By Gary Fallesen
President of Climbing For Christ, Inc.
To minister to those in need – in both physical and spiritual ways – in the climbing community and in the places where we climb. "Let us present to the world the image of a servant community, and let us preserve the beauty of the gospel not with showy, defensive fervor but with an intense interior life of prayer, worship, service, and a manner of living that only can be explained in terms of God." – Brennan Manning, The Signature of Jesus (Multnomah Publishers, Inc., 1996)
We are a mission organization, meaning we wish to send people into the world as Christ directed ("Therefore go and make disciples of all nations" – Matthew 28:19). Our vision is to enlarge membership so that Climbing For Christ, Inc. is active in all areas of climbing – mountaineering, rock, ice, and bouldering – in all corners of the world. Our common prayer is that God would use us to touch our climbing partners, those we encounter in high places, and the people who call the mountains home.
The Missions Field
"Ask of me, and I will make the nations your inheritance, the ends of the earth your possession." – Psalm 2:8.
There are many workers laboring in the harvest field, and many more needed. In many countries, the people among the hardest to reach are those living in the mountains. This is where a passion for climbing and Christ can serve the Father. "And I said, ‘Here am I. Send me!’" (Isaiah 6:8).
Research shows us the many places God can send us. Some examples from Patrick Johnstone and Jason Mandryk’s exhaustive book, Operation World: 21st Century Edition (Paternoster Publishing, 2001):
- Afghanistan – The Nuristani tribes in the mountains north and east of Kabul. Said to be "very hostile to anything Christian."
- Algeria – The Berber peoples of the Atlas Mountains. "Any overt missionary outreach to the unreached Shawiya, Shilha or other Imazighen could be considered subversive."
- Bhutan – A small (47,000 square kilometer) kingdom in the eastern Himalaya mountains. This is considered one of the world’s least evangelized nations, where mission agencies have been "welcomed to operate leprosy hospitals and be involved in health, agricultural and educational programs, but only on the condition they do not proselytize."
- Cameroon – Among the less-reached peoples in this West-Central African nation are "the many peoples of the Mandara mountains." (SEE also its western neighbor, Nigeria, listed below.)
- Canada – The Inuit people in the Arctic, particularly the Inuit territory of Nunavut (Baffin Island), are in need of evangelical witness.
- Chad – There are more unreached peoples here than in any other African country: Saharan peoples who live in the Tibesti Mountains; the Naba ("one of the largest unreached peoples in Chad") who live between N’Djamena and the Guera mountains; and the 19 peoples living in the Guera Mountains, where there were only six churches.
- China – Tibet, home of Everest, the world’s tallest mountain. "Free Tibet" is a common bumper sticker refrain in the United States. What Tibet needs more than political freedom from China, which invaded it in 1950, is spiritual freedom. A presence in Base Camp on Everest also would allow Christian witness to climbers from throughout the world.
- Greenland – "Christianized but not converted" is the way the world’s largest island is described. "Nearly every settlement has its Lutheran church building – but many are empty of biblical theology, people, or life." Greenlanders are said to be suffering from widespread immorality, alcoholism, apathy, mental illness and suicide.
- India – Himachal Pradesh, a mountainous Himalayan state bordering Kashmir and Tibet is India’s least-evangelized state. "It is the ‘Land of the Gods’ and a center for Hindu pilgrimages. Every mountain is named after a god and there is much devotion to idols." The first commandment: "You shall have no other gods before me." (Exodus 20:3).
- Iran – Among the many unreached peoples are the partly nomadic Iranic Luri and Bakhtiari and the Turkic Qashqai who live in the Zagros Mountains.
- Irian Jaya (or West Papua in Indonesia) – The western half of New Guinea has less-reached peoples in the northern foothills of the Eastern Highlands and southern foothills of the main range of mountains bisecting the island, including the Stone Age Dani people around Carstensz Pyramid. (SEE also the eastern half of the island, Papua New Guinea, listed below.)
- Kyrgyzstan – This central Asian state in the Tien Shan mountain range has many rural and semi-nomadic pastoralists living in mountain villages. "Few have heard of Christ." Spiritism has a grip on the Kyrgyz, as "fear of the ‘evil eye,’ use of amulets, the occult, shaman priests and demonization are widespread." As with most of the countries on this list there is a need for "Wisdom in outreach. Culturally relevant and appropriate means need to be found and used."
- Lesotho – A tiny (30,355-square-kilometer) mountainous country completely surrounded by South Africa. "The mountain population of 600,000, most nominally Christian, but having little contact with the life-giving gospel. ... Many villages are only accessible on horseback, others by MAF (Mission Aviation Fellowship) plane."
- Nepal – "The mountain peoples – almost entirely Tibetan-related. Most are lamaistic Buddhists living in isolated mountain communities, such as the Loba people of Mustang. Most are small in number and Christians are few. There are an increasing number of believers among the Sherpa of the Mount Everest area."
- Nigeria – The northern region of this African country has unreached people in the Gwoza Hills in the states of Adamawa and Borno ("a spiritual battleground" between Islam and Christ) and the mountain regions in the east along the Cameron border in the states of Taraba and Adamawa.
- Papua New Guinea – Many unreached tribes are still being discovered in isolated parts of this Indonesian country, such as the Star Mountains on the border with Irian Jaya.
- Russia – North Caucasus peoples, in republics such as North Ossetiya, are "some of the least-reached on earth, and certainly live in Europe’s least-evangelized region."
- Tajikistan – The southernmost republic of the former Soviet Union consists mostly (93 percent) of the Pamir and Tien Shan mountains. The unreached include the "mountain peoples of the Pamirs in the east – there are no known Pamiri Christians."
There are many other people and nations among the lost – from Turkey to Tanzania. Mountainous areas crying out for our efforts can be found in the United States as well. SEE the section below on a mission vision for the Alaska Range.
What can we do to reach these people? It starts with prayer. Then requires continued research and the pursuit of funding. While financial support is vital, what’s more important is having servants whose hearts are stirred to reach the unreached. Individuals and teams of climbers will be sent into areas where He would lead us. "Here am I. Send me!"
"At Karanga Valley, the porters from another group came running up to me as our group hiked off. I went to look down into the valley. Coming up was a porter spitting white froth. Pulmonary edema. Without immediate descent he would die. He had been up on the Arrow Glacier (at 15,750 feet). He was clothed in a T-shirt and light jacket. Last water was 36 hours before. I explained to him that he might not be able to work at high altitude again. The look on his face when he realized he may not have a job in the future will stay with me." – Rick French (Pack, Paddle, Ski adventure travel company)
Anyone who has climbed 19,340-foot Mount Kilimanjaro knows the poverty that surrounds that majestic African peak. For those who live in the Third World nation of Tanzania, being a porter is one of the best jobs available. It pays $20 a trip – a week of hard work at high altitude and usually without the proper gear.
When Rick and I met to discuss what we can do to make a difference for these people a vision formed before my eyes. I believe it can be a model for Climbing For Christ mission work; something we can replicate throughout the world as we try to live as Jesus would.
To best serve the people – providing them with what they need, not just want – we must understand them. To make a difference, it is essential that you establish relationships. This takes time. It will require an on-going, long-term effort.
I would like to establish a base in Moshi, Tanzania, where trekking groups and climbers depart for Kili through the nearby gateways of Machme Village, Umbwe Village, Mweka Village and Marangu Village. We would place a Climbing For Christ member in Moshi to live with these wonderful people. He or she would need to know or learn Swahili in order to communicate with the people. He or she would also need to know how to listen, to understand, to discern needs from wants. The problem with many missions is it becomes a handout, providing no sense of empowerment.
Among the goals for our mission would be to:
- Educate porters about altitude and its effects on the body.
- Improve conditions for porters by helping supply better clothing, water purification, and other climbing essentials.
- Educate climbers and trekkers – especially Westerners, who mistakenly think of porters as pack animals – that porters are human beings.
By living in Moshi, we would have a base of operations, establishing contact with guiding companies and possibly assisting a porters’ association. Other members could visit and provide help (as well as have an opportunity to experience a great Kili climb).
As my dear friend Rick says, "It’s easy to bring over rain jackets, but to really understand … I don't know what it would take." I believe it would take a servant’s heart, a heart of Christ, a Spirit-filled passion to make a real difference.
UPDATE: Our first mission trip to Kilimanjaro was held in February 2007. A second trip occurred in January 2008.
The Frontier State
The bumper sticker speaks volumes: "Talkeetna: A Quaint Drinking Town With A Climbing Problem." The local church in Talkeetna, Alaska – the jumping off point for climbers entering the amazing Alaska Range – has a small, fertile mission field. For starters, there are the locals (population 450), and the above-mentioned flow of alcohol. Then there are the climbers, who come from all parts of the world, most to attempt Denali (or Mount McKinley, the highest mountain in North America). The Talkeetna Cemetery with its Mount McKinley Climbers’ Memorial isn’t the only place full of dead people. The landing strips, base camps and summits of the Alaskan ranges are loaded with the climbing dead; lost souls that need to hear the life-saving Word of God, Creator of the mountains and Father of the Word made flesh.
I have added this outpost in Alaska to the short list of mission candidates and am working on contacting the local churches to see how we might proceed here. The heart of the climbing season is May and June. It would be nice to have a presence in Talkeetna during that time of the year in 2005. This is something similar to what could be done on Mount Everest.
UPDATE: Mission trips to Denali have been held in 2005 and 2007 with another occurring in May-June 2008.
Join me in praying for direction and financial support as we seek to do His work in places such as Talkeetna, AK, and Moshi, Tanzania, as well as in Mexico, Nepal, Turkey, the Holy Lands, and the many other mountainous areas in the world mentioned above.
As we grow in His direction, this will be a priority for Climbing For Christ. Pray that all of our work would be to His glory.