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Mission: Ararat 2010

Dispatches

 

Ararat 2010 team.

 

Monday, July 19

The team has returned to Istanbul, minus our Kurdish friend, for the last leg of our mission. Team members begin heading off in different directions on Tuesday. This short-term trip is ending, but the Lord’s work in eastern Turkey is only beginning.

Sunday, July 18

“...and on the seventeenth day of the seventh month the ark came to rest on the mountains of Ararat.” – Genesis 8:4

The resting site of Noah's Ark?

We were blessed to be able to walk on a boat-shaped formation that some ark-aeologists claim is the remains of Noah’s Ark. It is located at about 6,350 feet on a mountain about 15 kilometers from Mount Ararat. There is a rundown “museum” there that is cared for by a gentle old Kurdish man who lives in the nearby village.

This site, situated now above a Turkish military outpost, was discovered in 1959 by a Turkish army captain. The size of the formation matches the description found in Genesis 6:15 (“The ark is to be 450 feet long, 75 feet wide and 45 feet high”). The area is also Biblically sound since Genesis refers to the “mountains of Ararat” and scholars point to the Hebrew translation “mountains of Urartu,” which is actually the entire mountainous region of eastern Turkey.

The view of Great Ararat, left, and Little Ararat from the alleged side of the boat.

Ark-aeologists, such as Ron Wyatt, have claimed discoveries here to support that this is the resting place of the ark. Others have made different claims – some saying it is on Ararat itself, some that it is in the mountains of neighboring Iran, and the Muslims believe it came to rest in the Taurus Mountains running from southern Turkey into Syria. To the Muslims, Noah was a prophet, just like Jesus.

The outline of Noah's Ark, above trees, about 15 kilometers from Mount Ararat.

Wherever the ark ended, we felt as if we were on hallowed ground. Ironically, it is a place virtually ignored because there are no Christians that we know of in the area.

We did spend time later in the day with some Kurds in Dogubeyazit talking about the ark and our faith. These Kurds said they know of caves on Ararat where wood from the ship has been preserved. They believe the site we visited is real. But they are more interested in their futures than in HIStory.

One Kurd said that “no one” – not Muhammad or Jesus or anyone else – cares about the Kurdish people and their plight. We told him that Jesus cares and we were living proof: He sent us! He asked us to pray to Jesus for his oppressed Kurdish people. We told him we would be doing that.

It was a day – during which we also visited the border of Iran – when God opened more doors and began to reveal a plan for the work among the Kurds. It is an incredible feeling that words cannot describe when the Lord starts to share with you an opportunity to further His kingdom and provide help to a lost and hopeless people.

Saturday, July 17

We descended off Noah’s mountain, the top again obscured by storm clouds. Thunderstorms have rolled in daily this week. Up high, they are thundersnowstorms.

As we hiked for a couple hours (down-climbing nearly 3,300 vertical feet to the village of Eli), we stopped and visited with Kurdish nomads who have set their tents higher on Ararat’s slopes for summer grazing for their sheep herds. Most of the Kurds were selling goods, such as scarves, so we were unable to have any significant conversations. To them, we are only tourists or consumers. This was frustrating, leading to more questions about how to reach these lost people.

They need schools (schools that teach in Kurdish), but that would have to be approved by Turkey’s ministry of education. They need the Gospel, but only those living near the Eli Route (the only legal route up Ararat) could be reached; the rest of the mountain is off-limits and monitored by Turkey’s military.

“I cried out to the Lord, and He answered me from His holy mountain.” – Psalm 3:4

We must wait on Him. He will provide direction – in His time. Knowing that lifts an incredible weight from our shoulders. It’s also freed us to start sharing ideas about possible solutions to this perplexing situation.

As one team member said to another: “Do not be dismayed.” We know that we serve the God of the possible.

Friday, July 16

“I have set my rainbow in the clouds, and it will be a sign of the covenant for all generations to come... I will remember my covenant between me and you and all living creatures of every kind. Never again will the waters become a flood to destroy all life. Whenever the rainbow appears in the clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and all living creatures of every kind on the earth.” – Genesis 9:13, 15-16

Thunderstorms with snow and high winds buffeted our high camp from shortly after our arrival until the middle of the night. We thought it might be a sign from God, instructing us that there was nothing for us to do in this high, desolate place. Our work was far below in the nomadic Turkish camps on the lower slopes of Ararat.

After a few hours of confusion over whether we would climb or not (the lead mountain guide was suffering altitude sickness), it was decided the weather was unfavorable. Clouds covered the summit, some 4,000' (1,200 meters) above high camp. “The silverhead of Ararat” that was observed by modern-day first ascender Friederich Parrot would not have been visible to us. Visibility was nil. So, after sunrise, we began our descent back to the Green Camp. We left winter and returned to summer.

As we walked, our Kurdish friend talked again about his embattled people, who since 1843 – when they were close to achieving independence – have staged 23 rebellions. They are considered a rebellious people. Rev. E. Greenwald, who wrote the original book on Parrot’s 1829 climb, Ascent of Mt. Ararat (1867), said of the Kurds: “One, and perhaps chief reason, why this mountain of Ararat is not more frequently visited, is the hostile character of the people that inhabit the region through which the traveler must pass. They are bitter Kurds, and Turkmens, and other tribes, who profess the religion of Mahomet, and are so hostile to Christians as to make it extremely dangerous to travel among them.” (Today, about 2,000 people come to climb Ararat each year and the Kurds are no threat to Christians.)

As a result of the strife between Kurds and Turks, the Kurds are discriminated against. They remain uneducated, our Kurdish friend said, as punishment for their rebelliousness. He talked about overcrowded classrooms with students who don’t speak Turkish being taught in Turkish. “So children don't get an education.” he said. “And they must work here, going up and down, up and down the mountain because they can do nothing else.”

To make matters even more desperate, very few of them know the hope and love of Jesus Christ.

Thursday, July 15

“As long as the earth endures, seed time and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night will never cease.” - Genesis 8:22

We have seen God’s promises revealed as we have moved up from the Green Camp at 10,500 feet (3,200 meters) to High Camp at 13,000 feet (4,000 meters). We have moved from summer to a wintry environment on the peak that the Persians referred to as “Noah's mountain.”

The team is healthy and poised to make an alpine start (about 2 a.m. Friday) for a summit bid. Everyone has recovered from the altitude by the grace of God. We are perched high above the plateau and able to see scores of Kurdish tents far below us. This is the place the Lord has sent us to reach. We are starting to see it.

We spent more time over coffee and tea discussing with our Kurdish friend the truth about Christianity and dispelling the lies that Islam has taught him. The door to his heart is open because he confesses to not being a “practicing” Muslim.

There are seeds of doubt, we can see, and we are planting seeds of truth by Holy Spirit power. He has said himself the Kurds, who are 99.99 percent Muslim, “have no hope. They have only hopelessness.” We bring them the hope found only in Jesus Christ.

Wednesday, July 14

“In the six hundredth year of Noah's life, in the second month, the seventeenth day of the month, on that day all the fountains of the great deep were broken up and the windows of heaven were opened.” - Genesis 7:11

The rain came today after we’d returned to our Base Camp from an acclimatization hike up 2,000 feet (600 meters) to 12,500 feet (3,800 meters). As it came down sideways it was not hard to imagine the torrents God once unleashed on the earth.

A Kurdish boy porters a team's gear up the mountain.

On the trail we saw many Kurdish people who work for local trekking companies. They work as guides (although usually as assistants to the government-licensed Turks who work here) as well as cooks and porters. They make next to nothing doing the usual difficult mountain labor. But it is a paying job, which is hard for the Kurds in eastern Turkey to come by, so they do it. Our cook is a happy man who travels from his home in central Turkey to cook for climbers in the East and Southeast. He is a good cook, who proudly showed us photos of his family and other trips he has taken.

Often when a Kurd, who was portering gear by horse up to High Camp, greeted our Turkish mountain guide he would ignore them. It was sad to see. We extended our “hellos” to the Kurds whom we are hoping will see the love of Christ in us. We love the Kurdish people and know God loves them even more.

The route to High Camp.

The team, which is enduring some minor problems with altitude, is supposed to move up to High Camp at 13,780 feet (4,200 meters) on Thursday in anticipation of a summit attempt early Friday. The summit of the holy mountain is 16,945 feet (5,165 meters). It very well could be the place where Noah’s ark came to rest after 150 days of flooding (Gen. 7:24 and 8:4).

Tuesday, July 13

“Then the Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the Earth...He was grieved in His heart...but Noah found grace in the eyes of the Lord.” - Genesis 6:5-8

Our team ascending at about 9,000 feet on Day 1 on Ararat.

We began our ascent of the holy mountain Ararat by climbing up from the village of Eli at 7,218 feet (2,200 meters) to the Green Camp at 10,500 feet (3,200 meters). This peak was first summited - in modern times (several thousand years after Noah and the ark came to rest of the top of the mountains of Ararat (Gen. 8:4) - by the German professor Freidrich Parrot in 1829.

Along the way we passed many nomadic Kurdish camps. We were greeted in a few. One asked us to come in for tea, which we wanted to do. But our mountain guide, who is required and licensed by the Turkish government, said no. Satan, get behind thee.

Our Kurdish friend, who has been with us since we arrived in Turkey, explained to him that we were here to meet the people. That is our first priority. The climb is the second priority. People, not peaks. That is one of Climbing For Christ's mantras.

The mountain guide did not like this. We believe the Turkish government only wants people to climb, not get to know the Kurds, who are considered an enemy of the state. We trust that God will allow us many more opportunities to spend time with the Kurds on Ararat.

A nomadic Kurdish camp on Ararat.

The team is doing well after our initial four-hour climb. We are focusing on God’s promises – from Genesis 8:21 to the promise of salvation found in Christ our Lord. We spent time on the trail talking to our Kurdish friend about what we believe as opposed to the lies he has been taught by Islam about Christianity.

When he came to ask me if I’d brought an extra book that he could read, I gave him The Book. I was carrying three copies of the New Testament for just such a divine appointment. As he lay in the sun reading the New Testament here at the Green Camp, we prayed that the Word would pierce his heart and he would see the Light and realize the Truth. One Kurd at a time - to the glory of God!

Monday, June 12

Mount Ararat

Only God could provide us with an English-speaking guide who is a Kurd. This revelation was made as we flew two hours from Istanbul to Van, a city of about 500,000. The flight was followed by a four-hour drive to Dogubeyazit in Turkey’s eastern-most province of Agri. Dogubeyazit is on the road to Iran (just 10 kilometers away) and the gateway to Mount Ararat. It is a small Kurdish town of about 50,000. It is a poor area – as are most Kurdish areas.

There are about 20 million Kurds (Northern Kurds) in Turkey. They are 99.99 percent non-Christian with most of them being Muslim. Southern Kurds live in neighboring Syria and Iraq. Eastern Kurds in Iran. Likewise, they are mostly all Muslim.

The Kurdish language has been banned in Turkey. Kurds, the world’s largest ethnic group without a homeland, are discriminated against throughout these nations. The Northern Kurds are impoverished, schools are few and inadequate, medical care nearly non-existent in rural areas, and clean water scarce where many Kurds live, including around Mount Ararat.

So we prepare to start our five-day climb on Tuesday, waiting on the Lord for those He has planned for us to meet. Ready with our Kurdish guide to do His will, if His will should be for us to minister to the Kurds. If not, we will do what He has for us to do. To God alone be the glory!

Ararat at sunset.

Sunday, July 11

We toured the historic part of Istanbul to get a sense of the culture and the people here. As our Muslim guide says, “The people of Turkey are 99.9 percent Muslim, but not many practice it.” This is the western gateway to the Islamic world with two-thirds of the city in Europe and one-third in Asia. It is like a European city with a Middle East accent.

Our touring took us to the Hagia Sofia, which means “Holy Wisdom” and is a symbol of this Christian-turned-Muslim place. The Church of the Divine Wisdom, as it was known, is more than 1,500 years old. It survived nearly 1,000 years as one of the greatest churches in Christendom. Then Constantinople, as Istanbul was called in its Christian era, was conquered by Muslims in 1453 and the church became a mosque. Today it is a museum, featuring a remarkable dome and beautiful mosaics of Christ alongside tributes to Islam’s Allah and the prophet Mohammed.

The Blue Mosque has a tourist entrance in the back as only worshippers can use the main entrance.

After Hagia Sofia we visited the Topkapi Palace, home to 30 of the 36 emperors who ruled during the Ottoman Empire from the 1400s to World War I, and then we went to the Blue Mosque. The Blue Mosque dominates the skyline in this city of 12-14 million people. It was built in the early 1600s by a sultan, Ahmet I, who wanted to outdo the Christian emperor Justinian's Church of the Divine. Ahmet's labor at the excess, which even outraged Muslims when he constructed the same number of minarets on his mosque as found in Mecca, pales in comparison to the 1,000-year older church. Like comparing the lies of the evil one to the Truth.

One of the six minarets at the Blue Mosque. At one time these towers were climbed by an iman to call people to prayer five times a day. Now they use loudspeakers.

Istanbul and Turkey have a rich and ancient history that needs to once again be filled with the sort of HIStory that the apostle Paul first brought here. We again see the deception we are combating as God prepares us for further travels on Monday to eastern Turkey. Our prayer for this place is found in these New Testament words:

"Those who oppose him [the Lord's servant] he must gently instruct, in the hope that God will grant repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth, and that they will come to their senses and escape the trap of the devil, who has taken them captive to do his will." - 2 Timothy 2:25-26

Saturday, July 10

Team members arrived in Istanbul today and came together at our hotel in the center of the city, the heart of ancient Constantinople. We are surrounded by many historic sites, some of which our Muslim guide will take us to on Sunday. Our guide for the trip says he knows as much about Christianity as he does Islam because he lives in a part of the country where the early Christian church was built underground and from leading tours that have followed in the footsteps of Paul. But he does not know the Lord, Jesus Christ. Yet.

“...and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” – Philippians 2:11

Friday, July 9

We are traveling to the land where Paul first spread the Word and toward God's mountain called Ararat. Much has changed since the days of Noah and the time of Paul. The people of that land are in an even greater need of hearing about Jesus.

“You know the message God sent to the people of Israel, telling the good news of peace through Jesus Christ, who is Lord of all.” Acts 10:36

Mount Ararat illustration.

The Word

“... the waters stood above the mountains. But at your rebuke the waters fled, at the sound of your thunder they took to flight; they flowed over the mountains, they went down into the valleys, to the place you assigned for them. You set a boundary they cannot cross; never again will they cover the earth.”
— Psalm 104:6(b)-9 (NIV)

 

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