Written by Mission Leader David Bethel
Back in sunny August time, I perused the SPO New Jersey semester calendar. Quite the calendar; full of Men’s Nights, meetings, small groups, and prayer. But my eyes alighted on something different, something delightfully ambiguous, something conceivably grandiose: that nondescript string of syllables which read: Men’s Weekend Away. “Why,” I said to myself, “I wonder what this may be…?” I quietly made inquiries and was informed that it was a men's weekend away, and I was planning it, meaning a world of possibilities lay before me. Yet only one word rang in my ear: Mountains. Cue the 1812 Overture.
John Muir once wrote, in a letter to his sister, “The mountains are calling and I must go.”
Let us perceive how often God calls His servants to the mountains:
- Abraham on Moriah
- Moses on Sinai
- Elijah on Carmel.
And how often Jesus goes to the mountains:
- After His baptism
- Before choosing His disciples
- To be transfigured
- To speak with His Father
- To teach His disciples the Our Father
There is something in the mountains then, something to be sought, something to be striven after, something of God. A mountain is both a challenge and a companion.
And So It Began
We got a late start on Friday and drove into a forecast promising a 70% chance of rain for the weekend. Our crew was nine, hailing from China, Mauritius, and three states. Arriving late, we set up our tents and crashed, with the only casualty being my car battery.
Owing to the late night, we opted for a late start the next morning - a choice that would prove perilous (yet we are all the better men for the undertaking). In overcast skies we began a ten-mile loop hike (though members of our party reckon it could not have been a foot less then fourteen…). The hike was relatively uneventful as we traversed the Falling Waters Trail of Franconia Notch State Park, up to a 1.5 mile hike along an exposed ridge. As we neared the ridge, however, fatigue was telling on our members. How much farther could it be? The wind howled, the sky shown gray and grayer, the rain fell. Yet as we reached the first summit, John was heard to say, “So worth it!” A bold proclamation, less than halfway through the hike, yet vigorously affirmed by all members of our fellowship. We carried on, but our pace slackened as the ridgeline ran uphill. After an arduous amount of time, we finally reached the highwater mark of our trek, Mount Lincoln, and it was then that a downpour began that drenched whatever had remained dry of our gear. We still had four miles of treacherous downhill scrambling, and the reality of hiking after dusk was settling in.
We set off again with countenances ranging from bemused to grim and, for me at least, it seemed as if a sort of joke was wearing thin, and reality was setting in. Our party was cold, wet, and still a long way from home. We reached a small trail shelter and there recovered some strength. It was at this point that the gravity of our situation really set in for me: we needed to get off this mountain and we needed to get dry. In an admirable way, all members of our small group bore up under the fatigue and difficulty of the hike, and we forced our way down the mountain in the dark. Seeking out yellow trail markers, we did our best to navigate slippery rocks, twisting roots, and howling winds on exposed sections of trail. At last, in the dark, we reached our destination. We dried up as best we could, made dinner as best we could, and slept as best we could. The next day we made our way home to New Jersey, arriving, as was fitting, after dark.
It wasn’t the trip I sketched out in late August, but I wouldn’t change a thing if I could. We encountered a test, a trial. In poor conditions, with every opportunity for ill-temper, discouragement, and even fear, every man had an opportunity to step up and band together. It took a team effort to get off the mountain in the dark, it took every man doing his part and pulling his weight, no matter the load. Each of us was tried mentally, physically, and emotionally; in the crucible of the trip, our mettle was wrought to greater maturity. And praise God for the forging, for the brothers. “We few, we happy few, we band of brothers; for he to-day that sheds his blood with me shall be my brother.”