IN a bid to fulfill his 60th birthday, Thomas Deuschle, took on the intimidating might of Mt Kilimanjaro in Tanzania and scaled its rough and often slippery walls to reach the top a few weeks ago.
Climbing the tallest mountain in Africa has often been viewed just as a pastime for Western tourists with heavy money bags and the spirit of adventure.
For Pastor Deuschle and 13 other “heroes of faith” this was not an exercise in futility as it has already started paying off, with compassionate supporters of their vision to build homes for orphans having started writing cheques in response.
The climb was sponsored as part of Project Relocation, the church’s ambitious crusade to build cluster homes for orphans.
“Yes, the response has been overwhelming, I think. I am not sure of the exact figure at the moment, but it’s in the region of
$85 000,” he said.
The project was rolled into motion to move 60 orphans from rural dormitory sites to Harare so that they could be closer to the church and continually have spiritual nourishment through regular fellowship with other believers. The church had been parenting the orphans through a programme established in the 1980s to embrace abandoned babies and set them on the path to a successful life.
“God said true religion is to take care of orphans and widows,” Pastor Deuschle said. “God has given me the grace to raise money for 60 orphans whom we want to relocate into proper homes.”
He said his church had been working with orphans for many years and have realised through experience that young people were likely to flourish in home settings rather than orphanages.
“During that time we built orphanages, but now we are moving from that system to establishing cluster homes,” he said.
“We realised that if we can give them a home instead of orphanages, the better. In fact, we no longer call them orphans, but celebrated children, who are part of our church family.”
Pastor Deuschle was part of a daring group of 14 that included Nigel Chanakira, Brian Chonyera, Natalie Hallowes, Tommy Deuschle, Nat Olsen, Tim Bickers, Cathrine Beard, Chantel Henry, Lauren Benson, Benjamin Deuschle, Patrick Tormey and Daniel Deuschle.
Birthday wish, the founder and senior pastor of Celebration Ministries
“When I got there, I felt like it was a real miracle. The experience was total—spiritual, emotional and physical,” he said. “This is the hardest thing I’ve ever done.”
He said although his body was fit, surviving the peak of the mountain was not dependent on physical strength, but one had to make a mental determination to hold on.
“At the top, there is no altitude so you have to make up your mind to do it and there is no greater miracle. I prayed at the peak of the mountain,” he said.
He said climbing Mt Kilimanjaro was not a stroll in the park and he had to pray for a miracle to defy his 60 years and get to the mountain’s peak.
Chanakira marvelled at the “phenomenal sights of God’s creativity” during the climb, according to his Facebook post in the wake of the once–in–a–lifetime experience.
He attributed his success in reaching the peak of the world’s tallest, free–standing mountain to, among other things, the skills of his tour guide.
“I could not wait to go downhill of Mt Kilimanjaro. Phenomenal sights of God’s creativity. My guide, Charles ahead of me in the pic, was such an encourager, a real God-send! Without him, no heroics, I tell you,” he said.
Tommy said the moment he stead onto the peak of Mt. Kilimanjaro, he felt just like someone who had just walked through heaven’s pearly gates. It was a glorious moment in whose magic he was caught up.
“I can’t describe the feeling other than heavenly. We embraced, wept, laughed and shouted for joy. We had made it to the roof of Africa! What a journey. We all had our own self-doubts and trials we had to overcome,” he said.
Tommy said seeing his father and pastor training to get fit at the age of 60 to take on the mountain and his desire to give the orphans hope for the future was enough inspiration. It was that purpose, he said, which was highly significant despite the physical pain.
“We all have our self-doubts and struggles, but when you help each other put one step in front of the other, you can accomplish things far greater than you ever thought possible. We all needed each other to overcome Kilimanjaro and I think that’s a very spiritual thing in and of itself,” he said.
A three–tier chord not easily broken
Among the heroes that took on the Mt Kilimanjaro challenge was Bickers, who runs Celebration Church’s office in the US.
He said the team of 14 climbers from Africa and the US was made up of pastors, businessmen, and a handful of young people—all with a passion to make a difference for the children that had to be relocated into proper homes.
“We all had our personal struggles, but we couldn’t have made it without relying on each other,” he said.
He said they took the Machame Route, a path known for its steep climbs, but with breathtaking panoramic views.
“We committed to climb the mountain in six days, four and a half days up and one and a half days down.
It was grueling, painstaking, and inspiring climbing six to eight hours a day and then 24 of 30 hours leading up to the summit,” he said.
The night on which they reached the mountain’s summit, he said they left camp at 11pm and headed for their final ascent up to reach the 19,341ft (5,865m) mark at Uhuru Peak. Uhuru is the Swahili term for freedom.
“We climbed 8 hours through the night at 50% oxygen levels. It was the hardest thing I have ever done,” he said.
He said they received instructions from the guides that they would climb until the sun rose and then they would scale the summit. He said during the climb it felt like the sun would never rise.
Maybe that’s what the orphans feel like as they wait to be apart of real families, except no one’s told them how long they’re going to wait,” he said.
He said traditionally, only 60% of climbers reached the summit on the sixth of the climb along Machame Route, yet all 14 of the climbers summited within an hour of each other.
“This was a miracle that surprised all of our guides. We were all determined and had our hearts set on one goal,” he said.
Tommy said their decision to take on the tallest base–to–summit mountain in the world, traversing 108km in six days was informed by the situation of 60 Zimbabwean orphans needing a new home.
He described the moments of climbing throughout the night on 50% oxygen at -15 degrees Celsius as “grueling days of hiking”.
“I actually felt like an orphan at times. Alone in the dark. Passing out every 5 steps—did anyone even notice me slumped over a rock? Did they care?”
Before reaching Uhuru Peak, Tommy said they had to fight their way through cold and bitter wind, ice and snow and jagged rock.
“I could see the curvature of the earth, the vast size of the volcanic crater, and glaciers all around. My friends all around, fighting their own fights, battling for the cause,” he said.
When conventional wisdom had it that mountain climbing was “a white man’s thing”, Tommy said it was deeply moving to see men and women, white, black and Chinese all climbing for the same cause.
Tommy said although he had done quite a lot of physical accomplishments from being involved in basketball and soccer, nothing had quite prepared him for the climb.
“It was the hardest thing I have ever done physically. The sheer fatigue after hiking 108km in five days with just 50% oxygen: everything hurts and doesn’t want to move properly,” he recalled.
What fuelled his determination, he said, was the need of the orphans, the faith of donors who had availed the mountain–trekking gear and his father’s encouragement.
“At one point, I didn’t consciously want to give up, but I literally passed out on a rock. I was finished.
“I was disoriented. I was exhausted. Then Pastor Tom’s voice called out and urged me to get up and continue on,” he said.
He said he rallied over 45 people to finance his quest and because of the successful climb, the people are now conscious of Zimbabwe and the struggles that orphans experienced and those people would want to be part of the campaign.
“The story of standing together and overcoming the mountain will be a story that I will tell for the rest of my life,” he said.
The enduring lesson during that experience as he learnt the ropes from his guide was that there is something about staying close to God and his word, “as well as seeking veterans of the faith to mentor and guide you along the cliffs of life.”
The project is expected to get off the ground soon and would be completed by 2018.