DISPATCHES: Ararat

Gary Fallesen

DISPATCHES: Ararat

By Gary Fallesen
Founding president, Climbing For Christ

Monday, Aug. 5

There is a Kurdish proverb, “Sam seker wilat serintie e.,” which means “Damascus is sweet, but one's country is even sweeter.” In other words, there is no place like home. Our Mission: Ararat 2013 team members have returned to their respective homes, giving thanks and praising God.

Sunday, Aug. 4

Our team has begun flying back to the States after saying goodbyes in the afternoon to guides-turned-friends Adem and Behzat.

There was some unrest outside our hotel in the streets of Van last night, purported to be a Kurdish protest that resulted in riot police being called out. All was quiet again in the morning.

With the threat of violence against American travelers in this part of the world  as Ramadan is winding down  we have tried to keep a lower profile the past two days. But we continue to trust in His protection and are not fearful.

We spent some of the long layover time in Istanbul doing our “What's in a name?” devotional  praying that the faces of people encountered and the names attached to them will follow us home and continue to be a part of our lives. Trips like this should alter the way you view the world. We only wish more workers would be willing to GO outside of their comfort zones to experience the blessed opportunity of sharing Christ's love to the many who are urgently in need of rescue. I am thankful that Charlotte Crain, my daughter Hayley Fallesen, and Pastor Joe Trussell answered God's call.

We debriefed a bit about the expedition. We are thrilled to have seen first-hand what God is doing and excitedly expectant for what He will do in eastern Turkey. He is good.

Saturday, Aug. 3

We left the Mount Ararat area, stopping on the way at a carpet store where Kurdish women make rugs.

Ayse, right, completing another carpet with one she made on display behind her. The carpet on the ground took Ayse three months to make. It sells for US$3,500. She earns about $450 per month, working 10 1/2 hours a day six days a week. Twelve Kurdish girls work at a carpet store outside Dogubeyazit in eastern Turkey.

The team returned to Van and spent time in the market as our time in Turkey is, for the moment, winding down.

Joe Trussell on market day in Van, Turkey.

We were heartened to hear from the father of the family at the 10,400-foot camp on Ararat, who called climbing guide Adem. The father works as a horseman on the mountain, where horses are used to carry gear from one camp to the next.

The father, who did not meet us, heard about our several visits with his family. He was thankful and wanted to know if we were still in the area. He wanted to kill a sheep to feed us - a sign of friendship and sacrifice. We were touched. Doors have been opened, relationships are being built. We praise and thank God for what He has started through our ministry to the Kurdish people in eastern Turkey.

We begin flying back to the States on Sunday, but our work for this trip is NOT done. We had a team meeting this evening during which I shared about the “Night of Power.” This was the night (the 27th day of Ramadan), when  chapter 97 of the Qur'an says  Muhammad received his first revelation of the Qur'an. Muslims expect many supernatural occurrences this night. We know this is a night when our God could move in lives through dreams and visions. After I shared we had a powerful time of prayer, asking God to open eyes and change hearts. Please join us in this prayer.

Friday, Aug. 2

We drove up a dusty road into one of the many Kurdish villages surrounding Mount Ararat. This village is the winter home for the semi-nomadic family we befriended in a camp at 10,400 feet. We found their house  boarded up for the summer  and next door was a family that invited us in for tea.

About three-quarters of the families in this village move up the mountain to graze their herds of sheep and goats on greener pastures during the summer. The family we met stays in the village year-round; the father works in the nearby town of Dogubeyazit. We learned about their lives, played with several young children and shared some medicine  a beginning.

Most of these past days have been about starting relationships, learning about needs, and planting seeds where possible. The Kurdish community on and around Ararat is tightly knit with many families related to one another after several generations of living in this part of eastern Turkey.

An elderly man, who is blind, prays with beads in his village home.

In another village, over more tea and conversation, we met a family whose oldest son is working and studying in New York City. They asked us to visit him.

In a third village, where we went in the evening, we had tea and a yogurt drink with a family facing the prospect of moving West. Like many Kurds, they see promise of a better life in Istanbul.

Border of Turkey into Iran.

Earlier in the day, after our morning devotional, sharing and prayer, the team visited Noah's Ark national park. This is where the ark is purported to have landed when the flood waters chronicled in Genesis receded, although most Kurdish people will tell you it's in the southeast near the Iraq border. But as the father in the house we visited this evening said: “If Google Earth can't find it, how can my little eye find it?”

The Noah's Ark park is only a few kilometers from the Turkish-Iranian border, which we visited briefly  continuing to pray for light to shine in the darkness of this part of the world.

Thursday, Aug. 1

We descended Mount Ararat from Base Camp to visit three Kurdish nomadic camps. We had been to the first two previously on this trip and we were welcomed back with tea and conversation.

The girls at the 10,400-foot camp  not far from our Base Camp, and where we showed the Jesus Film and provided medicine, hats and gloves  gave Charlotte Crain and Hayley Fallesen little handmade dolls. There were tears when goodbyes were said and hopes that there will be visits again in the future.

At the 9,100-foot camp we discussed the hard lives of the Kurdish people in eastern Turkey and what would happen to a family member or family if they converted from Islam to Christianity. “It is not possible,” our cultural guide Behzat translated their response. But we know "with God all things are possible" (Matthew 19:26).

The biggest spiritual challenge in Turkey is the belief that Allah and our God are the same. “We believe in the same god,” we hear over and over, as if all trails lead to the same point. We know the path is narrow and the way hard, like the route leading to the summit of Ararat, but those who find this gate will find eternal life (Matthew 7:13-14). We continue to look for opportunities to share this Truth.

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

 “…the very stones would cry out.” — Luke 19:40(b)

Pastor Joe Trussell thought his summit experience on Mt. Ararat might be of biblical proportions. “That wind up there was breaking rocks, almost,” he said.

Joe and Hayley Fallesen stood atop 16,854-foot/5,137-meter Ararat in wind that made the air feel as cold as minus-4 degrees F (minus-20 C), according to guides. Hayley said she wasn’t bothered by the cold as she ascended nearly 4,000 feet higher than she’d ever climbed before. But the cold turned back Charlotte Crain at 15,100 feet (4,600 meters) and cultural guide Behzat at 15,430 feet (4,900 meters). Mountain guide Adem was too ill to leave High Camp (13,780 feet/4,200 meters) when the team made an alpine start at 2:30 a.m.

The mountain was clear under the light of a half moon when they set out. “Your team is very lucky. It’s a beautiful morning,” another guide said in Base Camp. We don’t believe in luck; God blessed us with a wonderful day. We give Him thanks for His protection.

Joe reached the summit at 7 a.m. and Hayley arrived 30 minutes later. They descended together, and then all five climbed back down to Base Camp. Everyone from Climbing For Christ is in good (holy) spirit.

Tuesday, July 30

It was moving day for Charlotte Crain, Hayley Fallesen and Joe Trussell, who packed up this morning and climbed nearly 3,000 vertical feet to Camp 2. They are scheduled to make a summit attempt from the 13,780-foot (4,200-meter) high camp in the early morning hours Wednesday. Guide Adem reported that everyone was doing well.

I left Base Camp shortly after them  GO-ing in the opposite direction: down several hundred feet and traversing around the western flank of the mountain. I went looking, where we've never been, for Kurdish camps. I'd been told I would find some, but came up empty.

As I went, I encountered six children we'd met on our way to Base Camp two days ago. They were excited to see the “baba” (father) of Hayley. One of the girls had told Hayley she had "the most beautiful eyes in the world," which is how they remembered me with so many climbers from all over the world passing each day. They saw the cross I wear and I told them it was about Jesus, and that I believe in Him. They pointed skyward and said “Allah.” That is “god” in their language, but not the same one  as they've been deceived into believing.

Later, I went back to the home where we showed the Jesus Film on Monday. I gave winter hats and gloves we'd brought from the States to the three children there. They were grateful. The son, 22-year-old Azad, took me for a long walk back to Base Camp and taught me more about Kurdish culture and life.

It is a hard life caring for sheep and surviving on harsh terrain. Believing in a punitive god doesn't help.

Monday, July 29

The original plan was to climb up to Camp 2  about 3,000 feet higher  for acclimatization. Then God opened a door. Our guides came to us and asked if we'd rather hike around the mountain to meet Kurdish families. That's why we're here!

We descended about 400 feet to the first nomadic village, where two families are living for the summer months. A daughter was ill and the mother asked if we had medicine. Yes, we do. And by the end of our time together we had an opportunity to start sharing about the One who heals all our ills. We promised to return later with medicine and the Jesus Film.

Then we continued to descend, another 1,300 feet, to another village. There, guide Behzat explained how we had come to visit. He said we could have climbed to High Camp, where there are no Kurds. “What's the point of going there?” he said. “Let's go see the local people.” We were welcomed.

After our stay we climbed back up 1,700 feet to our Base Camp at 11,000 feet and packed up medicine and an iPad with an external speaker and the Jesus Film in Kurdish. We dropped back down to those first nomads, cared for the daughter and showed the film. They understood about Jesus, but still recognized him as a great prophet, not the Savior. The deceiver has enveloped followers of Islam in such a great lie. There is much work to be done.

Sunday, July 28

The team set out from about 7,300 feet and ascended for five hours to Base Camp at 11,000 feet. Along the way we passed numerous nomadic Kurdish camps and interacted with many children.

Hayley Fallesen, second from right, escorted by Kurdish children
living in camps above 10,000 feet.

The Kurds leave their villages lower on the mountain and move up higher during the summer so their herds of sheep  can graze on Ararat's grasses. We rejoiced in meeting these children and pray for more, deeper encounters with them and their families as the week progresses.

A nomadic Kurdish camp at 9,500 feet on Mount Ararat.

Saturday, July 27

We rose after five hours sleep, jet-lagged but happy to be in Turkey. The team drove with our two guides from Van northeast to Dogubeyazit, which sits in the shadow of Mount Ararat, not far from the Iranian border.

The road leading to Dogubeyazit with Mount Ararat in the background.

Today's activity was a tour of the Ishak Pasja Palace, which was one of the jewels of the Ottoman Empire. As we stood in the palace's mosque, a new friend started to talk to us about Christianity. He is not a Christ follower  not yet, anyway. The door to sharing was opened in the most unlikely of places. We give thanks to the Lord for this opportunity and those to come as we begin trekking Ararat on Sunday.

Friday, July 26

We arrived in Van in eastern Turkey after four or five flights (depending on the team member). Three of us landed more than eight hours late after missing a connection in Istanbul because our plane out of JFK was delayed four hours. And so it goes.

Our guides, Adem (climbing) and Behzat (cultural) were waiting for us when we stepped out of the airport at about 1 a.m. Saturday. When Behzat, who is from the long-troubled southeastern part of Turkey, heard about our difficulties getting rebooked in Istanbul, he said: “Welcome to the relaxed country.” Welcome back to a nation in need of some divine repair.

Thursday, July 25

“And in the seventh month, on the seventeenth day of the month, the ark came to rest on the mountains of Ararat.” – Genesis 8:4 (ESV)

We begin heading toward Mount Ararat and an opportunity to walk in HIStory while He writes His story for this expedition. We were blessed to spend time in eastern Turkey in 2010 and have been looking forward to God’s appointed time for our return to that part of the world. Now is that time.

Charlotte Crain hiking toward Mount Ararat in 2010. (Photo by Gary Fallesen)

This is a land that the apostle Paul once evangelized; it has been predominately Muslim for many centuries. We hope to spend time with Kurdish people who live on and around the mountain. The Kurdish people (the largest people group in the world without a nation) are impoverished and have been treated poorly by governments in the four countries where they live (Turkey, Syria, Iraq and Iran). God has given us a burden to deliver His love to these beautiful people, especially those in remote areas near the Iranian border. We are eager to answer the divine appointments that are waiting for us.

Our team consists of Charlotte Crain (Gig Harbor, WA, USA), Gary and Hayley Fallesen  (Hilton, NY, USA), and Joe Trussell (El Dorado Springs, MO, USA).


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