Part 5: Exploration and Evangelism on Mount Owen
Story and photographs by Johnathan Esper
Reading the entries of past trampers in the mountain hut logbooks seems like a fit way to end a day of hard tramping uphill. Besides the usual name and hometown columns, another asks what is the main activity on your excursion. Of course, the vast majority write “tramping,” a few write “photography,” and fewer still pencil in “relaxing, getting away from it all.” But my tramping partner on this trip to Mount Owen in Kahurangi National Park, is the only one that writes: “Exploring.” And that truly is why we came here for two days: to explore New Zealand's best example of carved and fluted marble karst. If you don't know what I mean by that, no worries; pictures are worth a thousand words. But to truly experience it, one must explore it in person. And that is what I did, with Jason, another American solo traveler and explorer, whom I had met on my previous traverse over the nearby Douglas Range. After having done so much solo tramping, going on a relaxed two-day trip with another tramper was a welcome change.
The views were magnificent from the summit of Mount Owen, as the highest point in Kahurangi National Park, and my favorite part was spending an afternoon exploring the landscape, finding ways through the mazes of miniature tablelands and slot canyons, and taking the usual “hero shots,” including an exact duplication of our map's cover photo. But perhaps what I will remember the longest are Jason's and my conversations regarding faith and our belief systems. Spending time in creation with another person generously gives opportunities for sharing one's faith. Our conversation started with my beliefs concerning the world's origins, but Jason asked quite a few questions about my beliefs beyond our initial topic. Of course, I told him that I believed in a Creator that spoke the world into existence. Jason comes from a typical secular viewpoint dominated by evolution theory, and in our conversation, I reminded him that evolution isn't fact, but a theory in which people put their faith, just as I put my faith in a Creator. When Jason told me about a specific symbiotic relationship in nature that he uses to support his beliefs, I responded that, to me, that very example he mentioned shows the complexity of creation, and affirms to me the necessity of a Creator in order to explain it. I believe that talking about creation is vital to conversations with non-believers, because if they will not accept in faith (and with evidence) the first book in the Bible, how can they accept any other part of the Book? To be honest, Jason also asked me other harder questions, such as, “Can someone be a Christian if he believes in evolution?” To this I told him that there are various theories within Christianity, such as God-directed evolutionary processes, but that if a person rejects part of the Bible as false (and not just interprets it a little differently), then I do not believe that person could call him- or herself a Christian. And to other questions I admitted I did not know the answer, but promised I would look it up for him if he wished, for I also believe it is critical for me as a Christian witness to be genuine. His questions about my beliefs grew in scope to cover other areas of my morals and lifestyle, including some hard questions about my feelings toward homosexuality. Did I think it was genetic or environmental that was key? Do I think homosexuality is a sin? Can homosexuals be Christians? Thankfully, God had prepared me some for these questions beforehand as I was forced to confront these questions at college, where I discovered one of my roommates was gay part way through the semester. But still, one has to pray for God's grace, because I know some of my responses were ill thought out or did not represent Christianity as best as they could.
One other question Jason asked me that has stuck out in my mind was, “Would you get in a relationship with a non-Christian woman, and why or why not?” Jason is very accepting of all people, and his sense of right and wrong is defined loosely as long as it only affects oneself and doesn't hurt others. In fact, he even told me that the lack of openness among Christians to non-believers is the main reason he is turned off by Christianity. He could even accept Creation, he said. So you see his question regarding relationships has a lot behind it. Thankfully, God gave me wisdom to answer this question. Rather than parroting the Bible verse that says believers shouldn't be unequally yoked (which would probably confirm to Jason that I was not very accepting of other people), I explained to him that one's belief system effects everything else in one's life, including lifestyle choices, moral beliefs, leisure activities, etc. So even if a Christian held his or her beliefs strongly and wasn't “pulled down” by the other, to enter into a committed relationship with someone knowing that such large differences existed between the two, was, to be blunt, foolish.
In summary, I found Jason's relentless questions both challenging and stimulating as I seek to define my own morals as a young man. Through all of them, I sought to be as genuine and real as possible, while not discounting his beliefs but standing firmly behind my own. For me, this is my most comfortable style of evangelism. To God be the glory, when, during the course of our conversation, Jason admitted to me “I want you to know I just don't talk about this stuff with anyone.”
After this trip, we parted ways, Jason traveling south to the Mount Cook area, and me going to Nelson Lakes National Park for what would turn out to be an eight-day traverse through the park, crossing three major passes. However, I have his contact information, and hope we can meet up again soon for another hike.