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Mission: Denali 2007


Summit shot

Seven of the eight team members on the summit of Denali on May 27, 2007. The eighth is taking the photo (Charleton Churchill).

‘We who are many form one body’

By Jim Doenges

A Successful Summit and a Higher Purpose

Eight of the 10 members of Climbing For Christ’s Mission: Denali team achieved the secondary objective of the expedition on May 27: reaching the 20,320-foot summit – the highest point in North America.

After almost two weeks of hard work, summit day was a draining 14-hour event. Team member Nick Stevens said in a newspaper interview after the mission, “Your brain does not work very well at 20,000 feet.” Summit day began with challenges. Stoves failed, equipment broke, and some team members were deteriorating physically. It was a humbling day, but the eight arrived at the top of the mountain together as a group, directed by the hand of the Merciful One. Team member John Straubinger remembers that he “prayed with every step: Lord keep us safe.” His brother Nathan recalled that the team “was totally guided by the Lord. We did not have the strength; He gave it to us.”

Hudson Stuck was the missionary who led the first ascent to the top of Denali back in 1913. Sounding like the Climbing For Christ team, he wrote that it was “the most laborious undertaking” with which he was ever connected. “There was no pride of conquest. ... Rather was the feeling that a privileged communion with the high places of the earth had been granted.”

Stuck also wrote that he was “concerned much more with men than mountains.” So it is with Climbing For Christ. Our Evangelic Expeditions are about mission, not just the mountain; people, not the peak; and service, not the summit. While members of Climbing For Christ enjoy challenges and fellowship while ascending God’s majestic mountains, we seek to keep our eyes on the cross and live in obedience to God’s Word.

There were at least 1,225 climbers from dozens of countries on Denali this year. These were the people we sought to love and serve. For some, we had no chance to do so. The first two fatalities we heard about came on only our fifth day on the mountain. There were others as well. The news generated discussion and motivated our team’s prayers for the lost with a greater sense of urgency. While the “success” rate of 49 percent this year refers to the percentage of climbers who reached the summit, we should always be willing to exchange our summits for saved souls.


Praise and worship

Charleton Churchill, left, plays the backpacker guitar and leads teammates in song. (Photo by Johnathan Esper)

One Body, Many Parts
1 Corinthians 12:12 says, “The body is a unit, although it is made up of many parts; and though all its parts are many, they form one body.” Romans 12:5-6 states that “in Christ we who are many form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. We have different gifts, according to the grace given us.”

Just before heading to the mountain, team member Kevin Sellers wrote, “They say that the church is the body of Christ. I like to think of Climbing For Christ and Mission: Denali as an extension of the body, kind of like one of my little toes. I cherish my little toe and although I could live without it, I would not be complete unless I had it. I like to think that God feels this way too about the climbers on Denali.”

Many teams train and climb together for months or even years before attempting Denali. Ours did not. Our team members first met one another face-to-face in Anchorage the week before flying on to the mountain. Nick and Lygon Stevens’ father explained after the trip that, “The unity of the team spoke a very loud testimony on the mountain. … The Climbing For Christ team went to Denali to bear witness to Jesus Christ. In John 17, Jesus prays ‘for those who believe in Him … that they may be one… that they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me.’ … This team’s unity declared to the audience you sought to reach that without a doubt, this Jesus is the Son of God.”

Team members came from varying communities of faith: Baptist, Evangelical Free, Calvary, Disciples of Christ, and non-denominational. Yet the team was united in and by the love of Christ. Welling from this unity, we enjoyed wonderful camaraderie. One of the highlights of the mission for team member Johnathan Esper was “climbing a world-class mountain with a group of Christians who really cared for each other, didn’t put each other down, and who helped each other. This is rare, as mountaineering typically is all about yourself.” It was by serving others that we succeeded. In addition, as team member Tom Melancon noted, “God used this team and the way we treated each other to encourage other Christians on the mountain.”  


Snow cross

Cross at 14,000-foot camp and photo by Johnathan Esper.

All praise be to God

After the difficult summit day, the team praised God with corporate worship at Camp IV. We raised our voices to the highest heavens as team member Charleton Churchill led us in song on the backpacking guitar we had carried up to 14,200 feet. We were the church on the mountain. C.S. Lewis wrote, “The church exists for nothing else but to draw men into Christ, to make them little Christs. If they are not doing that, all the cathedrals, clergy, missions, sermons, even the Bible itself are simply a waste of time. God became Man for no other purpose.”

Lee Slaymaker is just one of the many generous people from Chapel By the Sea church in Anchorage who helped the team. Lee wrote, “Christ’s plans for us are not often shared on such a huge scale… Your team as I can see has a deep desire to be used for His glory and kingdom. …What is His is meant to be shared.” Amen, Lee.

Participants continue to process their experiences on the mountain, as God continues His transformative work in the lives of the team. Even though Kevin Sellars’ trip was cut short by illness, he still wrote that “Mission: Denali was the best climbing trip I have ever been a part of, hands high! Climbing For Christ is the best thing I have ever been a part of.”

It is our prayer that we build on the foundation and relationships established this year. Mission: Denali will be an annual event as long as there are willing members of the body to serve on high.

This story originally appeard in The Climbing Way (Volume 8, Summer 2007).

  • Climbing For Christ is returning to Denali in 2008. Learn more about this Evangelic Expedition. CLICK HERE

The Word

“The body is a unit, although it is made up of many parts; and though all its parts are many, they form one body.”
— 1 Corinthians 12:12 (NIV)


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