Hearing God’s whisper in the wilderness

NICK EICHER, HOST: Today is Thursday, April 9th. You’re listening to The World and Everything in It and we are so glad you are! Good morning. I’m Nick Eicher.

MARY REICHARD, HOST: And I’m Mary Reichard.

Well, if you’re like many people these days, cabin fever has set in. One way to help yourself is to get some fresh air and step outside. Nature is still open, even if some campgrounds and parks are closed right now. 

Stay-at-home mandates explicitly permit hiking and walking outdoors. Go to a local trail, and hike only with people who are already in quarantine with you.

WORLD Reporter Jenny Rough recently met a man who teaches hiking and backpacking skills for those heading into the great outdoors.

ROUGH: How are you?
MARTIN: How are you?

JENNY ROUGH, REPORTER: Seven hikers greet each other at the Walls of Jericho trailhead in Estillfork, Alabama. It’s mid-March, and the CDC has just recommended gatherings no larger than 50. The small group greets each other with elbow bumps and foot taps—or a far-away wave. 

MALE HIKER: Everyone keep your distance. Perfect!

Backpacking guide Bruce Martin shares the plan: Hike three miles to a camping site, set up tents, then hike on to waterfalls before returning to camp to spend the night. 

First, he outfits each hiker with a backpack full of gear.

MARTIN: Here’s two food kits if you want to put one in yours and one in hers. So you’ve got a cook set right there and fuel. You have your headlamp.

Tent, sleeping pad, water filtration system, and emergency supplies, like a first aid kit. But what’s considered an emergency supply might depend on the person.

MARTIN: And coffee? Are you all coffee drinkers? We’ve got Ethiopian, we’ve got, or six-bean espresso. 

The pack weighs about 30 pounds with a full 2-liter water bladder. 

MARTIN: The biggest thing is, keep the weight on your hips. You don’t want your shoulders to feel the weight because after an hour in, they’ll start hurting. 

Once adjusted, it’s time to walk into the woods.

MARTIN: Alright, let me pray for us and then we’re going to hit the trail. God, thank you for a beautiful day to enjoy You and enjoy each other and this incredible creation. I pray that… 

AUDIO: [Footsteps on trail]

The dirt path winds past maple and hickory trees. Trillium wildflowers hint at the coming spring. On the trail, it’s easy for hikers to keep a 6-foot distance from each other. Martin gives lessons along the way. Like how to navigate by the red trail blazes painted on trees. And “Leave No Trace” principles:

MARTIN: They say, take nothing but pictures so you’re not taking stuff out of the wilderness, you know, back home, unless it’s trash. 

Martin first started bringing hikers on his Born2BeWild trips in 2003, after reading John Eldredge’s book Wild at Heart

MARTIN: I wanted to take men in the wilderness so that they could connect with other men and with God. There’s a lot of times when I’m in the wilderness with people they’ll experience sometimes profound things with God that don’t happen maybe in the suburban environment that they’re normally in. 

Over the years, more and more women signed up. Like Whitney. She started hiking for health reasons after a medical diagnosis. 

WHITNEY: Five years ago I was diagnosed with an autoimmune. I was looking at disability at 26. Because I also got RA, the other one is called orbital myositis

Hiking has helped her lose 96 pounds. And she found nature to be a balm for the soul.

AUDIO: [Babbling brook]

Martin says the outdoors is healing, the place God made for people.

MARTIN: When God created the heavens and the earth, and He made man and woman, He didn’t put them indoors. Isn’t that interesting? They lived outdoors in a garden. Watch yourself here; this looks slick. So my philosophy is we were made for the outdoors. Houses are like this temporary thing. Nice when it rains. 

Rain is in the forecast. At the campsite, each hiker spreads out to set up a tent with a rain fly.

MARTIN: On this one, you want to stake everything down first in four corners. OK, so, corner, corner, corner, corner, in an X.  

Blow up a sleeping pad:


And batten down the hatches:


Then it’s off to the waterfalls.

The Walls of Jericho are sheer limestone cliffs where water gushes off the edges and drops into a canyon. It requires rock scrambling. 

FEMALE HIKER: Throwing my trekking poles up.
MARTIN: You can see how high we are when you look way down there.

In John 21, Jesus gathered His disciples around a fire on a lakeshore and taught them the ways of the kingdom. 

Back at camp, with bellies full of pasta, the hikers also circle a campfire to learn from Jesus. Coronavirus is on everyone’s mind. So the passage Martin picks is Mark 4, the story where the disciples are in a boat and become afraid during a violent windstorm. Jesus says, “Peace! Be still.” And the wind calms.

MARTIN: In Christ we have peace all of the time, even if we have very not peaceful circumstances. Guys, you realize when we got up this morning, even though there’s a pandemic sweeping the globe, we live right now in an unshakeable kingdom. So, I would ask you to reflect, you know, this weekend. Just look into your heart of hearts. Is there anything that you find yourself afraid about?

It’s a deep thought to ponder at night inside a dry sleeping bag as a light rain falls on the tent. 


In the morning, it’s still raining—hard. 


Martin suggests walking in silence and solitude on the trail back to the parking lot. When the weather is nicer, he sends hikers out on a one-hour solo retreat to be alone with God. 

MARTIN: We were created to commune with God, not just through text, but by His Spirit. He literally lives in us.

For the first 15 minutes of solitude, Martin says, your mind will run and be all over the place. But at some point, you settle in.

MARTIN: But here’s why I love the wilderness. It’s quieter out here! There’s something, about the wilderness that just creates an environment where it’s quiet enough to hear the whisper of God. And often it is Him telling us how much He loves us and cares for us.

Even a short day hike is good for the body, mind, and soul. If you want to sleep outdoors but find campgrounds closed, consider what some families are doing: camping right in their own backyard. When you do head outside, hike responsibly. Go to a nearby, non-congested area. And use your time in nature well.

Reporting for WORLD, I’m Jenny Rough, from the trail in Estillfork, Alabama.


WORLD Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of WORLD Radio programming is the audio record.

Like this story?

To hear a lot more like it, subscribe to The World and Everything in It via iTunes, Overcast, Stitcher, or Pocket Casts.







Pocket Casts

(Requires a fee)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.