Mission: Ararat 2014
By Gary Fallesen
President, Climbing For Christ
Thursday, July 3
Gary, Elaine and Joye at the church at Perge on the St. Paul Trail.
The team has returned to the States. Weather delayed final flights out of New York City so Joye returned to Southern California after her birthday had ended, and Elaine and I landed in Rochester, NY on our wedding anniversary. We are thankful for safe travel and for all of the blessings of this 18-day trip.
Tuesday, July 1
Our team in Base Camp on Mount Ararat: (left to right, back row) Joye, Elaine, Gary, Adem, (front row) Behzat, and cook Arif.
We said our good-byes to Adem and Behzat in the city of Van and flew from eastern Turkey back to Istanbul. I left Behzat with a DVD copy of the Jesus film in Turkish and told him to ask any questions he might have, which he promised to do. We told our friends that we would keep them in prayer – just as we are praying for all of those whom we have encountered and shared with the past two weeks.
“Moreover, as for me, far be it from me that I should sin against the LORD by ceasing to pray for you, and I will instruct you in the good and the right way.” – 1 Samuel 12:23 (ESV)
Monday, June 30
We drove away from Mount Ararat, leaving behind (for now) many Kurdish people we’ve gotten to know better the past two summers. We plan to be back.
Our team headed for the city of Van (pronounced “Wan”), where people are likely to welcome you to Kurdistan. On the way we took a boat on Lake Van to Akdamar Island (called Aghtamar by the Armenians) to see the HIStoric Armenian Church of the Holy Cross. This church was built from 915 to 921 and is the only surviving medieval Armenian church with most of its spectacular exterior sculpture and interior frescos still visible.
The light was still shining at the medieval Armenian Church at Agthamar.
Sculpted relief on the church's exterior depicts scenes from the Bible, above, while the interior has frescos such as the one below showing Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead and riding into Jerusalem on a donkey.
While inside, our friends started asking us questions about Christianity and we were excited to answer and have an opportunity to share more about our faith. We continue to pray for a great awakening among our many friends in Turkey, who are stuck trying to do enough good works to please God and get into heaven.
“For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” – Ephesians 2:8-9 (ESV)
Sunday, June 29
We prayed for healing for the mother of the family with whom we stayed Saturday night. She had a kidney removed last winter and the other one is in bad shape. To pay for the medical costs, the family sold their 70 sheep, which is why they are not living on Mount Ararat this year as they were last summer when we first met them near Base Camp. We ask God to use healing to change hearts in this family.
The two youngest daughters (of nine children) spent the day with us – visiting the Noah’s Ark Museum less than 5 kilometers from the border of Iran, stopping for tea with another Kurdish family we’d met last year in a different village, shopping at a carpet store in nearby Dogubeyazit, and touring a palace from the Ottoman Empire. It was a blessed time with Gamze and Melek. A C4C member has been paying to help them to stay in school. They are good students and we hope they will be able to use education to improve their futures. More importantly, we continue to pray for God to redirect their spiritual path and give them a future filled with hope.
A Muslim man with beads, used to count repetitive prayers.
Most Kurdish children here do not finish school. Their parents think it is unnecessary and the children lack the motivation to keep going. They settle for lives as shepherds, horsemen (ferrying climbers’ gear up and down the mountain), and farmers. Half of the younger generation, it seems, has left for Istanbul on the other side of the country in search of work. Life is hard, but death is harder. There are about 14 million Kurds in Turkey and there are few known Christians among them.
Saturday, June 28
The first day of Ramadan ended and members of the Kurdish family that we are staying overnight with at the base of Mount Ararat listened to my prayer in the name of Jesus and then quickly said theirs before the feast began. Two of the five family members are observing the Muslim holy month by fasting from sunrise to sunset. (CLICK HERE for Project Prayer: Ramadan 2014.)
This is the family we spent the most time with during Mission: Ararat 2013. We showed them the Jesus film. Two of the daughters and their mother befriended our 2013 team members and were excited to see us again.
Melek, left, and Gamze outside their home in a village beneath Mount Ararat.
Our five-person team reunited late Friday afternoon when Joye and Behzat returned to Base Camp from the summit. Joye said she had many opportunities to share and pray with climbers from several nations at High Camp. After a night of sleep, they were ready to make the descent with us as we hiked off the mountain.
Along the way we stopped for tea with one Kurdish woman in one of the camps we hadn't yet visited. Then we stopped at one last camp farther down the mountain to watch shepherds shearing their sheep. That was our last experience on Ararat for this trip.
Adem and Behzat had been in touch with the family we are visiting before our arrival - telling them a C4C team was returning to eastern Turkey. They invited us to visit and stay with them. We are honored. And praying, in the name of Jesus, that our dinner tonight was a foretaste of the feast to come.
Friday June 27
“But Jesus called them to Him, saying, ‘let the children come to Me, and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God.’” – Luke 18:16 (ESV)
While Joye and Behzat were heading for the top of the mountain (they reached the summit around 9:30 a.m.), Elaine, Adem and I were again descending from Base Camp for outreach among the semi-nomadic Kurdish people living on Ararat. We visited two more camps and were blessed with the opportunity to share Jesus with another dozen people.
Elaine teaching Kurdish children about Jesus.
Elaine taught four girls from two families in the first camp we visited (about 900 vertical feet below Base Camp). I met these children last year and played “hide and seek” with them among the mountain boulders. They beg “cream” (sunscreen and lotion) and chocolate from climbers passing on the trail. We gave them the Bread of Life instead.
In the next village, another 600 vertical feet down the mountain, three girls, one boy, a mother and an aunt from two families heard the God-story of creation, the fall and the sending of Jesus as payment for our sins through death and resurrection.
In two days, two dozen Kurdish people (14 children and 10 adults) in four camps spread out on the 16,854 foot (5,137 meter) mountain slopes heard about redemption through Christ our Savior. God opened tent doors and we walked in. Seeds were planted and watered. May God increase the harvest.
Thursday, June 26
"What do you think? If a man has a hundred sheep, and one of them has gone astray, does he not leave the ninety-nine on the mountain and go in search of the one that went astray?" - Matthew 18:12 (ESV)
As we descended from Base Camp toward one of the many camps of semi-nomadic Kurdish families on Mount Ararat, we stopped to talk to a shepherd named Fahrit. How many sheep did he have? 280. If he lost one would he know it? Yes. Would he go and look for the lost one? "Oh, yes," said Adem, our guide and translator. With that, Elaine reminded Adem of the Parable of the Lost Sheep, which she had shared with him while hiking on the St. Paul Trail last week.
When the day began, Joye and our other guide and friend, Behzat, left Base Camp at 10,500 feet (3,200 meters) to move up to High Camp at 12,700 feet (3,900 meters) for a summit attempt on Friday. Elaine, Adem and I stayed in Base Camp to do outreach among the Kurdish people.
We were blessed to return to the camp of a family we visited during Mission: Ararat 2013 about 1,500 vertical feet below Base Camp. They were happy to see us again and welcomed us into their tent with tea and then lunch. A door opened and Elaine was given the opportunity to teach three daughters (ages 13, 17 and 19) and their mother how to make Gospel bracelets, while telling them the redemption story of Jesus Christ.
Elaine telling daughters of a semi-nomadic family how Jesus died on a cross for all of our sins, above. Below, making Gospel bracelets with another family outside their tent on Mount Ararat.
We met Fahrit again when we went to another camp, where the 10-year-old daughter remembered meeting us on the trail last year. Again over tea, a door opened and Gospel bracelets were made and Jesus was talked about.
The mother of Mukedes, the girl who remembered us, said we were different from most tourists who climb Ararat and don't even say hello to the Kurdish people living here. We told her that was because we had been sent by God to share the love of Christ with them.
Our morning devotional ("Paul's Perspective") had been about that very same subject. We had read 1 Corinthians 13:1-3 and prayed that our actions would reflect the love that Jesus poured out for us.
Wednesday, June 25
Climbing For Christ returned to Mount Ararat less than 11 months after our last expedition to eastern Turkey. Our five-person climbing party, including guides Adem and Behzat, ascended about 3,700 vertical feet from the trailhead to Base Camp at around 10,500 feet (3,200 meters). Having hiked several days on the St. Paul Trail prepared the team physically for this HIStoric mountain. Spiritually, we've gone from following Paul's footsteps to following Noah's.
Zahide with the snows of Ararat on the slopes behind her.
As we ascended we stopped at one of the Kurdish camps on the mountain. Several families from the villages below are living alongside one another higher up Ararat with their herds of sheep. A redheaded girl came running toward us and we realized immediately it was Zahide. Zahide and her mother were among those we showed the Jesus film to last summer. She remembered us. We talked with her as we were served tea by another family.
Tuesday, June 24
We crashed a Kurdish wedding at the urging of our friend Behzat while on the way to Dogubeyazit in eastern Turkey. "I love the Kurdish weddings," Behzat exclaimed as our driver Osman stopped the vehicle after passing through a village along the way from Van.
We'd flown to Van from Antalya (via Ankara) in the early morning. Osman, who drove for us during Mission: Ararat 2013, picked us up at the airport and took us for a famous Van breakfast. Then we set out for Dogubeyazit, the last town before Iran and the jump-off point for Mount Ararat.
Joye, right side of photo, and Elaine, right of center in yellow top, join the bride (left in green dress) and her wedding party for a traditional dance.
As we drove we passed a wedding party dancing in a field and decided to join in. The wedding host welcomed the "visitors from America" and we enjoyed seeing how our Kurdish friends celebrate such a joyous occasion.
Soon after we witnessed another blessed moment: a rainbow next to Mount Ararat.
"And God said: 'This is the sign of the covenant I make between Me and you, and every living creature that is with you, for perpetual generations: I set my rainbow in the cloud, and it shall be for the sign of the covenant between me and the earth.' " - Genesis 9:12-13 (NKJV)
It has been very rainy around Ararat this month resulting in more snow high up the 16,854-foot (5,137-meter) mountain. But after a thunderstorm rolled through the area and we observed a double rainbow, Ararat came out of the clouds and showed itself to us for the first time this year.
Our climb is set to start Wednesday morning. We are looking forward to again being with Kurdish semi-nomads who move up the slopes with their sheep herds during the summer months. We hope to grow relationships started last summer and meet new Kurdish families in order to share the love of Christ.
Monday, June 23
The church at Perge (Perga in the Bible).
"Then they passed through Pisidia and came to Pamphylia. And when they had spoken the word in Perga, they went down to Attalia." - Acts 14:24-25 (ESV)
We finished our time on the St. Paul Trail in the place where Paul himself completed his first missionary journey. We've been here seven days, while Paul's trip was thought to be about 1½ years. We visited the archaeological site for Perge (or Perga, which is mentioned three times in the Book of Acts - when Paul first arrives in the southern part of Asia Minor in Acts 13:13-14 and when he leaves in Acts 14:25) near modern-day Antalya and saw the remains of a church dated to the sixth century. Perhaps this church was built where the early church had been or near where Paul and Barnabas first spoke the Word in 47 A.D.
We sat under a tree out of the blistering hot sun and studied more about Paul and the mission he so clearly understood: to preach the Word to a lost world. Our study focused on praise, specifically praising God in times of difficulty as well as joy. We read Acts 16:16-40 and the story about the Philippian jailer. We talked about the difficulty we are currently having in sharing the Gospel to people in a country that is nearly all non-Christian, and we prayed about that. But mostly we gave thanks and praised God for sending us here for this time and teaching us more about Him and His love for us.
Sunday, June 22
Church at Tota Yaylasi.
We hiked around the north end of Sarp Daglari in the Taurus Mountains, stopping at the remains of a church said to be from the early Byzantine era far up a hillside among walnut trees. This structure may have been built over an earlier building. Guide Behzat again credited Paul with the start of this church although there is no Biblical proof.
Walking the Roman Road (right to left) Elaine, Joye and Behzat
between historic Adada and the village of Saglik.
As we've trekked the St. Paul Trail we've tried to picture what it would have looked like in his day (46-47 AD). In some ways it is easy to relate to Paul walking through what is now southern Turkey because we three feel as if we are the only Christians here. If only our guides were brothers in Christ we believe we, too, would see "the word of the Lord ... spreading throughout the whole region" (Acts 13:49). We are frustrated by not having an indigenous believer to work with - as we do in all of the other countries where we minister.
One of our ongoing prayers since before this trip began is a plea for God to send us a worker (Turkish or Kurdish) who is a Christ follower to serve alongside us in this field. Without a co-laborer how, as it says in Romans 10:14, can they hear and believe? We are waiting expectantly for a door to open so we may enter in.
Saturday, June 21
Trekking in the western Taurus Mountains near Turkey's Mediterranean Coast.
Joye summed up the day: "We had tea with shepherds and lunch with goats."
The team trekked from the village of Kesme to Kasimlar, covering nearly 7 miles (about 11 kilometers) with an ascent of more than 1,800 vertical feet to a stone house far removed from any villages, where we had tea with a family of six. Then, after lunch with a herd of shepherd-less goats, we descended nearly 2,000 feet. We finished the day, appropriately, at the St. Paul Pansiyon. (A "pansiyon" - pronounced "pan-sion" - is a Turkish guesthouse.) We discussed Paul's mission, particularly his charge "woe is me if I do not preach the gospel!" (1 Corinthians 9:16)
One day, The Shepherd will come in His glory and separate His sheep from the goats (Matthew 25:31-46). There are many "goats" (of the human variety) living here who need to hear the Gospel message.
"For so the Lord has commanded us, saying, 'I have made you a light for the Gentiles, that you may bring salvation to the ends of the earth.'" - Acts 14:47 (ESV)
Friday, June 20
Roman-built theater in the ancient city of Selge.
We set out from Selge, now a small farming village, but at one time the biggest city in the region. This area has never been excavated and the hillsides are literred with the remains of ancient cultures. Many villagers have used stones from those centuries-old structures in the construction of their houses and fences.
Behzat, our guide on the St. Paul Trail, claimed Selge was converted to Christianity by the Apostle Paul. Although there is no record of this in the Bible, Paul or other followers of the Way who helped grow the early church likely brought the name of Jesus to this place.
From Selge we walked on for much of the day, ascending and descending along dirt roads and trails through beautiful forests. We stopped for tea with a local family in Delisarnic, continued on to Kestanelik, and ended the day at a guesthouse in Caltepe. Here, we surprised Behzat with a little cake and sang to him to celebrate his 39th birthday. Since he grew up in a family of people that burden our hearts and has spent many years guiding, he usually is in the mountains and never has celebrated his birthday. We pray he had a birthday he'll remember and this coming year will be a special one for this husband and father of two young girls.
"...but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord." - Romans 6:23 (ESV)
Thursday, June 19
The Koprulu Canyon wall that our team ascended. The five-person group passed through the gap just to the right of the center of the photo.
Quote of the day: “If Paul hiked these trails in sandals, more power to him.” Elaine said that after we finished a 10-kilometer (6.2 miles) trek that included a challenging ascent out of Koprulu Canyon - a steep 1,000 vertical feet in 90-degree heat and high humidity.
This was our team's first day of trekking on the St. Paul Trail. Joye, Elaine and I - along with our Turkish friends Behzat and Adem - followed the path to Selge, which sits above the canyon and in the shadow of a massive second-century theater.
Appropriately, our "Paul's Perspective" devotional - done at lunch on the trail during our 6 1/2-hour hike - was about our present sufferings (see Romans 8:18). Being mindful of all Paul endured for the sake of the cross (e.g. imprisonment, beatings, shipwrecks) makes a hard hike seem like a walk in the park. In this case, Koprulu Kanyon Milli Park.
Elaine, left, and Joye hiking past a group of Adam kayalar - so-called "men rocks," which resemble the more famous Cappadocian fairy chimneys in central Turkey.
In the evening, we continued to study how God used Paul to proclaim His promises (Acts 13:13-52). That's why we're here: to share the good news of God's compassion for all people.
Wednesday, June 18
The ancient church at Aspendos.
We drove through history today, leaving Antalya along the Mediterranean Sea and heading east and north about 60 miles (95 kilometers) to Beskonak on the Koprulu River. Along the way we visited the ancient city of Aspendos and stopped on various Roman-built bridges. Aspendos, founded by the Greeks in 1000 B.C., was the most important city in Pamphylia, Asia Minor. Pamphylia is mentioned five times in the Book of Acts. This region of modern-day Turkey was where the Apostle Paul made his first missionary journey in 46-47 A.D.
We are following in Paul's footsteps - literally - as we seek to bring the Good News to those who do not know Jesus as Lord.
We began a second study about Paul (“His Life and Teaching”) to learn more about God's ways, and to be inspired even more to make Him known to the ends of the earth. We started in Acts 9:1-31, when Saul the persecutor was converted into Paul the Christ follower, and we prayed that those who are blind to Who Jesus is would be made to see. We asked God to use us on this journey.
“So the church throughout all Judea and Galilee and Samaria had peace and was being built up. And walking in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit, it multiplied.” - Acts 9:31 (ESV)
Tuesday, June 17
The aptly named “Broken Minaret”sits in the Old Town in Antalya, where our team flew to today from Istanbul - meeting up with guides Adem and Behzat. It was good to see our Turkish friends, who guided us on Mission: Ararat 2013 as well.
Behzat led us around the historic part of this tourist center in southern Turkey. Along the way he bemoaned how few young Muslims answer the daily calls to prayer. Then we reached the Broken Minaret, a building that began in the second century A.D. as a Roman temple before being converted to a Christian church and then a mosque in the seventh century when Islam took over Turkey. However, it returned to Christian control in the 14th century before being remade a mosque less than 100 years later. A fire in 1896 left the structure in disrepair - or broken, symbolic now of the religion here.
“The young people don't come to pray, they think you must be old and ready to die to do that,” Behzat said as he showed us around a nearby mosque. Later in the evening the overflow crowd from a neighboring bar sat around the outside of the Broken Minaret. They do not worship a god, but focus on things of this world. Lost in a different way, but still lost.
As the old hymn says: “Turn your eyes upon Jesus, look full in His wonderful face. And the things of earth will grow strangely dim, in the light of His glory and grace.” Or, as the psalmist wrote: “Whom have I in heaven but you? And there is nothing on earth that I desire beside you” (Psalm 73:25). Pray that many will realize their own brokenness and seek the truth found only in Jesus.
Monday, June 16
The team arrived safely in Istanbul early this afternoon. As we walked to our hotel from dinner the call to prayer just after sunset was echoing throughout the city from the many mosques that populate the skyline. Followers of Islam are commanded to pray five times each day. These obligatory times of prayer make up one of the five pillars of the religion. The others include making a declaration of faith, compulsory giving, fasting during Ramadan (June 28-July 27 this year), and making a pilgrimage to Mecca. We spent some time discussing Islam before doing our daily devotional, which is a study by C4C spiritual coordinator Jordan Rowley called, “Paul's Perspective.”The Apostle Paul once evangelized this land and grew the church here. Now, Turkey is 99.5 percent NON-Christian (96.4 percent Muslim). Join us in praying for the people of Turkey.
Sunday, June 15
The team met at JFK in New York City late this afternoon - with Joye flying cross-country from Los Angeles and Elaine and I having a much shorter (50-minute) flight from Rochester, NY. We have an overnight flight to Istanbul. Mission: Ararat 2014 (our third trip to Turkey in four years) is underway, although God has had it in the works since before time began. Here we GO!
I’ve heard Mark Hall of Casting Crown’s talk several times about his band’s song “Thrive,” which focuses on our purpose in life – “to know Him and to make Him known.” May Mission: Ararat 2014 be summed up in those words. The expedition is set to begin with a time of inspirational study on the St. Paul Trail. This is something very different for a Climbing For Christ team, but my hope in planning it was to draw nearer to God and be inspired by how He used the Apostle Paul during his missions to what is now Turkey. After that, we return to action in eastern Turkey on and around Mount Ararat, returning (for a third time) to share the love of Jesus with our Kurdish friends, old and new. Our team is small – Joye Cantrell, a wife, mom and teacher from Banning, CA, USA; my wife Elaine and me – but I believe that is by God’s design. May each of us learn more about our awesome God and then have opportunities to share that knowledge with others. All for HIS glory!
“O righteous Father, even though the world does not know you, I know you, and these know that you have sent me. I made known to them your name, and I will continue to make it known, that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them." – John 17:25-26 (ESV)
for the Mission: Ararat 2014 Prayer Calendar.