One of my favorite books of all time is "Hinds Feet on High Places" by Hannah Hurnard. You know, one of those books that you have read so many times the pages are marked and worn and falling apart. It is the tale of an ugly, crippled little girl called Much Afraid. Much Afraid is a servant of the Good Shepherd. One day the Shepherd calls her to go with him to the High Places, promising to give a new name. The rest of the book tells the story of Much Afraid's journey... through the desert, along the Shores of Loneliness, up the Precipice Injury, in the Forest of Danger and Tribulation, in the mist and the Valley of Loss, and finally to the High Places where she receives her new name. What is that name? You will have to read the book to find out! It is a beautiful allegory of the Christian life, as Jesus transforms us from slaves of sin to sons and daughters of righteousness.
This past weekend, 14 Kudjipites made their own journey to the High Places. Topping out at more than 14,800 feet, Mt. Wilhelm is the highest place in PNG. Priscilla Radcliffe was the reason for our journey, as she will soon be leaving for college in America. You can't grow up as a missionary kid in PNG and never climb Wilhelm! Well, maybe you can, but it was a good excuse to plan a trip. (Unfortunately for me, the planning started only 2 weeks before lift-off... not exactly enough time to train for this sort of a thing!)
Friday morning all of the docs rounded early and we gathered at the circle about 8:00 AM. You know you are a missionary when you tie planks to the top of your land cruiser, to be used to repair any impassible bridges. (Don't worry Mom and Dad... building your own bridge is completely safe.) Backpacks and sleeping bags were loaded. We paused for a group picture and brief prayer before heading down the road to our neighboring Simbu Province.
We arrived at Kundiawa, capital of Simbu Province, and left the "good" road of the Highlands Highway. The not-so-good dirt road wound us through the valley, along mountain ridges and over river gorges. We crossed 14 bridges and never did need those extra planks... though one of the overpasses was rather precarious. Only Dr. Bill was brave enough to drive across. The rest of us gladly walked.
Three bumpy hours later, we made it to our destination. We paused at a local school to eat lunch, wait out the rain, and pick up a few extra passengers. Yes, the heavens opened and showers of blessings began to pour on the very day of our hike. Unfortunately the blessings did not make it all the way to Kudjip. We are still in desperate need of rain. Please keep praying!
The rain paused slightly around 2:00 PM. Four guides lead the way up the foothill path. Paid carriers shouldered the heaviest of our loads. Shortly after we began the ascent, the rain started to fall again. It was a cold and slippery walk. Up and up and up some more! About half way into the hike, we entered a beautiful valley that had been carved out by a glacier thousands of years before. It looked like a place from another time; you could just imagine a scened filled with prehistoric creatures. Luckily we didn't actually see any. Our last big push was along side a cascading waterfall. By that point I was starting to wonder if I would make it!
But just a few more steps and we arrived at base camp. The guest house was situated above the shore of a mountain lake. It had a central dining area, three smaller rooms with beds, and one large room with mattresses on the floor. There was no running water. The rustic pit toilet was a short walk from the house. The smaller rooms of the house were already occupied by an Australian geology team that was studying the history of the glacier. We all piled all of our stuff into the larger room, rolled out sleeping bags, and hung our damp clothes to dry. Our first class dinner included Maggie (ramen) Noodles, tinned mystery meat, and beef flavored crackers. I imagine just about anything would taste like gourmet when climbing a mountain.
After a cold and restless few hours of near-sleep, the group awoke about 3:00 AM to get up and start their hike. They were on their way even before the light of dawn. Knowing my limits, I decided to stay around base camp for the day. I enjoyed a few more hours of sleep, finally warm with an extra sleeping bag piled on top of me.
I woke up feeling a bit more rested and decided to attempt a shorter hike. Reuben, my fellow Kudjipite and adopted brother for the day, and I were led by the four girls teenage who carried our packs to base camp. The lake next to the guest house is called "meri wara," or the woman's water. It is a nice sized lake that is apparently filled with rainbow trout. Meri wara is fed by a waterfall from a higher and somewhat smaller lake called "man wara," or the man's water. The path led us around the meri wara. We scaled the side of the cliff where the waterfall tumbled over. There were some rather interesting points along the way, but the girls did a wonderful job of pushing and pulling me to the top! And it was well worth it. As we sat on the banks of the man wara, I was awed by the silent beauty of the place. It is because of the silence that PNGians say it is forbidden to swim in that lake. They believe it is inhabited by the spirits of the dead.
I asked the girls if they knew any local stories about the lakes or how they came to be. They thought there was a story, but were not sure of it themselves. Several Biblical analogies came to mind. We recently finished studying John 7 in our Bible study. Jesus said, "If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him" (vs. 37-38). I imagined the man wara representing Christ, giving up of himself as living water. Just as the waterfall cascades down the side of the cliff, Jesus pours his love down from heaven. We are the meri wara, receiving that gift of living water. We are filled to overflowing and can spill the water of life to those around us.
Back at base camp, we relaxed by the shores of the meri wara. The Wilhelm hikers stumbled back one by one. Everyone had successfully reached the summit! And what tales they had to tell. A few minutes for rest and packing up, and we continued the still slippery downward climb to where our vehicles were parked. Our guide Willie directed us a few minutes down the road to his home village where we enjoyed the hospitality of his family. We cooked our Maggie Noodle dinner over an open fire. The family provided us with scones and delicious home-made strawberry jam. The accommodations were simple, but we were oh so thankful for a warm place to rest our weary bodies.
Sunday morning we arose with the dawn and began our journey home. Another almost three hours over the bumpy dirt road and rickety bridges, though aching joints and muscles made it seem like an eternity. We stopped at a nice little bakery in Kundiawa for breakfast and coffee. What a treat for our motley crew! The mostly-paved Highlands Highway seemed so smooth for our final hour back to Kudjip. The Myers dropped a tired and dirty and sore Steph off at home sweet home. A military shower never felt so good!
So we have come to the end of the chapter on the "Ascent of Mount Wilhelm." While I would have like to have made it all the way to the top, I am very satisfied with my experience. Actually, it was amazing. I love the beauty of this country. I love the people of PNG, to hike with them and story and spend time in their homes. I know I have said this many times before, that I am so blessed to live and serve here in this place.
I would still like to hike to the top of Wilhelm someday, perhaps when I have a bit more time to prepare myself. If not before, I'm thinking that would be a good way to celebrate the 10th anniversary of my 30th birthday. That gives me a few years to get ready!
For a few snaps of this incredible journey, take a peek at the Mt. Wilhelm photo album.
"The Lord God is my strength,
and he will make my feet like hinds' feet,
and he will make me to walk upon the High Places."