I’m taking another step upward, steep and obscure though the path may be.
If I knew how hard it would be back when we started out, I might never have tried at all! Whether church planting in Japan, or mountain climbing in her Southern Alps, you have to be just a little stubborn or crazy to attempt either. An overnight hike last week with Justen was sort of a condensed metaphor for 15 years of work here: hard, tiring, unsure at times, but glorious
! What kept us moving up Mount Kita is what keeps us moving forward in missions: envisioning that glorious destination.
Our father-son hike last year was Mount Fuji. This year we decided to conquer Japan’s number two, all 11,000 feet of her. Given my level of fitness and expertise, I use the term “conquer” very loosely. The truth is that Mt. Kita put us through some major pain. But what glorious suffering it turned out to be!
At times it seemed that everything around was encouraging our upward steps. Tree roots and stones arranged themselves into natural staircases. Branches reached down to form handrails. Stumps offered places to rest. A cool stream with waterfalls acted as an air conditioner. And breathtaking vistas around every bend coaxed the “wow” right out of us.
At other times (okay, the majority of the time), we wondered if we’d make it. We doubted we might. We had missed our bus to the trailhead and gotten a late start. Our equipment was amateur grade at best. Our physical fitness was questionable (okay, just mine). Wet rocks sent us skidding and slipping. Light drizzle sent us scrambling for raingear. And then a cloudburst sent the temperatures down. We still had hours to go and less and less daylight to fit it all in. Would we get lost, frozen, dehydrated, attacked by animals? Why were there no more fellow hikers around? Was this still the right path to follow? One begins to wonder.
What was particularly discouraging, however, was that a view of our destination was shrouded by mist and fog. Somewhere up in those clouds was the top. And on the top was a mountain hut with our name in their reservation book. But where? How much higher? We hadn’t seen a signpost in ages, and the relentlessly steep path offered no clue as to how much further it might go on. We trudge along, bone weary, wet and sore.
The final straw is a fork in the path not on our map. Now which way? And where’s a sign when you need one?! Justen looks at me. I look at him. We both look around and shrug helplessly. I can see the headlines in the papers back home: “Missionary to Japan Dies Atop Mt. Kita. Son Carries Body Back Down.”
Then I remember my cell phone. There’s no service in such remote places, but I hopefully dial the number anyway. My jaw drops when it rings and a cheery woman answers, “Hello, this is mountain hut Katanogoya.” I blurt out our situation. We’re late. We’re confused. We’re wet. We’re hungry.
The woman tells us to follow the path to the right. “Just a little bit further up, when you hit the ridge line, you’ll be able to see clearly. You’ll understand then.” Rejoicing a bit, we set off again.
I envision our destination. It’s a place with glorious views of the multiple mountain ranges all around. A dry place to rest with a warm meal waiting. The night sky from 3000m will be a sheet of stars. Tonight we’ll see the milky way. Tomorrow we’ll watch the sun rise over a sea of clouds. Mount Fuji will be visible in the distance. And we’ll take some gorgeous snapshots of a great memory.
And so, we keep moving through our fatigue toward that destination. I can’t see it yet, but my mind has gotten a glimpse. We make it to the ridge line. And just like the woman said, the clouds fall away and we see clearly the mountain hut near the summit. There is still a treacherous ridge to navigate, but we are well on our way toward getting there. And I know we will.
I suppose just about any mountain climbing experience is a metaphor for ministry (and many aspects of life, for that matter). I pray like Caleb, “Give me this mountain (Joshua 14:12). I want to see your kingdom established in this difficult land. I want to see your name glorified in a new gathering of your people. Build your church for your name’s sake right here in Kawasaki.”
And God does. But he never lets me see too much of what’s going on all around me. Parts of his plan, part of our church plant’s future, seem shrouded in clouds of mystery. I’m waiting for a sign. I’m tired. I’m discouraged. I make the call to him. He guides me to a summit experience where I see clearly the way the path goes, and, more importantly, from where it came. I understand. And I trust him anew for the treacherous journey to the next summit.
I’m not at my destination yet. Nor is our church plant at its destination. Our tiny church has grown several times over. But there are people yet to believe, yet to be baptized, yet to grow up in their faith. There are ministries I like to start. People I’d like to point to Christ. Places I’d like to begin a Bible study group. I’m not there yet. But I can envision the glorious things that are waiting ahead for me to see and enjoy. I can envision the people that might be, will be, changed forever. My mind is developing the snapshots already.
So I’m treading on. I’m taking another step upward.
“The Sovereign LORD is my strength...he enables me to tread on the heights.”