A journey to the top of Africa
by Joe Trussell
Since my early childhood, mountains and missions have been two very important aspects of my life. I grew up the son of a missionary, and so missions – the commission to share Christ – was deeply embedded in my heart. And because of the fact that we were missionaries in the heart of South America, I awakened every morning to breathtaking snow covered mountains surrounding the city in which I lived.
Consequently, these two passions have been intertwined in many aspects of my adult life. This was evidenced most recently by a trip that I took last month to Africa. I traveled with an organization called Climbing for Christ. Their mission statement is: To share Christ where others cannot or will not go. This mission has taken them to out-of-the way places such as Tibet, Nepal, Mt. Ararat in Turkey and many other areas where sharing Christ is dangerous or even forbidden.
So last month I joined two others in New York City to make the trip to Tanzania, Africa. We spent several days in Moshi, encouraging several dozen Christian mountain guides and porters who came together at a conference. I had several sessions and tried to give them some everyday tools from the Bible to combat some of the challenges as they live in a world that is largely Muslim. These men guide hundreds of mountain climbers from across the globe up Kilimanjaro each year, and Climbing for Christ equips them to make a difference as they spend time with a captive audience while on the mountain.
One thing that made this conference very unique is that the regular translator that would have normally taken on the task of translating our English in Swahili, was unable to be there. And with no other Christian that had a proficient enough grasp of English, we secured the services of a Muslim named Yusuf to translate our Christian teaching into their own language. Who would have ever dreamed that a Muslim would be at a Christian gathering as our translator? To further illustrate God’s amazing sense of humor, during one of my sessions, I gave an opportunity for people to accept Christ. Eight Tanzanian men came forward. And yes, Yusuf, our Muslim translator translated into Swahili as I explained the plan of salvation and led them in a prayer to accept Christ. I’m sure that God was looking down with a grin, seeing this Muslim be the vessel used to help these men come to Christ.
After the conference, with the highest mountain in the continent of Africa a short distance away, I couldn’t leave without attempting to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro. I began a seven day climb on this mountain that is the tallest free standing mountain in the world at 19,340 feet above sea level. Even though there are taller mountains, this mountain begins nearly at sea level and so the elevation gain from the base to the summit is greater than any other mountain.
This mountain is also unique in the fact that it is the only mountain with five different ecosystems. The first ecosystem is a rain forest where I saw monkeys swinging from the trees. On summit day I ended up at the last ecosystem, which is the arctic ecosystem, where the oxygen level is half that of sea level and mammoth glaciers grace the summit plateau.
As our team worked our way up the mountain, we established six different camps and allowed our bodies to acclimatize to the increasing altitude. Finally on day 6, summit day, our wake-up call came at 11:30 p.m. and by 12:45 a.m. we had put on five layers of warm clothes and began our ascent. Our headlamps illuminated the route as we left high camp at 15,200 feet above sea level and slowly made our way up to mountain, stopping only now and then to eat a power bar and to make sure that our bodies stayed hydrated. Our breathing became more labored as we encountered the effects of the elevation. The wind also picked up, and the cold got even colder. I had on two pairs of liner gloves, plus expedition-weight down mittens and at times I wondered if I would lose my fingers to frostbite. After nearly 61⁄2 hours of slow but steady climbing, and just as the sun was giving us its first rays of warmth, we reached the summit of Mt. Kilimanjaro – 19,340 ft above sea level.
But as is always stressed on the mountain, the summit means you are only half way there. Thirty minutes was long enough – we needed to get out of the wind and so began the long descent back down to high camp, where we rested a couple of hours and then made our way down the mountain to the last camp at around 10,000 ft above sea level. The next day we safely completed the climb and arrived back at the hotel – 7 days, 60 miles, 6 sleepless nights later, but having an incredible feeling of satisfaction.
Even though Kilimanjaro was not my highest mountain to date (it was the 4th tallest I have climbed) yet every mountain, every day, every minute, every step taken is a gift from God.
However, as I look back over this trip to Tanzania, the top of Kili wasn’t the true summit. To me the summit was when those eight men yielded their hearts to Jesus Christ. It’s really not about the summit, it is about the Savior. It is not about the peak, it is about people. It is not about the mountain, it is about ministry. Eight new names written in the Lamb’s Book of Life. That is the true summit and all that matters.