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After our first outreach in Nepal, we decided we needed to challenge our bodies before heading deep into the mountains. There is a well kept four-day trekking route near Pokhara that is as safe as any trekking route in the Himalayas can be. The reason we felt we needed the training was because in a week or so we would be departing on another trek so remote that if an accident was to happen, it could take DAYS to get back to civilization.
This training trek was to a spot called Poon Hill, which has one of the most fantastic (I use that word as literally as the word fantastic can be used) views of the Annapurna mountain range. The trip would be a safe way to train our ankles on the extremely steep climbs and get our lungs ready for some hard work.
So, we packed our backpacks and water purification tablets and hit the road.
The first day we traveled by car for about an hour to the beginning steps of the trek. From there we took a Landcover into the mountains where we would start walking (or climbing, according to your definition). The mountains are beautiful from a distance and even more so from close up, but from afar you can never tell how hard the climb will be.
Just like other people’s problems.
From outside, far from it, the problems may seem like no big deal, until you have to climb a few miles in their shoes. Love and understanding is a staple of the Christian life, and humility demands we admit that we do not truly understand what others are going through.
The Trek Begins
Anyway, the first day of our climb was STRAIGHT UP. For about five hours we trudged on, ascending about a foot with every step or two. Rarely was there flat ground, so when it was there, we rejoiced, for about five seconds or so until the ascent resumed. Darlene and I pushed as hard as we could – panting, heaving, begging for mercy (everyone but Frank – who, I am now convinced, has Kryptonian blood), until our guide, Prim, stopped us.
“Time is over. The light is leaving. We must stop here. We will not make it to the next guesthouse.”
Honestly, being red-blooded-super-driven Americans, it was hard for us to hear this, but as is our rule, when unsure, we listen to the locals. So we stopped, got a good dinner, had a hot shower (Praise the Lord!) and found a good nights sleep in the tiny beds of our Himalayan guest house. The clouds moved in, swallowing the entire field of vision whole, and we rested well, massaging our legs and asking the Lord to teach us in this remote place.
The next morning we woke early and started climbing again. That’s when we discovered how glad we were that we had listened to Prim. The next day’s trek took almost four hours and went far above the comfortable altitude for unacclimated breathing. We huffed and puffed, and when we finally arrived we were glad to take the night to rest.
Because of the constant rain near Gorapani (the village at the foot of Poon Hill), we had to pray for a clearing in the clouds if we wanted to see the mountains . So, as we sat around a fire and tried to dry our sweat-drenched clothes from the day before, we asked the Lord for a clear view of these majestic mountain peaks.
These peaks are over 8,000 meters tall (~26,000 FEET) and their summits live in the heavens, clothed in constant cloud cover for all except a few months during the year. In fact, they are so covered, that you could live in Pokhara nearly all summer and never know that some of the largest mountains in the world are right over your head. Seriously.
“Lord, show us your mountains,” we prayed, then we went to sleep.
And it rained all night.
At 4am, we barely heard our alarm clock over the roar of the rain. We looked out the window of our guesthouse to see person after person peak outside, shine a flashlight into the blanket of precipitation, and turn and go back to bed.
“What should we do?” Darlene asked. I shrugged.
It took a while to talk ourselves into it, but after chatting with Frank (our friend who helped so much during the first part of this journey), we concluded that if we didn’t go we had zero chance of seeing the mountains, but if we did and saw nothing, we could simply hike back up the next morning and try again.
There’s a lesson in that somewhere. You fail 100% of the times that you don’t try.
“So we go and see,” I decided, and we took off.
We See Poon Hill
The climb was straight up. STRAIGHT UP. Frank, who is a Spartan-Race runner, was walking slowly with us, but we told him to head up so he wouldn’t miss anything. Darlene and I, still tired from the days before, took it one stair-step at a time. After an hour, we came upon a rest stop (a stone platform where people contemplate quitting), and I doubled over to catch my breath. Above, loomed a never-ending staircase that, apparently, led straight up to God’s throne.
“Darlene,” I said, “Let’s just lay down here and see Jesus. It’s a great place to die, don’t you think.”
We both laughed, but we knew we would not stop. Quitting is not in our blood. After all the gossip, and pain, and struggles of over ten years traveling all over the world and preaching the Gospel, we both know that when we joke like this we don’t mean it. We will keep going as long as God gives us the Grace to continue.
What we get to spend our life on, the Great Commission, is kinda awesome. Don’t you think?
Finally, a half hour later, we reached Poon Hill. As we stumbled over and sat on the stone platform that makes the viewpoint, our breath was nearly taken away (again). Just across a large valley, the Annapurna, giants amongst mountains, glorious and unconquerable, dominated the skyline, although they were still mostly covered in cloud. To say they stood there would be an understatement. They towered; they soared; they ruled. Some of the peaks we looked at that day are unclimbable – dangerous, glorious, the very definition of AWESOME. We sat (in awe) and stared as the partially cloud covered mountains peaked out to tease us, and we knew then that even this tiny glimpse was worth the days of walking.
But then something amazing happened.
Slowly, one by one, the clouds started to dissipate, just like the crowd that had gathered in hope of seeing the sunrise. One group after the next started descending, until only Frank, Darlene, our friend Prim, and myself remained.
Everyone left, and just as they did, the clouds cleared completely. It was as if the mountains were hiding from the prying eyes and decided to reveal themselves to us alone.
We sat dumbfounded, mouth gaping, awed.
I have never, and I mean never ever in all my travels and adventures, seen mountains of such majesty. The size is incomprehensible, but it is not only the size of these mountains but the beauty, the shapes, the snow stacked ten feet deep on the peaks, the way the clouds roll and glow and mingle as the sun’s orange light echoes on the sheer stone mountain walls. The whole scene was God’s dynamic and evolving living art, like you and me. It was a panoramic view, 320 degrees of vistas and wonder.
We stayed for a few hours more, drinking as much beauty in as we could hold, before we decided it was time to climb back down. We said our goodbyes to the mountains, and turned.
“Everyone missed this,” said Frank. “Why did they leave?!”
“Man, I don’t know,” I replied. “But how often do we leave before we should?”
Everyone smiled, knowing what I meant.
How often do we stop worship before God’s presence floods our hearts and congregations? How often do we stop praying before we experience God personality? How often do we believe in faith for an answer to our prayer, but stop just shy of victory? How often do we quit before we win?
But those who wait on the Lord
Shall renew their strength;
They shall mount up with wings like eagles,
They shall run and not be weary,
They shall walk and not faint.
Wait on the Lord.
To wait, to be patient; more than ever I believe this a key to seeing God’s glory manifest to us and through us.
It may seem like a terrible uphill climb; you may want to lay down and die; you may wonder what all this struggle is for, but if we don’t lose heart, if we don’t let our love grow cold in these dark days, if we keep loving, keep praying, keep worshipping, keep believing, one day the clouds will part and we will see God’s glory descend upon our world. And do you know how it will descend upon our world? He will first fall on us until we are so different that WE change our world.
The way God changes nations is that he changes people until they change nations.
Beauty is a Mystery
We stayed on Poon Hill for hours, basking in the Glory of the Lord reflected off of the Annapurna Mountain range. Beauty is so mysterious. What makes us stare at something for hours, unable to take it in, but trying with all our might to capture it and carry it with us. I believe, as did many of the greats before us, that we are actually longing for a place we have never been since our birth. We are missing the Glory of God and doing all we can to get back in it and stay there. That’s what beauty is at its core – God.
One day, we won’t have to leave beauty, it will no longer fade away in our souls, and o what a day of rejoicing that will be. When we all see Jesus, we’ll sing and shout the victory!
For the next few days after our trek, we walked through what looked to me a scene from my fantasy stories. Twisted trees from the Misty Mountains grew on the spine of mountain tops. I felt like I was walking through a storybook forest hidden in the clouds. At one point the clouds surrounded us and on both sides of the six-foot brow of the mountain there was a thousand foot drop into a fog so thick that it would swallow whole anything that fell. It was magical and made me want to write once again, and so I’ve started. Honestly, this journey is one for the books, literally.
Want to know a secret? We almost took a different route. Once again, we would have missed something so amazing that we’ll tell our grandchildren about it. Think about that. Let’s learn to wait, to stop taking the easy shortcuts, and be patient. There’s immense beauty on the other side of struggle. Life is found in the journey. Strength is forged in the climb. We were made to have something to fight for, not to have everything served up at our car window. Beautiful things don’t ask for attention (Walter Mitty), they often hide and demand you seek them out. Real adventure awaits, if you are willing to risk and struggle and be patient.
Think about it.