Years ago we attended the beautiful wedding in downtown Portland, Oregon of Phillip and Jill Martin, and for several years Phil was the preacher in one of the few nearby congregations near to where Mark preached in Beaverton, Oregon. So when we knew we’d be passing through Sharpsburg, Georgia on the first leg of our Nomad Quest, we knew we wanted to reconnect with them and that their cozy home would be a soft place to land. They indeed welcomed us with open arms, Jill serving up some homemade chili, cornbread and chocolate chip cookies, and Phil staying up late with us teaching us more in the twenty-four hours we were together than perhaps any other day of our Nomad Quest. He covered such a wide variety of topics that by the time we departed Mark was toting pages of notes he’d taken on “people to meet”, “books to read’ and travel tips galore. While we were there, Phil also invited us to go to the Bible lands with him and some other close Christian friends of his, when and if unencumbered travel opens up again.
Though the timing of our first visit did not coincide with the opportunity to assemble with the congregation where Phillip preaches, we knew we wanted to pass through again on the second leg of our travels so we could again enjoy the Martins, and also meet our church family there. It was about a year later on a Wednesday night when we had the pleasure of meeting the very friendly Eastside church of Christ in Sharpsburg, Georgia and join in their interesting study of the lives of Joash and Jehoiada in 1 & 2nd Kings. Among the couples that greeted us was an honorable veteran and his lovely wife whom we chatted with the most, learning later that they had committed to engaging every visitor of the congregation, without exception, even during the pandemic. How thoughtful!
During the months between our first and second visits to Sharpsburg with the Martins, the idea of kicking around the Pyramids, seeing the Sphinx, the Sea of Galilee, Cana, Nazareth, the Western Wall in Jerusalem, the Dead Sea, Jericho, the Mount of Olives, the Garden of Gethsemane, and Bethlehem began to grow on me. Such a trip would be for me a maiden voyage, though not for Mark. It was in 1986, six years into my marriage, my mother and my 27-year-old husband bucked the stereotypical idea of “my annoying mother-in-law” and went off for three weeks together to tour the Bible lands. As my mother walked through many of the locations just mentioned, she scooped up sand to store in little labeled plastic containers and picked up lightweight, mostly cream colored little limestone and sandstone rocks from the ground, wrote the location on them with a fine-tipped permanent ink pen, and stored them in little plastic baggies to haul home. Before my mother and husband returned, they enriched their experience more with a fascinating, faith-building pit stop to the British Museum to see firsthand many archaeological finds that confirm the authenticity and historicity of many Biblical events.
My mother had always communed with God every morning, soaking her soul in the refreshing living water of the scriptures, often on her shaded backyard deck overlooking the flowers of the garden that she lovingly tended. But from 1986 on, something changed. She saw with fresh eyes the stories she was reading play out in her mind through the sights, sounds, and smells she had experienced firsthand in the various locations she had visited.
Throughout her remaining years, until her passing in 2017, this journey to the Bible lands remained a highlight in her life. So much so, that at many family gatherings, she’d be off in a quiet corner with her “son in the Lord” (my husband, whose soul she had helped to save) reminiscing about the trip and working on synthesizing something new she had learned in the scriptures that she wanted to get his take on. I loved that two of the people I adored most in the world shared such a close bond that was only cemented more by having experienced this journey together.
And all those rocks and sand my mother hauled home decades ago? My daughter, Ashley, who shares my mother’s deep interest in all things related to Biblical archeology, requested those keepsakes years before my mother’s parting, and has since created gorgeous, framed works of art by arranging and individually framing the stones of each location in ways that symbolize the Biblical events that took place at those locations. These now hang in her living room, alongside a lighted hutch that contains fossils and other keepsakes symbolic of the spiritual heritage she treasures.
I can understand how a contemplative journey around the places our Savior walked could touch one’s soul, draw one closer to God, and perhaps add depth to how one experiences the Word of God. That, to me, along with the comradery of fellow travelers, would make such an adventure quite worthwhile. If you agree, or are curious about visiting the Bible lands, I’d encourage you to contact Phillip Martin who would likely be able to answer many of your specific questions. Also, check out one of his many online Bible studies, and do stop by this beautifully diverse congregation if you are passing through the Atlanta metropolitan area.
Eastside church of Christ
20 Walters Lane
Sharpsburg, GA 30277
(770) 304 -9561