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The Team

Becca Catlin, Tacoma, Wash.; Jim Doenges, Littleton, Colo.; Shawn Dowd, Rochester, N.Y.; Gary Fallesen, Hilton, N.Y.; Jesse Fallesen, Hilton, N.Y.; Aaron Hemphill, Blairmore, Alberta, Canada; David Lesh, Cherry Valley, Calif.; Joshua Lesh, Cherry Valley, Calif.; Mollie Olson, Saranac Lake, N.Y.; Todd Paris, Pottersville, N.Y.

Kilimanjaro Dispatches

President/Chief Climbing Officer of Climbing For Christ

  • CLICK HERE for the team's Reflections on this mission trip.
  • CLICK HERE for a Gallery of photos from Mission: Kilimanjaro.
Mission team

Mission: Kilimanjaro team, left to right, Jim Doenges, Shawn Dowd, Jesse Fallesen, Becca Catlin, Mollie Olson, David Lesh, Joshua Lesh, Aaron Hemphill, Todd Paris, and Gary Fallesen at Mweka Hut on Day 7 on the mountain.


Thursday, March 1 (11 p.m. EST)

After more than 30 hours of air travel, nine of the 10 team members have returned to North America. Mollie stayed in Africa to visit friends in Kenya. We were blessed by safe travel and opportunities to reflect on all He did with and through us in our short time in Tanzania. We will be back!

Wednesday, Feb. 28 (Noon local time, 4 a.m. EST)

We worshipped together this morning. It was a time of fellowship and thanksgiving. We prayed for a revival among the guides, porters, their families and villages. In John 14:6, Jesus said, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”

We ask the Father to use us to help these people come to know the One True God!

We begin to travel back to North America this evening. Our work is not done. We remain on mission — in Tanzania and wherever He leads.

Tuesday, Feb. 27 (9 p.m. local time, 1 p.m. EST)

“My times are in your hands...“ — Psalm 31:15

We began the day in Moshi talking about time and using it for daily communion with God. We then used the time He'd left us with by visiting with our guides and porters, meeting at the Kilimanjaro Porters Assistance Project, with pastors from Marangu and leadership of the Project, and spending time with our guide Yusuf Hemed's beautiful family. We met Yusuf's wife, Fatma, six-year-old son, Hemed, and five-month-old daughter, Aziza.

The visit with our porters was bittersweet. We went to see them to give them their tips from our climb of Kilimanjaro. We will miss them. Yusuf told the porters and us: “We have a lot to remember you by. Your prayer. Your belief. And by your actions.“

We continued to gather information and make contacts regarding future mission work here. The Lord opens the doors and we walk through. In His time we will be prepared to serve here.

Monday, Feb. 26 (11 p.m. local time, 3 p.m. EST)

We worshipped together tonight at the hotel in Moshi, with Jim playing his backpacker guitar and each member sharing how God has worked in and through us in ouir short time here. We discussed the power of prayer, and gave thanks for those warriors lifting our names at home. Our respective prayer lists gained 34 new names this past week: guides, assistant guides, cooks and porters. We then shared communion.

“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in Him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.“ — Romans 15:13

Monday, Feb. 26 (2 p.m. local time, 6 a.m. EST)

We are off the mountain and back at the hotel. Everyone is tired and happy. Joy filled. Tomorrow we meet again with a local pastor and perhaps another Lutheran pastor as well as visit the Kilimanjaro Porter Assistance Project.


Sunday, Feb. 25 (7:10 p.m. local time)

We hiked seven miles down to 7,100 feet in less than four hours. It's our last night on the mountain. We'll exit the Mweka Gate at midday on Monday.

Sunday, Feb. 25 (6:44 a.m. local time)

Seven Climbing For Christ team members reached the summit! Becca, Jim, Shawn, Aaron, Dave, Joshua and Mollie stood on the rooftop of Africa despite brutal conditions. Winds of about 70 mph blew snow and dirt as the team ascended. Dave, who has climbed numerous peaks (including Denali and Aconcagua), called it the most difficult summit day he has experienced. As everyone returned safely to Barafu Hut by 9:30 a.m. local time, Aaron summed up how the climbers were feeling: “Buggard.”

Our group of 10, with two assistant guides and one porter, set out at midnight. It was a beautiful, star-lit night with no wind and temperatures barely below freezing. All that changed within a couple hours.

Jesse's stomach ailment turned him around after one hour, and I returned to Barafu with him. Todd turned around at 18,000 feet with a bad cough. The rest pushed on through the night and the storm — temperatures were about 10 degrees with windchill far below zero. They dropped to their knees at the 19,340-foot summit to say a prayer of thanks to God.

Saturday, Feb. 24 (2:00 p.m. local time, 6:00 a.m. EST)

“He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak; even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.” — Isaiah 40:29-31

After five consecutive days of high-altitude trekking, everyone is a little weary. Even our youths — Jesse, who is getting over a stomach ailment, and Josh, who is getting over knee surgery just 10 weeks ago. But all 10 of us felt good climbing up from Karanga Valley to Barafu Hut at 14,800 feet. The 2,000-foot ascent took less than 3 1/2 hours. After eating lunch, the team is resting. We will have dinner at 5:00 p.m. and then prepare for an 11:30 p.m. departure for the summit. (That's 3:30 p.m. EST, 1:30 p.m. Mountain Time, and 12:30 p.m. Pacific Time.)

We will walk and not be faint. We will walk with our Helper, the Maker of Kilimanjaro — the Maker of heaven and earth.

Friday, Feb. 23 (9:30 p.m. local time, 1:30 p.m. EST)

Your are required to hire a guide and porters to climb Kilimanjaro. In recent years, stricter rules have been enforced, limiting the amount of weight a porter can carry. This has not eliminated gastly sites of porters hauling huge loads up the mountain. With a larger group, more porters are required. We have a team of 10 climbers and a total of 34 guides and porters. This includes our guides (our friend Yusuf Hemed and his cousin Saidi), two assistant guides, two cooks, and 28 porters.

Tonight, after dinner, we prayed for each of these men by name. It is our prayer that they would come to know the Lord Jesus.

(Yusuf says that about 70% of all porters and guides are Christian; the other 30% are Muslim.)


Friday, Feb. 23 (3:00 p.m. local time, 7:00 a.m. EST)

Jesse got sick (stomach) on Thursday. He had a rough day hiking to Barranco. Before setting out this morning it was his turn to do a devotional. He talked about endurance and quoted Hebrews 10:36 (“You need to persevere, so that when you have done the will of God, you will receive what He has promised.“)

Aaron then led us in a healing prayer over Jesse. (We also lost one of our porters today. Two others took him back down the mountain after he complained of tightness in his chest.)

We made our way out of camp, climbing the steep, 1,000-foot high Barranco Wall that rises out of the great Barranco Valley. It was a short day, taking nearly 1/3 the time we were on the trail Thursday. It snowed and rained as we moved into Karanga Valley at 12,900 feet.


Thursday, Feb. 22 (8:30 p.m. local time, 12:30 p.m. EST)

It was a fairly long day on the trail — going from Shira Hut at 12,400 feet up to about 14,600 feet and then descending into Barranco Valley at 12,800 feet.

In all, we covered more than six miles, most in the mountain's high desert zone. The 14,600-foot high point of the day was a personal high for seven of the 10 team members.

Barranco Valley, where we are sleeping tonight, is like a place that time forgot — except it is not a forgotten or overlooked place. This is where the first camp that is the same as my 1998 trip. But it's nothing like it was then. Where my climbing partner and I camped in a lone tent on a hill beneath the shadow of Kibo, it is now a campground with scores of tents. It's sad. But it's a big mission field.


Wednesday, Feb. 21 (8:45 p.m. local time, 12:45 p.m. EST)

We just finished worshipping together as a team — giving praise to the One who created all the beauty we saw today on the trail. We ascended from the rainforests through the moorlands. We are at 12,400 feet on the Shira Plateau. There are more than 60 tents in this camp. It is our prayer that the name Jesus was heard by many, and that some we are with will come to know Him.

Tuesday, Feb. 20 (9:15 p.m. local time, 1:15 p.m. EST)

We are on Kilimanjaro. We entered the Machame Gate at 12:15 p.m. local time, and climbed up to our first camp at Machame Hut at 9,840 feet.  Everyone is doing fine. The theme for today came from Dave, in Matthew 6:25-34 — do not worry.

Monday, Feb. 19 (5:15 p.m. local time, Moshi, Tanzania; 10:15 a.m. EST)

Standing in the shade of a giant fig tree filled with some type of egret, we watched Todd make balloon animals for scores of children on their way to or from school. It was another unexpected moment. An unexpected blessing. “This is the life,” Todd said. “You don't get to hang out like this too often.” At home or on a mission trip.

We were on our way to Marangu to meet Pastor Winford Mosha when our bus broke down in Himo. We hung out for a couple of hours in front of the local hardware store, watching water carts going back and forth, and saying “Jambo” to countless passers-by. Mollie and Becca played with children and talked to women living nearby.

This moment passed and it was only another delay — not a hinderance to — our God-appointed meeting with Pastor Mosha. Pastor Mosha, who shepherds a church of 3,700, has a desire to put someone at the Marangu Gate — one of the busiest entrances to Kilimanjaro National Park and the tourist route up the mountain. This person would pray with the porters before and after their climbs. They would also talk about HIV with the hundreds of porters and guides who pass this way each day. “Abide with God,“ Pastor Mosha said, unknowingly mentioning one of the themes of our team's morning meeting. “That was our plan.” I believe that is God's plan! Because He has put on our hearts the desire to plant a missionary around Kilimanjaro to work with the guides and porters — to serve their physical and spiritual needs. God is at work to make this happen, possibly with a partnership between Climbing For Christ and the Lyasongoro Lutheran Church.

We prayed with Pastor Mosha and his staff and a few of the 600 school-children in the church's school. We also toured the school and Aaron was asked to pray for a healing of a student who was orphaned.

As we walked in and out of classrooms, we noticed this message painted on the wall: “Mungu ni Penda. Atuppenda.” That means, “God is love. He loves us.” Amen, amen.

Sunday, Feb. 18 (11:30 p.m. local time, Moshi, Tanzania; 4:30 p.m. EST)

We arrived in Moshi after 30 hours of travel. The only problem is that Aaron's gear bag did not arrive with us. We are confident it will be here tomorrow. I shared with the team a devotional that included this thought from Rick Warren, the pastor of Saddleback Community Church:

“Happy moments, praise God. Difficult moments, seek God. Quiet moments, worship God. Painful moments, trust God. Every moment, thank God.”

As climbers we know we will experience all of those moments in the 11 days ahead.

Sunday, Feb. 18 (8:30 a.m. local time, Amsterdam, Netherlands)

God has brought the 10 of us together. No enemy or difficulty could stop it. Not the 6:30 a.m. wake up call received Saturday from Delta saying our flight from Rochester to JFK was cancelled. Nor the fact that there were no other flights available to us to our connections from JFK to Amsterdam, where we are now. Shawn, Jesse and I rented a car and drove 350 miles in 6 hours to meet the other seven team members. Going to keep appointments in Tanzania. We go as Jesus sent the 11 into the world. We go as did they with the words of the Great Commission: “And surely I am with you always, to the end of the very age.“  (Matthew 28:20).

Saturday, Feb. 17

The team connects in New York City at JFK to fly overseas in the evening. For many this will be the first time they have met their teammates. We will begin to come together as a group, focusing on the mission and not the mountain, service to others not summiting for self.

Friday, Feb. 16 (8 p.m.)

The other night I was watching the DVD my old climbing partner Kevin Flynn and I made of our 1998 ascent of Kilimanjaro. In it, our guide Frederick talks about us not knowing if we'd be back to the mountain. Only God knew. And in God's time I am returning to Kilimanjaro. It is the desire of my heart to work with the guides and porters, their families and villages — to help them physically and spiritually. Only last Friday we received an e-mail from a partner organization we're working with in Moshi, Tanzania. They have arranged a meeting for us on Monday with a pastor in Marangu. “We are extremely excited as Pastor Mosha has just recently come up with some ideas as to how the church can help the situation of the porters,” the e-mail said. “So it will be perfect timing for your group to provide encouragement for his doing so. The only way change can be effected here is by the Tanzanian people themselves. You will be helping the situation tremendously.” That is our hope — to bring the people of Kilimanjaro help. In God's perfect time.


The Word

“Humble yourselves, therefore, under God's mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time.” — 1 Peter 5:6 (NIV)


The Climb

Machame Route:

Day 1 (scheduled to start Feb. 20): Machame Gate to Machame Hut (9,840').

Day 2: Machame Hut to Shira Hut (12,470').

Day 3: Shira Hut to Barranco Hut (12,800') after ascending to Lava Tower at 14,760'.

Day 4: Barranco Hut to Karanga Valley (13,000').

Day 5: Karanga Valley to above Barafu Hut (15,200').

Day 6: Summit day and descent to Mweka Hut.

Day 7: Trek out Mweka Gate.



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