Keep the faith
Do not grow weary or give up; a harvest will be reaped
Trekking into the Aladaglar Mountains. (Photo by Gary Fallesen)
By Gary Fallesen, founding president, Climbing For Christ
Descending off Mount Ararat for the first time in 2010, I was facing an intense battle against personal discouragement. I had hoped to meet Kurdish nomads on and around Turkey’s tallest mountain. But we only talked to those selling trinkets and they viewed us as “tourists.” We were unable to have any significant conversations.
We had been turned back by bad weather at high camp. Storm clouds loomed above us still and a sense of failure shrouded me as we hiked off “Noah’s mountain.”
“Do not be dismayed,” advised my brother and mission teammate, Aaron Hemphill. But it was hard not to be.
“I cried out to the LORD, and he answered me from his holy mountain.” – Psalm 3:4 (NLT)
Then I looked up and was halted in my tracks by an amazing view. I had a revelation: Here I was in eastern Turkey, on HIStoric Mount Ararat – how incredibly blessed. I thought about my theme for Mission: Ararat 2010, which was “trust.” I knew God would take care of it. In HIS time. “We serve the God of the possible,” I told myself, again.
I felt a weight lifted as I continued to climb down from the mountain.
Kurdish camp on Mount Ararat in 2010. We trekked there in 2010, ’13, ’14 and ’15. (Photo by Gary Fallesen)
I remembered this vividly during Mission: Turkey 2019. We saw Muslim friends whom we’d loved on and prayed for since 2013 become brothers in Christ. We saw others led to the Lord. We learned that a paralyzed Kurdish shepherd long on our hearts (especially my wife Elaine’s) had stepped out of his wheelchair – healed!
The answers to prayer were daily. The fruit produced was as plentiful, it seemed, as the ripe cherries we harvested and heartily enjoyed in Central Anatolia.
This was a lesson taught by Paul, the first missionary to what is modern-day Turkey. “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up” (Galatians 6:9, NIV). I have experienced the fruit of patience and persistence.
Elaine likes to say, “We just have to show up.” God is at work – all the time. Often, we can’t see it. But sometimes He blesses us with an opportunity to see His results. Again, and again and again.
Getting from there to here
Adem with Elaine at Celikbuyduran Pass (11,318 feet/3,450 meters) in the Aladaglar Mountains. (Photo by Gary Fallesen)
I met Adem for the first time on Ararat in 2010. We talked about climbing together in the future, which came to fruition in 2013. That’s when we met Behzat. Adem is the Godfather of Ararat; a veteran of 40 years of guiding in the mountains of Turkey, a bear of a man. Behzat is the next generation; hyperactive and always telling stories with a slick British accent.
We loved these two men like brothers and prayed longingly for the day when we would call them brothers in Christ.
Those days arrived during Mission: Turkey 2019.
We were reunited on June 24 – more than four years after we’d last seen them in their Muslim-majority country. The government’s renewal of war against Kurdish separatists, which closely followed the first election of Kurds to parliament during our 2015 expedition, closed the southeastern and eastern parts of the country to us. There had been many acts of terrorism, an attempted coup, and ugly politics that wrecked tourism and blocked our path year after year.
Trips would be planned with our friends in Turkey. And then cancelled.
My frustration grew.
“For just as the heavens are higher than the earth, so my ways are higher than your ways and my thoughts higher than your thoughts.” – Isaiah 55:9 (NLT)
Cherry picking in Adem’s “garden.” (Photo by Elaine Fallesen)
In God’s time, we returned to Turkey. But Ararat, where God had opened doors for us to minister to Kurdish families in 2013, ’14 and ’15, remained closed. We headed for the Aladaglar Mountains in central Turkey in June. Adem’s home is at the foot of these mountains and we realized a four-year-old dream of picking cherries together from his “garden.” His wife taught Elaine and teammate Missy Dedrick how to roll grape leaves. We ate barbeque together. There was laughter and joy.
I walked down the driveway at our guesthouse to take a photo of the nearby mountains. A car approached behind me on the road. When I looked, I could see the smiling faces of Adem and Behzat. They were waving and laughing.
In a whirlwind of an embrace Behzat told me we could be “brothers” now. My heart leapt as he said this because I knew exactly what he was talking about. He also told me another Kurdish man we’d met in 2015, in the southeastern city of Sanliurfa, had come to the Lord after our visit. He’d since led his family and several other friends to salvation. He was the one who implored Behzat to listen to me, calling me the “teacher” and “the light.” I was humbled to tears.
Behzat embraced his new role as believer – immediately doing what we are called to do: sharing Jesus with everyone around us. He talked to shopkeepers, children playing in the road and on playgrounds, horsemen on the mountain, inviting one and all to “join the family.”
Some took him up on the invitation. A young woman mountaineer named Gizem. A driver and cook named Ramazan. His cousins.
Family photo: (left to right) Missy, Behzat, Elaine, Gizem, and Gary. (Photo by Adem Donmez)
We used our time together to disciple him, encourage him, pray with and for him, and walk alongside him as he witnessed to others. I talked with him about becoming a kingdom worker for Climbing For Christ and he envisioned our 2020 return to Ararat and all the Kurdish families who would become our brothers and sisters in Christ. We immediately prayed for and gave God praise for this.
Occasionally I would have a pinch-me-so-I-know-I’m-not-dreaming moment. We were, after all, in a place where I have prayed so many times for dreams and visions for Muslim friends. Dreams were becoming reality.
God’s dreams do come true
I was sharing the Gospel with Ramazan, our driver and cook, on our final night in the mountains. He wanted Jesus. After sharing about Jesus’ death and resurrection for our sins, I told him that I believed this. I told him Elaine and Missy believed this. I asked Behzat if he believed it and he affirmed: “Of course, I believe.” Ramazan said he believed, too, and then he pointed to Adem, who was seated behind me.
“Should I ask him?” I said to Ramazan. Then I turned to Adem and said: “Do you believe these things?”
“I do,” Adem said, shaking his head yes.
“He wants to be part of the family, too?” I said to Behzat.
“Yes!” Behzat said, laughing.
“What?!” Elaine and Missy exclaimed.
“This moment is too much for me,” I said, dumbfounded.
In that moment Adem confessed how he “always” believed the Truth I’d been sharing in Turkey. I jumped to my feet and asked for confirmation: “You’re declaring you want to be a follower of Jesus Christ?”
“I know the Jesus,” Adem answered. “I know the Bible. I know. I am sure.”
“My brother!” I said, inviting his embrace. We hugged and others hugged, and joy-filled laughter filled the room.
Adem had willingly been our translator as we shared about Jesus among nomadic Kurds in 2013, ’14 and ’15. He’d watched the Jesus Film with us. But he said his belief began after he broke his foot in September 2014. We’d emailed that we were praying for his healing, which came along with the opening of his eyes and heart to the Holy Spirit.
“I will never forget that time at that camp lodge,” Elaine said as the 17-day trip concluded. “The Holy Spirit was present.”
Summit selfie: Missy and Behzat on top of Mount Emler, where she shared Scripture and answered his questions. (Photo by Missy Dedrick)
“I was blessed to witness a lot of previous work come to fruition,” Missy added about Mission: Turkey 2019. She’d contributed to the “energy” that Gizem said she sensed among us and Missy went to the summit of Mount Emler (12,214 feet/3,723 meters) with Behzat so she could help disciple him.
“I’ve been praying for revival in Turkey since before I came here,” Missy said. “That doesn’t seem quite so impossible now.”
Not when you’ve seen God at work.
“He taught me to remember to be patient when planting seeds,” Missy said, speaking on our behalf as well. “He taught me to keep the faith that He will cause those seeds to grow.”
“I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.” – John 15:5 (ESV)