DALTON — Beverly Holweger and Audrey Henson thumbed through a Bible on Sunday they thought they would never see again.
The sisters stopped to read notes their father, E.T. Gackenheimer, had scribbled in the margins and the covers more than 60 years ago — before the Bible had been lost in Barbados where the family served as missionaries in the late 1940s.
The Bible was lost in 1949. Gackenheimer, who died in 1989, was a Seventh-day Adventist pastor.
It was returned to Gackenheimer’s family two weeks ago by a Baptist missionary in Chile. The missionary spotted it in a junk store, saw Gackenheimer’s signature in the front cover, and found the family through the Internet.
“The Bible’s been touched by many people, but just to touch it and hold it, it’s so precious,” Holweger said. “It’s like having a part of him that we haven’t had before.”
Holweger, of Chatsworth, and Henson, of Ringgold, had already returned to the United States to attend Collegedale Academy in Collegedale, Tenn., when their father lost the Bible.
But “we heard the story so often,” Holweger said. “In getting ready to go to church and getting the family in the car, he laid his Bible on top of the car. Who hasn’t sat a cup of coffee on the top of the car?”
It wasn’t until he got to church and couldn’t find his Bible that Gackenheimer realized what had happened. He searched Barbados for the Bible, but couldn’t find it.
“There wasn’t a book store so he could just run down and buy a new Bible,” Holweger said. “There were other Bibles in the house, but there’s nothing more precious to a pastor than his Bible. For a pastor to lose his Bible is a major loss. It’s well marked. It’s familiar to your hands. You can find texts quickly in your Bible.”
There are notes in the Bible that weren’t written in Gackenheimer’s ornate script. But none have dates or names to indicate who has used the Bible since it was lost or where it has been, Holweger and Henson said.
Somehow, the Bible landed on a shelf in a junk store in Iquique, Chile, where Stephanie Garcia is serving as a missionary with her family. She was in a store called Cachureos Americanos, which translates to “American Odds-and-Ends” on June 8 when an “aged leather-bound Bible caught my eye,” Garcia wrote in her blog (www.garcias2chile.blogspot.com).
“The name written in cursive on the inside cover was E.T. Gackenheimer,” she wrote. “I deduced from the writings in the front and back covers and throughout the Bible that perhaps it had belonged to a pastor… Finding such a personal piece of someone’s history intrigued and strangely saddened me. It didn’t seem right for this special book to be lost amidst the dusty novels and outdated Reader’s Digest anthologies.”
Garcia wrote down the name and researched it online later that day. She found an e-mail address for Henson’s daughter, Shandelle, who teaches at Andrews University in Michingan. Shandelle forwarded the e-mail her father, J.W. Henson, who asked Garcia to purchase the Bible and ship it to them.
It arrived at the Hensons’ home two weeks ago. The Bible has begun to come away from its binding, but no pages or torn or ripped. The ribbon marker is not attached, but it lays in the middle of the book of Psalms.
“It amazes me the ribbon marker is still here,” Holweger said. “It’s so silly, but it’s so precious to me.”
The sisters don’t know what they plan to do with the Bible long-term, but for now, they are sharing it with their entire family. They hope to visit their brother, Drew, who lives in Florida, so they can look through the Bible together..
“We have something we can archive,” Henson said. “It’s such an incredible story… I hope to have it archived to be a legacy to all of our children and grandchildren and so on.”
Holweger said she thinks the family is still “in shock.”
“I do not know, and maybe will never know, why this Bible is back in the family,” Holweger said. “We’ll never know until heaven, where this Bible has been and who has learned the story of salvation through this Bible. I truly believe (its return) is a Holy Spirit-lead event.”