TBILISI, Georgia -- We're going to take you to a place few people have heard of or know its location. Six thousand miles from the shores of America lies the tiny nation of Georgia.
No, we're not talking about the state in the U.S., but an ancient land where culture, tradition and faith in Jesus Christ run deep.
It was famed novelist John Steinbeck who, while traveling through the Soviet Union in 1947, referred to this land as a kind of second heaven.
Once part of the communist empire and often called the "Riviera of the Soviet Union," the Republic of Georgia is nestled between the Caucasus Mountains and the Black Sea.
Turkey and Armenia flank its southern border. Azerbaijan is to the east. Russia is to the north.
An Ancient World
Levan Vasadaze is a Georgian businessman.
"I come from a very ancient, perhaps one of the most ancient cultures, in the world," he said.
It's an ancient place where people speak a language that's over 2,000 years old!
Ethnographer Luarsab Togonidze said his is a country that has also witnessed its fair share of turmoil.
"Georgians have gone through a lot because of our geographical location. Many armies, invaders would pass this way," he said.
History here is measured in millennia, not centuries.
Vasadze noted that during those times, the country has been the playground for many empires.
"The Ottomans, the Persians, the Greeks, the Byzantine empire, the Romans, the Mongols, the Russians," he said.
Where Ancient and Modern Meet
In the capital of Tbilisi, the ancient and modern mix seamlessly to create a beautiful portrait of Georgia's rich culture and traditions.
One of the best ways to take in the sights and sounds of Tbilisi is to take a gondola-type tram up to Narikala, a mountain top that has breathtaking views of the capital.
With the help of a DJI Phantom 3 drone, Georgian cameraman Giorgi Shermaza captured stunning views of his nation's capital city and gorgeous countryside landscapes.
"Every time I travel in different regions of my country I feel like I am traveling through thousands of years of history," Shermazana told CBN News.
Georgians are legendary for their hospitality. They believe guests come from God and as such are treated with honor. Their food is simply out of this world!
Friendship is highly valued in this society and family is paramount.
But if there is one thing many Georgians cherish most, it is their faith. Vasadaze says Christianity above all else has protected and preserved his nation.
"Our nation, our ethnic culture has a profound feeling of responsibility to hold on to the eternal values, the eternal features of our national character which by all means are rooted in the Christian culture," Vasadze explained.
Land of Faith
Georgia is one of the oldest Christian countries in the world. Its Christian heritage can be traced to the small town of Mtskheta. It was around 326 AD when a woman evangelist named Nino started preaching the Gospel here.
Ethnographer Togonidze said where the two main rivers of Georgia meet in Mtskheta, "there was a big baptism, and this place is considered to be the 'Second Jerusalem' for Georgians, a holy place."
Christianity spread to the rest of the country and in about 10 years became the state religion. Five crosses, symbolizing Christianity's influence, adorn the Georgian national flag.
Dating all the way back to the 4th century, the Church has played a very significant role in society. In fact, 80 percent of Georgians belong to the Orthodox Church.
Ioane Gamrekeli, a prominent leader in the Georgian Orthodox Church, said, "Georgians have always had to defend their faith, even to the last drop of blood!"
Over the centuries, many Christians became martyrs for refusing to renounce their faith. In 1226 alone, Muslim invaders beheaded more than 100,000 Georgian Christians.
"There've been numerous attempts by invading armies to force us to give up our faith, but we never backed down," Gamrekeli said.
Soviet rule also brought decades of hardship, but the Church endured.
"Seventy years of atheism could not stop us," Gamrekeli said. "The Soviet empire eventually collapsed and people returned to churches and found shelter."
Elene Kavlelashvili is curator at Georgia's National Museum. She noted, "The role of Christianity is even more significant as we face new challenges."
Kavlelashvili has in her collection priceless manuscripts, rare Bibles and other historical artifacts documenting Georgia's Christian heritage.
She believes her country today stands at a crossroads. With the countries of Central Asia, Russia, Europe, and the Middle East all vying for cultural and religious influence, she says tiny Georgia must once again stand to protect her heritage.
"I hope Georgia's example of unconditional love and dedication to faith are a testimony to all mankind," she said. "People should realize that the absence of faith is disastrous for a nation. Christianity is how we survived in the past and its how we will survive in the future."