: “Much time had been lost, and sailing had already become dangerous”), trying to get in a second round trip to Alexandria with another load of grain, the fuel for the superpower of the day as much as oil is for ours. They had to wait until spring to make the short trip from Malta between Sicily and the toe of the Italian boot up to the port nearest Rome. Likewise, if you know that Paul at other times sailed from one coastal port to another aboard a 50-foot coastal cruiser and that the ship’s square rigging meant it could only get a favorable wind from only about 180 degrees of the compass, it makes sense that he often sat in a given port for days and had time to get out and preach.

While the boat that ran aground in Malta carried 276 people, the Stutzmans were alone most of the time. Their son David and his fiancée (now wife) joined them for a spell in Greece, and two EMU grads currently traveling around the world (Eric Kennel and David Landis) joined them when they departed from their winter quarters in Ashkelon. Students on the EMU Aegean cross-cultural in the summer of 2005 also sailed with them, and they had a few other shortterm visitors.

“A boat is kind of a miniature island on which a society of two people live, leaving it only occasionally for crosscultural experiences in port,” Linford wrote in an online journal they kept up throughout the journey. (See www.emu.edu/sailingacts for the whole thing.) Janet says the boat, a Westerly 33, was a place where “you wake up in a different place, and you’re always at home.”

And at every port they would meet fellow sailors, many of them with considerable experience and knowledge. The Stutzmans remain in touch with a lot of them, including one who has since lost a finger to an anchor chain and another who was arrested for fishing two drowning refugees out of the water. The winter in Ashkelon found them in a community of dock-dwellers, all with their own stories. Linford used the time to work on two books, writing from dawn till noon in the tiny salon with Janet tending to boat chores just feet away.

Sailing Acts, the story of the trip written for a popular audience, is expected to be published in the spring of 2006 by Good Books. The second book’s working title is Kingdom, Power, and Glory—What Christians in Globalization Can Learn from Paul in the Roman Empire. A draft is done, and Linford anticipates a fall 2006 release from the same house.

The latter is written for a more scholarly reader. The title refers, Linford says, to the three elements that were inseparable in the Roman empire. The book argues that Paul understood the kingdom of God as a similar sort of empire, one whose power to unite disparate cultures under one citizenship means that there is no slave or free, no Jew or Greek. Paul did not condemn any of the Roman institutions he found. Nearly every port he visited had a temple to Aphrodite, which was the adult bookstore and then some of the day. The one in Corinth was huge, and Paul doesn’t even mention it. Instead, in Corinthians, he wrote one of the Bible’s greatest descriptions of love—the very thing the goddess was supposed to represent—thus, Linford says, redeeming the pagan for a holy use. Paul does similar things with the Greek/Roman ideals of beauty, health and success.

In fact, Linford says, Paul found that the goodness in the pagan Romans “that made it possible for him to do what he did.” The superpower that sometimes so suppressed and persecuted the Jewish religion and early Christians (as Paul/Saul himself had) also had the power to facilitate the spreading of the radical good news and may have been the only thing that could have done so in those early times.

Leaving Ashkelon in April 2005 with Kennel and Landis on what was supposed to be a 40-hour trip, the porthole gaskets started leaking in high seas that washed over the deck. It became clear, especially when two of those on board got really sick, that 40 hours was out of the question. They checked the chart and found the Israeli harbor of Herzliya was not far, but knew that they would not make it by dark and that entering an unfamiliar harbor without customs clearance was dangerous. A couple they knew from the winter in Ashkelon had taken their multi-million dollar Finally, like Paul, they came to Rome, with an appreciation of destination and of how their predecessor must have felt that he had arrived. Linford walked the last 35 miles into the city on the Appian Way over several days. yacht to Herzliya, and Sailing Acts was able to raise them on the radio. The man said to come in, he would alert the customs and prepare a berth—any harbor in a storm. The docking went off without a hitch. And their friends came over with hot gourmet soup, sat in the cabin and let them talk, knowing, Janet says, as fellow sailors would that a crew who had just been through all that would need to debrief.

That day, however, was not the time they came the closest to losing the ship. The time they came within yards of getting run down by a freighter in the dark was the scariest, but the time they thought they were closest to sinking was when they sailed 50 miles from Troas to St. Paul’s Bay on Limnos. They had a perfect wind and new sails and went 10 miles on the same tack. However, this tack had tilted the deck just enough to submerge the hole the bilge pump uses to get rid of water in the hull, though even that shouldn’t have caused what happened, which was that when they got near the bay and the boat straightened up, Linford saw a lot of water in the boat and it seemed to still be coming in. From where, he did not know. While Janet, in the captain’s chair, looked for a good place to run the boat aground, Linford bailed by hand for 45 minutes or so until they finally figured out the source—and the water wasn’t coming in as fast as they'd feared. They dropped the anchor and fixed the problem.

Finally, like Paul, they came to Rome, with an appreciation of destination and of how their predecessor must have felt that he had arrived. Linford walked the last 35 miles into the city on the Appian Way over several days.

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Paul was allowed to live in Rome for two years, under guard but not your typical prisoner. Acts ends: “Boldly and without hindrance he preached the kingdom of God and taught about the Lord Jesus Christ.” While Paul later left Rome for more travels (some think he went all the way to Spain) and was later arrested and executed when Nero took power, the Stutzmans’ trip had a happier end.

And they will also get to travel again. They considered selling the boat. They couldn’t. They sailed it from Paul’s last Acts port in Puteoli to Tropea, Italy, arriving with a broken shaft and no working motor. The boat has reportedly been fixed since they left it, and they will get back on it after they lead the EMU cross-cultural to the Middle East this spring. They will sail it to Turkey, where the slips are cheaper. From there, they don’t know yet. But having shown that you can sail the same sea twice, the Stutzmans are ready for the next adventure.