Rite of passage parenting: The story within the story
I want to thank all of those who prayed, encouraged and supported me in my attempt to carry a cross to the top of Mt. Kilimanjaro. In case you haven’t heard, at 7:38 a.m. on Aug. 9, I reached the summit with the 12-foot-high, 6-foot-wide cross. It was the most difficult thing I’ve ever done.
The logistics alone were mind-boggling. So many government departments had to give their permission. I sat in office after office to explain about the cross. Each time, the Lord gave me favor. My final interview took place the morning I met with the head park ranger for Tanzania. Again, I sought favor, and when I finished my request, he asked me to pray for him, his family and his country.
God put together a team of 13 wonderful men from across the country to help me accomplish this incredible task. They ranged in age from 15 to 68. Among us were a retired school teacher, a painter, a graphic artist, businessmen and students. We had little in common except a calling to get a cross up to the top of Mt. Kilimanjaro.
Our team consisted of my oldest son, Jeremiah, a high school teacher from Mesquite, Texas; John Anderson, plant foreman for Procter & Gamble, and his son Daniel, a student at the University of Georgia; grandfather, son and grandson Bob, Mark and Britton Combs; Matthew “Dick” Dickinson, a business owner; Bill Meek, professor of anatomy at Oklahoma State University; Will Morgan; Jonathan Shepherd; father and sons David, Jonathan and Jakeb Treat; and me.
There are many stories within this story, but today, I’ll share just one. All along, we had planned to have two more team members, Keith Wheeler and his fiancée, Nicole. This whole dream of taking the cross to one of the world’s highest mountains began two years ago during a conversation with Keith, known for carrying the cross in many nations and across many borders. I asked him, “What does a man do to celebrate 40 years (one generation as the Bible calls it) of ministry?”
He had a simple answer: “No one has ever carried the cross to the top of Mt. Kilimanjaro.” I just chuckled, but as the days went on, I began dreaming along with my friend. Soon, we were planning together to accomplish this task. As Keith continued to carry his cross throughout the world, I began putting together the team. As the vision grew, my faith did, too.
A few days before departure, Keith and I had lunch together. He was so excited and ready to go. The next day, I got a call from a very disturbed Keith. His daughter’s kidney had failed. She was in surgery as doctors prepared her body to start dialysis. My faithful friend couldn’t make the trip.
I faced a dilemma. Our whole journey had begun with two men celebrating what great things God has done in their many years of ministry. But Keith has held this dream much longer than I. In fact, he has spent much of his life lifting up the cross of Christ across Africa. Still, the rest of the team had put in so much time and energy that I couldn’t back out. And neither did I want to dismantle my friend’s God-given dream.
I had six days to decide what my actions would be at the top of the mountain. How could I accomplish what I set out to do and yet honor my brother who was left behind? I prayed and pondered. I pondered and prayed.
At midnight on the final day, we left for the summit. For the next seven hours, I contemplated the events at the top as a battle raged in my mind and soul. I wanted to be a man of integrity. I’d traveled tens of thousands of miles for this journey, yet at last, I knew what I must do.
As I reached the summit, I took the cross off my shoulders and laid it on its side. Yes, I took the cross to the top of Africa, but I never raised it up. That task belongs to another man for another time.
I wanted to take the cross to the top of the world to say, “Thank you, Jesus, for 40 incredible years of allowing me to serve You.” Praise God, I accomplished my goal. But Keith, it has always been your dream to raise up the cross over the continent you love so much. And that, you must still do. Your task awaits you.
I love you, my brother. I’ll be praying for the day when I see the picture of you lifting up the cross at the top of Mt. Kilimanjaro. Godspeed!