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Another View

Tom Melancon, a member of the Mission: Denali team and a leader of the New Life Church climbing small group in Colorado Springs, Colo., has posted a photo gallery on www.newlifeclimbinggroup.com.

“Tom fulfilled a 30-year dream by climbing Mount McKinley (Denali) in Alaska with a team called Climbing For Christ,” it says in the gallery introduction. “Our stated mission was to climb the mountain, represent Christ to the international community of climbers there, and minister as the opportunity was presented.” Tom says his photos “cover more of the physical side.”

Mission: Denali 2007

Trip Report

By JIM DOENGES
Expedition Leader

NOTE: Apologies to all the families, friends, and supporters who hoped to read more from the mountain via Daily Dispatches. Our satellite phone broke on only our second day on the mountain, and none of the three cell phones we had would function. Four satellite phones that I was able to borrow on the mountain also stopped working, and we could only occasionally get a quick message out via other satellite phones. When things invariably do not go as planned when Climbing For Christ is on mission in Africa, we shrug it off with the saying: “T.I.A.” (This Is Africa). Now, TIA has a new meaning: This Is Alaska! Perhaps the paucity of news made you more resolute in prayer for the team. Hopefully I can make up for the lack of dispatches with this Final Report.

 

High Camp

The majestic view from 17K Camp. (Photo by Johnathan Esper)

To Denali's Summit for the Love of Christ

 

Martin Luther wrote “it is the duty of every Christian to be Christ to his neighbor.” The Climbing For Christ mission team on Denali established a solid reputation among our neighbors on the mountain — the climbing community and National Park Service — and dutifully sought to manifest the love of Christ to fellow climbers. Opportunities to interact with other climbers were diminished somewhat by the frequent snowfall on the mountain (which tends to keep people in their tents), and the time it takes a large team such as ours to and set up and take down camps, and travel between camps. Our team of 10 was strengthened and buoyed by the many prayer warriors interceding on our behalf, awed by the many Divine appointments and “God moments” during the trip, and humbled physically by challenging weather. We shared in many prayers, tears of joy and apprehension, and bellyaching laughter. We struggled together in windchills of minus-30 to minus-40 degrees in a near whiteout over difficult terrain at Windy Corner, and seared in a midday sun on the lower Kahiltna Glacier that was hot enough for several team members to take snow baths. We were united in Christ and on mission.

 

Our God — the Divine Artist — created the Alaska Range with huge, dynamic brush strokes. As soon as the small planes that transported us to the lower Kahiltna Glacier were airborne over the small town of Talkeetna, and every day of the trip thereafter, we were struck by the awesome majesty, grandeur, and magnitude of the hundreds of peaks surrounding Denali. I have been blessed to see all the major ranges of the Lower 48 states, as well as the Andes and Himalayas, but the scenery of the Alaska Range seems to almost stand as His mountain Magnus opus. Several team members had tears of joy well up as we arrived at Base Camp, with the fabulous Mount Hunter as its backdrop and sweeping views of Mt. Foraker and Denali. As Paul wrote in the first chapter of his letter to the Romans: “What may be known about God is plain to them. For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities — his eternal power and divine nature — have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.”

 

As team member Tom Melancon noted, “The primary effect of Climbing For Christ on Denali seemed to be exposing the climbing community to the reality that some climbers love the Lord and are unafraid to be connected to His name.” Team member Tim Hall added, “The Lord planted seeds in many hearts.” On our first full day on the mountain, Tom got us off on the right track with a devotional that reminded us to love God with all your heart, love one another as yourself, and love others. After we were off the mountain and just before he left for the airport to return to his family, team member Charleton Churchill reminded us that we were still “on mission” and that each of us would have opportunities to share about the mission trip with our families, friends, and churches. [Lygon and Nick Stevens shared with many in a story called “Closer to God” that appeared in the June 9 edition of the Loveland, Colo. Daily Reporter-Herald.] There is neither space nor time to share all that happened between Tom’s and Charleton’s words, but here is some of what God did.

 

Deplaning

Jim Doenges pulls sled away from plane after landing on Kahiltna Glacier.

Divine Appointments

 

God led us to other people, starting well before we ever got onto His mountain and continuing on high:

  •  Thanks to team member Kevin Sellers, a company in Juneau donated a large amount of salmon jerky for the team.
  •  A Christian pharmacist I met for the first time in the Denver area donated a large amount of prescription medications for the team.
  •  God used another member of Climbing For Christ to put me in touch with a member of Chapel By the Sea church in Anchorage, where on short notice an army of supporters provided me the opportunity to share about Mission: Denali to a weekly meeting of evangelical pastors in Anchorage — and get prayed for, and providing the team with spacious lodging where we could organize and pack our gear, food and fellowship, transportation to and from Talkeetna, an invitation to worship, and an opportunity to share a slide show about Climbing For Christ and Mission: Denali at a church potluck after we got off the mountain.
  •  A “chance” meeting my wife had at a Christian breakfast during a professional society meeting in Anchorage last fall put me in touch with the good people of Talkeetna Community Church in Anchorage who provided lodging and a kitchen to us, and the opportunity to worship and share about Mission: Denali just before heading to the mountain.
  •  We were able to meet Holly Sheldon, daughter of the famous glacier pilot Don Sheldon at Talkeetna Community Church; she was very encouraging.
  •  Kevin Rambo, a missionary with MTW (Missions to the World), gave us beta on crevasse conditions and lent us some gear just before we flew on to the mountain. (Kevin joined Climbing For Christ after meeting our team.)
  •  After a new double-burner stove failed the first day on the mountain, Kevin called the Alaska Mountaineering School store in Talkeetna from our Base Camp. By “chance” Colby Coombs, a well-known and respected Denali guide, answered the phone. Two brand new MSR stoves were delivered to us at Base Camp the next morning. Thanks, Colby!
  •  Just as I was dialing the Park Service on a borrowed satellite phone at Camp 3 to advise them of Kevin’s illness, a Park Service Ranger walked up the packed trail through camp. It just “happened” to be the same person who had voiced concerns and reservations about our team during the permit application process months earlier. I was able to have several cordial conversations there and at Camp 4.
  •  At Camp 4, I met a board member of Floresta, an international ministry who may be able to help with reforestation and sustainable agriculture for the village of Gentilhomme in Haiti, where Climbing For Christ has built a church and school.  Floresta is active in Haiti, and also in the village of Marangu on Mount Kilimanjaro, where Climbing For Christ served earlier this year. This Divine contact even knows the local pastor we met with in Marangu!
  •  Also at Camp 4, I met someone from Manna Ministries, working to improve nutrition in the undeveloped world. This person is from Denver — my hometown area — and is interested in seeing how he might be able to assist our work in Haiti. He let me use his satellite phone to call my beloved wife Teresa on our wedding anniversary.

 

A sign

Our Presence was Noted

 

The Climbing For Christ team prayed most every day out loud as a group along the path. Our team did not go unnoticed. For example:

  •  After our group orientation session with the National Park Service in Talkeetna was over, a Ranger called me back into the room to tell me that there was some concern among the Park Service regarding our presence on the mountain. He stated that some of the concern was over the quality of other visitors’ experience and the possibility of tracts becoming litter. I replied that we were not going to be handing out tracts, only Bibles to people who requested them and they would be heavy enough to not be blown around by the wind. He smiled and said, “Cool.”
  •  Upon arrival at Base Camp on the mountain I checked in with the Base Camp manager, who promptly asked me, “You’re not going to bother people, are you”? I assured her that was not our intention and we would be careful not to shed more heat than light.
  • While we were preparing to leave Base Camp, one climber nodded toward our group and remarked to his partner, “Maybe we ought to stay close to that group,” implying (correctly) that we would enjoy some sort of Divine blessing.
  •  At 14,200 feet, Camp 4 is a large area where most climbers spend time relaxing before moving higher. There is also a Park Service presence there throughout the climbing season. There were climbers from all over the world there, but the American presence still dominated. There were Buddhist prayer flags adorning one American team’s camp and a snow a sculpture of a naked woman above another. The din of “dude-speak” (climber talk) filled the air, interjected with the quizzically repetitive use of the “f-word.” Occasionally the aroma of marijuana smoke passed in the breeze. As many as 100 climbers might move up from or up to this camp on a clear day. Passing by the large cross and Climbing For Christ sign at Camp 4 (both made from blocks of snow by team member Johnathan Esper), one climber remarked derisively, “Climbing crusaders.” I overheard another ask facetiously, “Service at 11:00?” I quickly replied, “You bet; all are invited.” During one sunny break in the weather, a climber skied down the headwall and into camp naked, wearing only his boots and a pack containing his clothes. A total dude, he received great applause and while casually posing for photographs someone yelled, “Get a picture with the Climbing For Christ cross.” To some, the cross was a symbol of morality to rebel against.
  •  At Camp 4, I learned from a Christian climber who stopped by to visit me from a guided expedition that lower down on the mountain when his group passed a wand marked “C4C” (the abbreviation for Climbing For Christ) the guide remarked, “I hope they don’t pray for me.” The Christian had come to our camp to request prayer for his two non-believing guides, a request cheerfully granted. The Christian had visited our Web site and hopes to go on a mission trip to Kilimanjaro next year.
  •  Two climbers from Switzerland stayed at the Football Field (a large level area below the summit ridge) for a while while our team was summiting, just to check on our group. Later, one of the two explained that they did not wait until our group descended because “they knew our group had higher protection.”

 

South Koreans

South Korean climbers that Climbing For Christ team helped.

God Moments

 

In addition to the Divine appointments listed above, there were many other moments we perceived God at work during our trip:

  • Talkeetna is the small town where flights to Denali depart from. It swells each spring with climbers and tourists. Pastor Jim Brittain of Talkeetna Community Church asked us to pray for the town. Four of the team prayer-walked the main street, praying that God would reconcile a long-term split between many in the community and the church, and that there would be forgiveness, repentance, and revival.
  •  As requested by Holly Sheldon, the team prayed for her new place of business (which among other things, will sell crosses).
  •  Tim and I were digging a cache hole in the snow at Camp 1 (7,800 feet). At one point, Tim vigorously jumped into the cache hole and then stepped out. I stepped where he had jumped to continue shoveling snow and my foot popped through the snow into space — I stared 20 feet down into a crevasse. How did such a thin layer of snow hold Tim? What had kept him from filling that crevasse from the bottom up? God has other plans for Tim. (From then on, we routinely probed the bottom of our cache holes.)
  •  Between Camp 2 and 3, I watched as several rope teams passed by a skier who had fallen in the deep powder off the packed trail. With the weight of a large pack in the soft snow, he could not get back on his feet. When I got next to him, I said, “Climbing For Christ, at your service.” It took every bit of strength I had to hoist him up — he was a towering Lithuanian who spoke little English. I pointed to the cross in the C4C patch on my jacket and he smiled. All our team members practiced similar random acts of kindness and conversation on the mountain.
  • At Camp 3 we were able to respond to a request from the leader of a team from South Korea to provide two bottles worth of fuel. Their team had inadvertently cached all their fuel elsewhere on the mountain. We gladly met their needs, and accepted fuel in return at Camp 4.
  • Also at Camp 3, two Brits we had come to know returned from caching up high. They were doing a fund raising climb for an organization that supports cancer victims. One had become sick with symptoms of high altitude pulmonary edema (HAPE). HAPE can kill and immediate descent is warranted. I visited the sick climber in his tent, talked to him about the physiology of altitude sickness, affirmed his decision to descend immediately, and gave him several days of medicine our team had been given specifically to treat HAPE. I peered into his tent and asked him if I could pray for him. He replied, “Go for it, mate.” It was a privilege to pray for his health and protection, and that he would come to know Jesus.
  • One night I prepared to give a devotional based on Mark 6:45-52, the passage wherein Jesus lets the disciples struggle in a storm on the Galilee for many hours before appearing on the water. At some point during the trip we would face some of Denali’s renowned weather. I wanted to use this passage to teach our group that our Lord uses struggles to test and transform us, that we should not be afraid, but instead not hesitate to call on Him. The very next day we had an epic adventure in a tempest while rounding Windy Corner. I was then able to share the devo and Romans 5:3-5, which had vivid meaning to all of us. The experience at Windy Corner helped to prepare our team for their summit day, which for many was not as difficult.
  • After the rest of the team set out for Camp 5 and their summit bid, I became filled with doubt and anxiety. In a team meeting I had carefully discussed every aspect of the route and hazards above, and I knew the team was healthy and very capable. But as soon as I was alone at Camp 4 the evil one started in on me. I could not focus, not even in prayer. So what happened? I read from the Word: the three letters of John, 1st and 2nd Corinthians, and the Gospel of Mark. Then I was able to pray without distraction and later that night I had the best sleep of the entire trip. I felt a supernatural peace when I awoke the next morning. I felt so sure that all had summited and all were safe that I wanted to walk around camp and announce it to all. A few hours later I received confirmation from another team that the C4C team had indeed summited and all were safe.
  • A faculty representative from a large university team visited me several times at Camp 4 while our team was summiting. His college-aged group was also up high trying to summit and, like me, illness had prevented him from a summit attempt with the rest of his group. Our two teams had paralleled each other during the ascent. He said he envied and appreciated our team — he had noticed that our morale was always high and how we worked together and supported one another. He explained that his team was unsupportive and constantly critical of one another and putting each other down. I tried to explain that the difference was Jesus. Referring to waiting all day to hear about how our teams were doing, he asked, “How do you do it?” He was going stir crazy. I explained that as a Christian, God gave me peace through reading my Bible and praying. [While only three of the 12 on the college team summited, 8 of our 10 reached the top. The difference? Jesus!]
  • Our team made it to the top by the grace of God. Many on the team regarded their summit day as Divinely orchestrated. While debriefing the day after they returned to Camp 4, Lygon said she “had a confidence that was not human.” Nathan stated that they “were totally guided by the Lord. We did not have the strength. He gave it to us.” Tim added, “I don’t know how I made it. I was exhausted. It was a miracle.” John said it was “all answered prayer.” Charleton relayed that he “was scared at 17K,” which led him to “confession, a desire for repentance and transformation, and a recommitment to God.” Our Lord has always done some of His best work in the wilderness of mountains. He still does!
  •  At Camp 4 we had a good, long group discussion concerning evangelism and sharing faith and testimony with climbers, and reviewed Scripture on the subject: 1 Chron. 28:9; Ps. 40:10, 51:13-15, 71:17-18, 89:1, 105:1, 117:1; Is. 6:8; Jer. 29:12-13; Ezk. 36:26-27; Matt. 28:19-20, 5:11-12, 9:37-38, 10:32-33; Mk. 16:15; Lk. 12:8-9, 2:10, 2:17; Ac. 1:8, 2:32,5:18-21, 16:14, 18:9-10, 20:24, 22:15; Ro. 1:16-17, 10:1, 10:9-10 and 13-17; 1Pet.2:9, 3:15, 4:14;  Col. 1:3-6, 1:25, 4:2-6; 2Tim. 2:25-26, 4:1-5, 1:7-9; Eph. 6:19-20; Heb. 11:1; Jn. 10:16, 14:6; 2 Cor. 4:13; and others.
  • Worship at Camp 4 (14,000 feet) was wonderful, not at all diminished by the steady snowfall that confined the nine of us to our cook tent. We raised our voices in praise to our Lord. With Charleton leading us on the backpack guitar, we were likely heard throughout camp. We also prayed together; listened to readings from Eugene Peterson, Psalms 104 and 121, and Isaiah 40; shared in the Lord’s Supper; passed the peace; and closed with benedictions from 2 Corinthians 13, Numbers 6, and Romans 15. We prayerfully celebrated Communion by intinction, using animal crackers served on a Frisbee and a red electrolyte mix served in a lexan chalice I brought just for the occasion. Praise God indeed!
  • We were able to provide much food to our new friends on the South Korean team before we descended from Camp 4. They seemed especially excited by all the noodles we had to offer.
  • We were able to provide fuel to a group guided by AMS before we descended from Camp 4.
  •  After a guide told a client at Camp 4 that his aluminum crampons were not strong enough for the hard ice above, someone suggested that they ask “the Christian group” if anyone would swap crampons. They came by our camp and Johnathan helped out by swapping with the climber in need. (An exchange of addresses will allow the crampons to be returned.)
  • Some God moments were only discerned after they occurred.  For example, several on the team shared how God was teaching them humility during the trip. Team member Nick Stevens commented that “on days that I was scared and relied on God I was super strong. On days when I thought ‘oh, I got this’ I struggled.”

 

Not posers

A World Record

 

While our mission has eternal significance, it was important not to take ourselves too seriously. We shared a lot of laughs. During Mission: Denali, Tim Hall set a new world record for paddleball on the summit of Mt. McKinley. Tim managed 104 consecutive hits, shattering the record of 18 set by Everest guide, Bill Krouse, back in 1990 when I summited.

 

 

Stormy weather

Thanks

 

With deep appreciation and gratitude, I thank all of you who provided members of the mission team with your financial and prayer support! We could not have done it without you. On behalf of the entire team, we thank Pastor Tim, Jack and Julie Bailey, Val Hainey, and all the many wonderful people at Chapel By The Sea church in Anchorage for their gracious hospitality and support. We also thank Pastor Jim Brittain, Holly Sheldon, Aaron Benjamin, and the wonderful people of Talkeetna Community Church for their gracious hospitality and support as well. We are humbled and awed by your servant hearts. Not everyone is called and gifted to go serve on the mountain, but the people of both these churches were part of our team, functioning as mountain missionary multipliers and catalysts for Christ. We thank you and we praise God for you. Know that the entire climbing team prayed for you from on high.

 

We are thankful for the quick return to health for our teammate Kevin Sellers, who had to hastily descend from Camp 3 (11,200 feet) due to the rapid onset of symptoms of HAPE. It was great to hear your voice after we got off the mountain Kevin! We do not understand all of God’s plan, but we rejoiced when we heard news of your quick recovery. You blessed us with your great sense of humor and by reminding us of the depth of God’s love for us and for the lost. We were also thankful for the strength of Nick and Tim who descended to Base Camp with Kevin, and then ascended from Base Camp all the way back up to Camp 3 in only 6 hours the next day — Tim on his 19th birthday!  

 

It was a great privilege and delight to be part of the Mission: Denali team — such a wonderful community of faith. I am thankful for every teammate. I might owe my very life to the selfless sacrifice of the team in getting me off the mountain after I became ill during the ascent. I am a cancer survivor, having had my thyroid gland removed and having received radiation treatment less than a year ago. The thyroid hormones regulate overall metabolism, and a single daily pill keeps me going just fine. Unfortunately, I allowed my pills to freeze during a cold night at 11,000, likely degrading their effectiveness. Each day thereafter I became weaker and weaker. At first, I felt embarrassed and humiliated at not being more active in pulling loads and the chores of daily living. But God used the situation to reveal sinful pride in me, teach me to graciously receive the helping ministry of others, and gave others on the team an opportunity to practice leadership. While everyone helped out in some way, I am especially grateful to Tom, Tim, Nick, and Nathan. You each have been blessed to be a blessing; thanks for helping me return to my beloved wife Teresa. I lost nearly 20 pounds on the mountain and I'm still wiped out, but faithful that the Great Physician will restore my health in the days ahead.

 

 

Summit day

The summit ridge.

A Prayer for the Future

 

I pray that some of the 2007 team will feel called by God to return to the mountain and lead another expedition next spring, building on the solid foundation we established this year. With God as our guide, this could be an annual Climbing For Christ mission trip. I also pray for all those we encountered on the mountain — that God would provide other people in their lives to water the seeds planted, others to till the soiled souls, and still others for the harvest.

 

Jesus is your Belayer. Climb on.

 

Note: Read more and see photos from Mission: Denali 2007 in the next edition of The Climbing Way, our magazine, which is distributed for free to our members. To sign up for a free membership, CLICK HERE.

Posted June 8, 2007

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