How do you possibly sum up a 14-day trip to Africa in an amount of words where people will still care at the end of reading? Simply this. God’s faithfulness. Repeated and repeated. God’s faithfulness. I could tell the whole story, but having nearly put my family to sleep at the 2-hour mark, I will attempt to do better here.
In June of this year, I said “yes, I will go” to an invitation to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro in Tanzania and raise money for the Hope of the Nations Primary School in Kigoma, Tanzania. Interesting story: Kurt Rietema was leading a team to climb as his in-laws are the missionaries who founded the school. One of my hygienists was there at church when the presentation was made and knew that Kilimanjaro was at the top of my bucket list so she mentioned it to me…there you go. The goal was for me to pay for my trip and then to raise at least $2,000 in pledges for the school. I can do this, but not without God’s faithfulness. (And the support of my family, who, let’s just say, they rock.)
So I first got the okay from Amy and the dudes. Those of you who don’t know Amy, she is ridiculously supportive of me and said yes almost immediately after I explained. Thanks, babe! I decided to send out a letter to friends and family emphasizing what the school was doing (teaching kids from kindergarten age, many who are orphans or social orphans, from a very poor village, in English, with a Christian curriculum) and that their donations would, in no way, be supporting the cost of my trip. And I waited, relying on God’s faithfulness. Amy and I agreed that we would match the first $5,000 that came in for donations. No problem, I thought, as I assumed that it would be a stretch to get to $3,000. We were excited to match, as people’s donations would go farther. We underestimated God’s faithfulness and his work in the hearts of our friends and family. We raised our match. We felt we had to. To date, Team Recker, with the match included, has raised $17,000+. Our team (all 7 of us, 3 from Pella, 3 from Holland, Michigan) has raised $62,000+. ONLY God’s faithfulness. As we sat waiting for our first flight in Chicago, hearing those numbers for the first time, I was overwhelmed and affirmed that this was where God wanted me to go and what he wanted me to do.
I feel like I could write a book on the climb itself. We climbed a tall mountain. 19,341 feet to be exact. The Roof of Africa. We slept in tents for 6 nights. The climb was 5 days up and 2 days down. We used very, very questionable restroom facilities. We ate things I probably wouldn’t choose to normally eat, but had to force myself to eat as I had very little appetite on the mountain. For those of you that know me well, loss of appetite is extremely rare for me. The five guys who hiked together took a suns-out-guns-out picture at 15,100 feet minus our shirts at Lava Tower. We laughed, we were silent, we were sarcastic, we quoted movies and Saturday Night Live ad nauseam. We pushed on. We leaned on each other’s strength. We had a day where we got into camp early and had a chance for an optional hike after lunch. We went up an extra 1,000 feet over an hour or so, and this trail was adorned with hundreds of cairns, or stacks of stones. We let loose. We threw stones and more stones and more stones until we were doubled over in laughter as we knocked down probably 50 or more of these stacks. Our guides couldn’t even hold it in. We had fun.
We summited. Starting at midnight we hiked 4,000 vertical feet in 6 hours to see the most beautiful sunrise I could imagine. We were above the clouds. WAY above the clouds. 19,341 feet. Above a glacier. Above all of Africa and most of the world. It was breathtaking. And exhausting. And 10° with 30–40 mph sustained winds. And we came back down to 15,000 feet and then to 10,000 feet that same day, after some rest and refueling. Almost 14 hours of hiking. God is faithful. God can sustain.
Just a little public service announcement here—if it is 7:00 and you have to wake up at 11:30 to climb a mountain, do NOT take Benadryl and Ambien to sleep. You will awake DECIMATED. How do I know this…a “friend” of mine tried it. (Let me know if you need my “friend’s” name—haha). And so, because of this lapse in judgment, I wanted to lay down and sleep 30 minutes into the climb. But God is faithful. And during those 6 hours, we spent a lot of time together and He reminded me that He is my strength when I am weak. He is the treasure that I (should) seek. And he is faithful. And he brought us up that mountain.
At the top of the largest free-standing mountain in the world, overlooking Kenya (yes, we could see that far), and dwarfing Mt. Meru (14,968, Africa’s second tallest peak), 50 miles west, in 10 degrees and wind, God is faithful and his creation is beautiful.
This felt like as good as the trip would get—the summit—achieving the goal, the top of Africa. But then we hiked down. The last stretch. 4,000 feet in 2.5 hours. And not done yet. And rest. And a throbbing headache and no appetite and exhaustion. Then coffee and Excedrin and a tremendous burst of energy. Down another 5,000 feet in 4 hours. One more overnight. I. Can. Not. Wait. For. A. Shower. And then a proper send off from our group of 23 guides and porters. Yes, you read that correctly. 23 guides and porters. We are high maintenance! God is faithful. This group of Tanzanian men was amazing. Baraka, Efata (the self-proclaimed professor of the mountain), and Saidi, all 5-foot-nothing of him clad in an Elmo stocking cap were amazing. We said our goodbyes and headed for a shower at the hotel.
But first, ladies and gentlemen, I have an important announcement… CANNONBALL! (cheap Anchorman reference). Our hotel had a pool! That water felt amazing. We were finally clean enough to use our own showers! God is faithful and water is his gift to us.
On to Kigoma, with no idea what to expect. We walked off our plane and onto the tarmac at the airport to see 100+ students and teachers from the school! When they saw us, they started singing. Emotions swelled. Tears flowed freely. I tried to choke them back, but resistance was futile. God is faithful. These kids are beautiful.
We went to Hope of the Nations Primary School and were treated like royalty. A head table for the seven of us and an amazing program for us by each of the individual classes. Kindergarteners who just learned English within the last few months conversing clearly with us. All classes gave us gifts and made us hats. Wow. This school is amazing. They rank #1 or #2 in Tanzania on standardized test subjects in all categories. Wow. The children from the local village go to school for free and are given one uniform each year. They get 2 meals per day. They are at school from 7:30am–4:00pm. This school is so well respected that many of the city officials PAY to send their kids to the school. Harold and Coni, the missionaries that started and continue to run the school have done a marvelous job with teachers and curriculum. Truly, God is faithful.
And what about that money that was raised? $62,000+? God is faithful. It will build 2 new classrooms and add louvered windows to all of the other classrooms to prevent rain from coming in. Wow. I thought the mountain was the high point of the trip. But…God is faithful. The school was amazing. And it is true what God has said, “In His name the nations will put their hope.” Matthew 12:21. If our hope is not in Him, we have no hope.
And then, a relaxing fun day. A boat ride on the upper deck of Hope of the Nations 40-foot diesel boat. 2.5 hours in Lake Tanganyika, the world’s longest lake. Over 1 mile deep in places. Pristine turquoise waters reminiscent of the Caribbean. To Gombe National Park, famous for Jane Goodall’s ongoing research with chimpanzees. We were less than 15 feet away from chimps in their natural habitat with no fences. And we saw a lot of them. And a hike that included standing in a 70-foot waterfall. God is faithful. And cannonballs off the upper deck of the boat when we got back into water that you could easily see the bottom.
What a trip. God is so faithful. It was great to climb this mountain. It was amazing to climb this mountain for the purpose of expanding God’s kingdom through education. I am so blessed. I missed my family. A lot. It was so great to see them after 14 days. The hardest part of the journey was being away from them for so long. And finally, how about a few numbers….
1 mountain x 19,341 feet
1 amazing school
7 solid Christian people working together for a common goal
$62,000+ donated to Hope of the Nations Tanzania
1 God who made all this possible
17,600 feet—the elevation of Everest base camp—a 12 day hike…oh wait, too soon?