After seven months of intense training, it’s time. I’m ready to attempt to take the cross to the top of Mount Kilimanjaro.
Lots of people think I’m crazy for attempting this feat. You don’t know how many times along the way I’ve thought they were right. What would possess a man only months from his 62nd birthday to walk 42 miles in a 19,341-foot climb to the top of the highest mountain in Africa with a full-size cross on his shoulder?
The answer is simple. I’m trying to thank Jesus for allowing me 40 years of serving Him in ministry. In August 1973, in the little town of Wyaconda, Mo., a handful of pastors and lay people gathered one afternoon at First Baptist Church to conduct an ordination service. In those days, an ordination was an invitation to come and join an all-afternoon ordeal. I was seated on the platform, and for the next three hours, various pastors drilled me on the Scriptures and points of doctrine.
Only one of my answers caused trouble. One of the pastors asked, “Will you always preach in a Baptist church?” I answered, “No.” The crowd gasped. Another pastor quickly followed up: “What do you mean by ‘No’?”
I respectfully explained that I wasn’t called to preach in a Baptist church; I was called to preach the Gospel in season and out of season. Sometimes, I would preach in a Baptist church, but I could just as likely be preaching in what the Bible calls “the highways and hedges” (Luke 14:23).
Little did I know how God would make those words come true. I’ve crossed the world with a Bible in my hand and a single message on my lips: “Jesus saves.” The men who examined me that day understood what I meant and recommended my ordination. One by one, they came, laid their hands on my head and prayed over me. Thus I was ordained to the gospel ministry.
I never would have guessed that I would roam the world’s largest cities and most remote villages. I’ve been blessed with more ministry opportunities than most pastors or preachers ever have. I’ve seen God save thousands upon thousands, helped plant churches across the world and watched countless lives transformed. And God gave me a front-row seat to it all.
How do you thank Jesus for such a fantastic journey? Simple. You carry a cross to the top of a mountain.
I haven’t taken this climb lightly. Many of you have written, called and even visited to tell me you’re concerned and planning to pray as I attempt this journey. I’m grateful and will need those prayers. But I’ve trained long and hard. In fact, preparation, prayers and thought have gone into every aspect of the trip, including the wood that makes up the cross.
That in itself is a story. Where should the wood come from? How should we turn it into a cross? I decided to cut the wood from the jungles of Panama where the Wounaan people live. Twelve feet high and six feet wide, the cross has been signed in many languages by village chiefs.
I’ve trained for this journey physically, mentally and spiritually. I’ve lost weight, reducing my waist size by six inches. I’ve tripled the strength in my legs. The week before I left on the trip, I got up early every morning and climbed the highest point of Panama City, Ancon Hill, a 5.2-mile journey. I don’t think there is anything more I can do to get ready. It is time, as a friend of mine says, to quit petting the mule and load the wagon.
To be honest, I’m anxious. This climb is way out of my comfort zone. It seems like God is always calling me to do things I’m not comfortable with. He called me to preach when I was scared to speak in front of others. He called me to write when it’s the thing I least enjoy. And He has called me to climb a huge mountain when I know nothing about mountain climbing.
God knows if I ministered out of my strength, I’d get a big head and take all the credit. He’s a jealous God Who doesn’t want to share His glory. To protect me from that, He’s always called me to follow Him out of my weakness.
Isn’t that just like God? I want you to know ahead of time that if I make it, He gets all the glory and credit. And if I don’t? Nothing changes. He still gets all the glory.
Now, where’s that mule? Onward and upward!