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Mission: Denali 2008 

Climbing For Christ was here

By Charleton Churchill

While hiking a beaten path, you may see an engraving in a tree. In a classroom, you could find writing on a desk. On a bridge underpass, you might observe graffiti. People leave traces of their presence. The message reads: “We were here.”

Our Climbing For Christ team of 10 left the same engraving on the hearts of climbers on Mount McKinley this 2008 season. Climbers were able to read the Bible that was reflected in our love for and service to other climbers.

2 Corinthians 3:2-3 states: “You yourselves are our letter, written on our hearts, known and read by everybody. You show that you are a letter from Christ, the result of our ministry, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts.”

It’s impossible to note all the “God things” that transpired on the mountain between our Mission: Denali team and other climbers. We were quick to strike up conversations and make friends, and only God knows what fruits will result from those discussions.

Even before arriving in Anchorage, the Lord was at work through the prayers of many supporters, especially those in the Climbing For Christ community. Team member Jim Moore said, “You couldn’t have picked a better team,” noting how each person was uniquely gifted to contribute to the group. We faced tests along the way, but stayed focused – faithfully and successfully – on completing our mission.

Building snow walls to block bad weather at 14,000-foot camp, above. Tim Hall, T.J. Engstrom and Jim Moore, left to right below, share a good book in the team kitchen. (Photos by Charleton Churchill)

Summiting was not the main goal of this expedition, so the eventual decision to return to Base Camp early and fly out was easier for most. Ten days into the climb, weather conditions worsened and we learned that harsh winds for were predicted to last for the next week. It would be fruitless to be confined in our tents that long. There would be no chance to do ministry and no window for summiting. Eight of us decided to turn around.

Moore, an American Mountain Guide Association professional, said on the mountain, “I’m here to serve God, not to summit!” We did so, in many ways:

  • Climber Lucas De Zorzi, after hanging out with us on the trail and hearing what we were about, accepted the message of salvation and received Jesus Christ into his life.  John 1:12 says, “Yet to those who received Him, to them He gave the right to become sons of God.” We also spent time with him in Anchorage. Lucas is now our good friend.
  • Early on we made new friends from Austria, sharing spiritual conversations and worshipping together at 11,200-foot camp. The Austrians expressed their commitment to Christ during team member T.J. Engstrom’s time with them, and T.J. has stayed in touch with them since then.
  • Many expected us to knock on their tent doors, annoy them, and be holier-than-thou. Instead, we showed them Christ’s love and truth. We helped those arriving at camp to cut ice blocks, build their snow walls or dig snow to melt for drinking water. We wanted people to know we were there for them. Some responded, “Wow, you’ll help us? You want to give us hot chocolate? We’ll camp next to you, then.”

When we promoted Mission: Denali 2008 on climbing Web sites and invited Christian mountaineers to join us, we received many antagonistic remarks from people who didn’t know us. We met some of those people on the mountain. By the end of the trip they changed their demeanor toward us, hugged us, and sat in our camps. We pray we genuinely represented Christ – and Climbing For Christ – on Denali.

Charleton Churchill, a youth pastor in Jackson, CA, took part in Mission: Denali 2007 and was a volunteer leader (with Tim Hall) on Mission: Denali 2008. This story originally appeared in The Climbing Way (Volume 10, Summer 2008).

Posted Oct. 14, 2008

Thank you, Father

Special Thanks

  • Carol Sheridan and Val Hainey for their vehicle support in Anchorage and travel to/from Talkeetna. Also, for their conversations and many stops along the way.
  • Trent Slaymaker for registering his van just for our team, and allowing us to use it for our mission.
  • Jack and Julie Bailey for their overseeing of the Climbing For Christ group and our needs while in Anchorage. We appreciate all your effort and faithfulness.
  • Pastor Tim for his support in our mission, and your passion to send out missionaries, and allowing us once again to use the ministry house to prepare for this trip.
  • Mark (the caretaker of the ministry house) for his relationship and support to our team. Thank you for letting our team utilize your computer for our needs. It was great having discussions with you and your new friends.
  • Dustin (Youth Pastor at Calvary) for allowing me to share with his youth group. Also, thanks for sharing and being real about your life with me. I appreciate your friendship.
  • Erin Benjamin for assisting us for the time in Talkeetna. Our team appreciated your sharing.
  • Chapel By the Sea Church and those who helped us.
  • Mission: Denali 2007 team members who played an indirect part of the leadership confidence Tim Hall and I had for this year’s Denali expedition. Also, those who provided group gear for us again this year, Tom Melancon and Nathan Straubinger.
  • My wife, Kelly, for calling all the wives of the husbands on this trip. Also for supporting my mission to serve on the mountain as well as those on our team.  Praise God my wife and I were able to have our third daughter on June 15.
  • Thanks be to You, God, for all You’ve done on the mountain, and what You’re going to continue to do, for taking care of us, for protecting us, and for ways You work, even when we can’t see it, even when things don’t go our way. You are in charge, not the weather, nor the mountain, nor anything else, but You, and we submit to You. Even though most of us didn’t make the summit, we made a difference for You and because of You. And that’s really what matters. As Jim Moore said on the mountain: “I’m here to serve God, not to summit!” What can we say? God, we love You and we thank You for allowing us the privilege to serve on Your team.

— Charleton Churchill

Denali line

(From top) Planes deliver climbers, who form long lines to ascend, as the sun shines brightly. (Bottom) Lucas, left, with his new brother in Christ, Tim Hall.


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