Why I climb – Shirley Turner

Shirley turner

Why sign up to a Freedom Challenge climb? Shirley Turner, who is taking part in the Wyoming climb in July, truly inspires us to see what a difference this climb could make to vulnerable women and children and to our own lives

My name is Shirley, I’m originally from the US. But right now I live in Kabwe, Zambia. I am an OM missionary serving with the Teacher Training Centre.

I had the privilege of climbing in the Swiss Alps with The Freedom Challenge team in 2015. As a leader of a project that receives support from The Freedom Challenge I wanted to be a part of the process of raising funds and meeting some of the ladies who have made possible the training of our teachers and the ability to reach out with love, education and hope into the lives of the children in our classrooms. I can’t fully express how the hiking affected me, I am still processing the lessons I have learned.

‘In this together’

It was amazing to sense the team effort. Even though each of us had to put one foot in front of the other to get up (and down) the various peaks, there was a real sense that we were in this together. The moments on the trail brought opportunities to share, on a one-to-one basis, our life experiences and fears, hopes, visions for the future and purpose for hiking.

There were moments that were full of laughter and singing and joyful banter and then focused, quiet, prayerful, concentrated times of just managing to put one foot in front of the other, being intensely reminded of the women and children we were hiking for and the mountains they face.

It amazed me how much a simple word of encouragement could help shift my thinking from, “I don’t think I can take another step” to “Ok, just one more, and one more,” until we reached the top. So many of these experiences parallel what we experience on the field with the women and children we walk alongside as we train teachers and as we see them pouring their lives out for the children.

‘The Lord touched my heart’

For me personally, many of the moments that brought courage and hope to my heart involved hiking just behind Cathey Anderson, (founder of the Freedom Challenge who passed away in December). The Lord touched my heart so many times as I looked up to see her plodding steadily on even though I knew she was tired and in pain. On less strenuous sections of the path I was privileged to walk beside her and experience some beautiful moments of sharing parts of our life stories.

So, I am climbing again…for the purpose of thanking God for Cathey; for the purpose of asking God to further develop my heart of love and compassion to be an encouragement to others; and so the women and children here in Zambia can be reached with the love of Christ and infused with the hope and courage Christ brings to a heart and life as we train them in bringing a Christ-centred education into lost communities.

Inviting friends

I am trusting the Lord to be able to bring one of our teachers who just recently finished her year of training in class and will be serving in Malawi as a teacher this year. I would love for her to be able to share her story and meet women who are passionate about sharing the love of Christ with vulnerable and exploited women and children around the world through hiking and raising prayer and awareness and funds. I have also invited a friend from Pennsylvania who will be hiking with us and I am looking forward to seeing what the Lord will do in our hearts and minds during this time.

‘The Lord meets with us in so many ways’

So for anyone still undecided, I would say just sign up! It is a journey that the Lord uses to meet with us in so many ways – building faith, sharing His heart of love for us and for those we are hiking for, showing what a personally involved God He is in every small and large provision, speaking truth and bringing transformation in our lives as well as those we hike for. And the list goes on and on and on as to what He will do!

“God is good and he provides for me”

OM Costa Rica - Pearl Process Coni Working copyIn Costa Rica it can rain for up to eight months of the year. For Coni and her family, living in one of the most impoverished slums in the country, this meant they had to put up with a constant drip, drip, drip in their one-room shack.

And what was even more distressing for Coni, was seeing her children covered in bite marks. At night, rats would crawl in and nibble on the hands or feet of her sleeping children.

But thanks to OM’s Pearl Project, Coni’s life is beginning to change and dignity is being restored.

This week Tina Yeager, Director of Freedom Challenge USA, has been visiting the Pearl Project with a team of Freedom Challenge supporters.

She has met many women like Coni who are, for the first time, experiencing hope for the future and freedom from their often oppressive circumstances.

On a practical level, the Pearl Process teaches vulnerable women to make sandals and create mosaics, skills they can use to provide a regular income for their family. This ability to make a living enabled Coni to move out of the city slum and into a safer area, into a house with a solid roof and access to a good school for her children.

But that is not all that the Pearl Process offers. Most of the women who go through the project have experienced physical or emotional abuse. The staff at the Pearl Process offer these women love and acceptance – something they may never have known before.

Alongside the skills training, the women enjoy Bible studies. Many have become Christians.

“I’m actually starting to believe that God is good and that he does provide for me and that he does love me and my children,” announced Coni one day to Julie Paniagua, the Pearl Process team leader.

Coni is so thankful that her life has been completely transformed.

That is what Freedom Challenge is all about. We long to see many more women released from oppression and modern-day slavery. We support OM projects that bring transformation to women and children in the most-at risk communities.

Please continue to pray for Tina, the Freedom Challenge volunteers and women like Coni who are so precious to God.

Visit next week for a lovely photo essay and stories from Tina’s trip!

$150 will set a woman on a path to freedom.

Your challenge. Their Freedom.

Freedom Climb Summits Kilimanjaro

Our 2015 Corporate Freedom Climbers summited Kilimanjaro today. Praise God! After starting their climb at 11:30pm last night, they climbed 3,920ft. to reach Uhruru Peak. Nearly every climber was able to reach the top.

After descending 7,200ft., the team has reached Horombo, their camp for the night.

“We’re just so thankful that God has intervened on our behalf and the weather has been spectacular, and we’ve been praying for those we’ve been climbing on behalf of,” said Tina Yeager, Freedom Climb director.

Thank you to everyone who has prayed for our team and the projects around the world that the Freedom Climb funds. Please continue to pray for the team as they climb back down the mountain – and for all those who are currently being trafficked, enslaved, and exploited; pray that God would bring freedom to them today.

Trusting God to be the Alpha and the Omega

Photo credit to Alex

Photo credit to Alex

Our 2015 Corporate Freedom Climb will be attempting to summit Mt. Kilimanjaro tomorrow. They’ll be climbing to the highest peak, appropriately named “Urhuru,” which means “freedom.”

The climbers are in good health and spirits, one of them commenting that “we are a family now. It’s God that bonded our hearts.”

The climb to Urhuru will be the most difficult trek so far, and the climbers are praying that everyone will summit. The hike is very steep, especially at the end. Today, they completed an acclimatization hike that helped them adjust to the altitude.

In the face of a very strenuous hike, the climbers are hopeful. As one of the climbers put it, they are trusting God to be not only the Alpha but also the Omega – to be the Finisher. They’re trusting that He will take them to the very end at the very top.

The team is staying strong physically and spiritually, remembering why they’re climbing:

“It has just been an amazing opportunity to be part of this. […] It’s just so humbling to think that we can be a part of such a greater cause, to bring glory and honor to our Savior,” said one climber.

Please be in prayer for our climbers, for safety and physical strength as they continue on and up. Also pray for the millions of people trafficked, exploited, and enslaved around the world, that God would loose the chains of bondage around them in this time. And trust that He is both the Alpha and the Omega, that He will finish what He began.

Why We Climb: Syrian Refugees

Photo credit to Kathryn

Photo credit to Kathryn

Written by Nicole James, OM volunteer in the Near East. The Freedom Climb sponsors relief efforts for refugees fleeing their homes in the Middle East, including those from Syria.

A truck pulled up in front of the church, black metal bars surrounding its open bed like an oversize cage, filled with foam mattresses, blankets and bags full of clothes. These packages of winter essentials, purchased by OM from an on-field partner organisation, each contain two mattresses, six blankets and a sack of hats, gloves and socks. Two men quickly unloaded the truck – tossing the mattresses, covered in bright fabrics, to the ground and restacking them in one of the rooms used by the church.

Cracking open the wooden door to the room next door, where 124 Syrian women were gathered for a Bible study, Tracy*, the pastor’s wife, stepped outside to direct the unloading process.

“We’re giving out 25 portions after Bible study today,” she said, gesturing towards the makeshift storage. “Last week, we also gave out 25.”

Inside, seated on plastic chairs, tightly arranged in long rows, the women listened intently to Grace*, a member of the local church who helps lead the Bible study, finish her message about choosing the narrow path to follow Jesus. Usually, around 75 women, mostly Muslims, attend the gathering. But this week, the crowd had almost doubled.

“Take a minute and think about what you can thank Jesus for,” Grace instructed the women in Arabic as she finished speaking. Mothers quieted their children and the women bowed their heads and considered the question.

Sandwiched between social time and an activity of some sort – cooking, crafting, or counselling – the Bible study is what compels the women to come back, week after week.

“When we first started meeting, two years ago this March, we tried to think of activities that would make the women return,” Grace said. “But we found out that the only thing that is getting [the women] here is to hear the Word of God.”

Relational relief

The Bible study started as an opportunity to introduce Syrian women to Scripture. As OM and other organisations have provided funds, the women have also distributed practical aid through the church. Sometimes food. Other times, like this winter, blankets and mattresses.

Of course, the women are thankful for the help – many who have fled Syria’s ongoing civil war live in empty apartments and sleep on the floor without coverings – but they also know the Bible study focuses on relationships, not the relief.

“[The Syrian women] know the funds are not from the church,” Grace said. “They know that we are here to support them in prayer, to listen to their problems, to support them emotionally.”

When the church first received funding for tangible gifts, the Bible study, which had started with five Syrian women and five church volunteers, started to grow. Then, outside funds would run out and aid would stop for a while. As new money was donated, the church provided additional help, but in accordance with certain stipulations.

OM and its partner organisations strictly monitor which families receive help to ensure that aid benefits only those refugees who are new to the country and only those who have not received gifts from other churches.

“When the women have been here for three or four months, they know they can’t get [aid], but they come anyway,” Grace said. “Women have told me that for them, the best moment [since they left Syria] was the moment they came through the church door because they felt someone loves them for who they are.”

Healing hope

A couple weeks ago, the church volunteers counted how many women have become believers since attending the Bible study. Around 35 have professed faith in Jesus. But according to Grace, “Even when women don’t say it out loud, we still see a difference in their lives after they’ve been coming for a year.”

Most of the women come to faith through an answered prayer, and with them, their whole families.

“How can I not believe in Jesus when He healed me? When my sons, who were kidnapped in Syria, appeared on our doorstep? When our paperwork was processed? When my husband got a job?” they ask.

Zaida*, a young mother who attended the meeting, cradled her new baby, just over a month old, as she waited among the jostling crowd of women squeezing through the doorway after the meeting.

“I’m new this time, and my name isn’t registered yet, so I can’t get any blankets or any help,” she said. “But I’m glad I came today because [the message] gave me new hope.”

*Name changed

First three days of Kilimanjaro Corporate Freedom Climb

Our 2015 Corporate Freedom Climb is underway! The climbers have started their journey up Kilimanjaro.

On Day One, the team left their hotel at 9:00AM and rode three hours to reach the gate/starting point of the Kilimanjaro trail. There, they registered as climbers and took off! They reached their first camp safely, having climbed from 6,500 to 8,665 feet elevation. They hiked through farms and pine plantations, then an afromontane forest. They slept overnight at the Simba camp, their first night sleeping in tents, eating in the mess tent, using some of their gear, and using the toilet facilities.

Day Two saw an early beginning, with the climbers up at 6:00AM and breakfasting at 7:00. They began their trek at 8:00 and arrived at their second camping spot at 12:30PM. Their ascension gained 2,835 feet from the day before, ending at Second Cave, which stands at 11,500 feet. From Second Cave, the climbers witnessed a beautiful view of the eastern ice fields.

Day Three was a short walk to Cave 3 at 13,050 feet. Once they arrived there, they had a short rest time. In the afternoon, they had an acclimatization walk in the late afternoon to get used to the altitude.

So far, the ground staff has sent up one extra sleeping bag (as one of the team members had a bit of a cold night) and received a sick porter. Otherwise, everything is going well so far. As one climber put it, “We’re strong in faith, strong in body, and strong in fellowship.”

Another climber added, “We’ve had a great opportunity to share Christ with the porters who are with us. […] It’s great to be a part of making a difference on the issue of human trafficking.”

Be in prayer for the climbers as they continue their climb, for health and also that God would be revealing Himself to them in new and amazing ways through the experience. Also pray for the teams worldwide who are lifting up this group in prayer every day of the climb.


Freedom Climbers Taking on Mt. Kilimanjaro

Next week, 20 Freedom Climbers hailing from the US, Canada, India and South Africa, are taking on the highest freestanding mountain in the world. They’re leaving their homes February 24, 2015, to summit Mt. Kilimanjaro to raise awareness and help fund over 50 projects that are saving women and children who are enslaved and exploited. The actual climb is February 28 – March 6.

“We are everyday people climbing for the freedom of the 30 million enslaved, exploited and oppressed around the world,” said Freedom Climb U.S. Director Tina Yeager. “The Freedom Climb up Mt. Kilimanjaro is symbolic. It’s the highest freestanding mountain in the world, and its Summit, Uhuru, means freedom in Swahili. Our comparably small sacrifice of giving up our home comforts, vacations and time with family pales in comparison to the suffering of these people.”

Freedom Climb was conceived and launched by Californian Cathey Anderson. What started as a vision has become a global movement, with climbs all over the world.

“Human trafficking, slavery and exploitation are a worldwide epidemic,” says Anderson. “It’s a problem in our own back yard. We celebrate and support efforts to combat trafficking nationally and locally. Freedom Climb attacks the problem at the source – in countries where women and children are most vulnerable.”

Over their seven days on Mt. Kilimanjaro, the Freedom Climbers will face strong African heat at the base and, adverse, minus-20 degrees at the nearly 20,000 foot Summit. They will return home March 9 with many experiences to share.

“The Wasie Foundation’s and the Freedom Climb’s purpose is to be a voice for the voiceless; for those who cannot declare freedom in their lives and climb out of their circumstances on their own,” said Jen Klaassens, Vice President of Programs at The Wasie Foundation. “The climb is merely a symbolic gesture of what women and children around the world go through every single day. It symbolizes their arduous climb to freedom.”

The Freedom Climb has taken women to Mt. Kilimanjaro, Africa, and Mt. Everest, Asia, to support their mission to end human trafficking. The Freedom Climb is a project of Operation Mobilization (OM), a Christian missions organization which supports at-risk women and children, specifically those who are exploited, enslaved, oppressed and trafficked. OM works with the most marginalized and least reached people in the world, with 6,100 workers from 100 nations, serving in 118 countries

The Freedom Climb is changing lives in Madagascar

The Perla project in Madagascar is a Freedom Climb-sponsored ministry. Read Operation Mobilization writer Rebecca Rempel’s report on how this project is changing lives in this African country.

Photo credit to Rebecca

Photo credit to Rebecca

“I couldn’t sew. I didn’t even know how to handle a needle,” admitted widow and mother of seven, Celestine. “But now, I am very happy because I am able.”

Perle, meaning ‘pearl’ in Malagasy, is a Freedom Climb project in Madagascar, that teaches women how to sew and run their own businesses. Like Celestine, many of the students had never picked up a needle prior to class.

“Before, when there was a torn place in my children’s clothing, I didn’t know how to fix it,” said Celestine. “Now I can. I have already sewn up all the tears.”

This is the first time Perle has run in Ambovombe, a town in the Androy region to the south of the island. Earlier this year it ran in Antananarivo, Madagascar’s capital, with four students graduating. In the capital, the students lived on base and attended classes daily. In addition to sewing, they were taught cooking and housekeeping during the month-long course. The OM team saw the need for Perle in Ambovombe, but knew it would have to run differently then it had in Antananarivo. All the women signed up for Perle in the south had families dependent on them, so living away from home was not an option. Instead of an every day, month-long course, Ambovombe’s Perle holds three hour classes, three times a week, for six months.

In Ambovombe, Perle was the answer to Marena’s prayers.

“For a long time I’ve desired to have a handcraft. When the announcement went through church, I decided to join,” she said.

Out of the 11 women enrolled, eight of them are widowed. Marena is one of the three ladies whose husbands are alive.

“It is hard, because we study and take care of our families,” said Marena. “At the beginning it was so difficult. My husband was angry with me (for taking classes), but that changed. He knows that I am studying, and that there will be a difference in our home because of it.”

Besides stitching by hand, the women practice on two sewing machines. One is hand cranked, and the other is electric, although with power outages it can not always be counted on. Originally the program was to have three machines, but the OM team sold one to pay their bus fares to Ambovombe.

Dresses, skirts, shirts, and undergarments have all been completed successfully, and the group has moved on to trousers.

“We are proud that we do not study for nothing, but will have great benefit from our study,” said Fine. “At the beginning we were babies in the world of sewing. We thank the Lord for giving us knowledge and understanding.”

“I am a widow, and I am jobless,” she continued. “I have five children, and there was nothing I could do to feed them, so I asked Jesus what I should do for a living. When the announcement was made in church, the pastor appointed me to study because he knew my situation. I know that God opened up the way for me.”

Not only do they learn the ins and outs of sewing, the ladies also study the Bible; learning how to live as a follower of Christ, and apply biblical principles to their daily life and business interactions.

“Through scripture we learn God’s plan for His people,” testified Marena.

Hermonie, one of three OM team members in the south, enjoys spending time with the women.

“I give thanks to the Lord that I am able to teach them. It’s not always easy. Especially with the dialect,” she admitted. “Sometimes I use a word that shocks them. But sometimes it’s funny, and everyone just laughs.”

Previous to the course, the women did not all know each other. The hours spent together over needle and thread have made them a tight-knit group. Coming from different backgrounds and churches, they are united in their desire to learn a new skill, and provide for their families.

The group wants to start a sewing society in Ambovombe, gathering business from town and the surrounding areas.

“We have a vision,” widowed Esther explained. “We have a great desire to work together as one.”

“Pray for us,” Marena asked. “To preach the gospel with our hand crafts, not only to get money.”

Reflections from Cathey Anderson, International Freedom Climb Director

A friend put up one of the best posts I’ve seen in a long time yesterday on Facebook.  It’s a picture of her son, looking completely and totally dejected, standing next to an easel.  His little face is so downcast.  On the easel it says, “It’s my 4th birthday, and I have no idea that I’m going to DISNEYLAND today!”  Obviously, he can’t read what it says because he’s only 4! Now, here’s the funny part.  She writes below the picture, ‘I told him we’re going to Broccoli Land; the land of broccoli, naps, and spiders.’  Talk about bursting a little boy’s birthday bubble!  I can only imagine his surprise when they pulled up to “The Magic Kingdom:  The happiest place on earth!”  Picture the immense joy that filled his precious little four year old heart as he realized what his mom REALLY had in store for him! 

While it seems a little odd and disconnected, that’s how I feel about the Freedom Climb.  In September, 2010, the Lord spoke the vision for the Freedom Climb:  He wanted women who love the LORD, from all around the world, to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro for oppressed and exploited women around the world for the purpose of bringing awareness of their suffering.  At the core of this vision was His heart for these women; His deep, deep love for each and every one of them.

Now, when the Lord tells you to do something, I’ve learned the tough way that it’s just smart to do it and not argue.  And so, 48 women from around the world did!  We all thought that we were climbing for others who were enduring horrific oppression and exploitation.  And we were! We knew that going into a point of physical suffering would allow us a brief moment of understanding what their daily pain is like.  While we were choosing to do this, they don’t.   But what we didn’t know is what would happen to us.  In his infinite, indescribable wisdom, the Lord did, and that was all a part of His plan from the very beginning.  And that’s the Disneyland part of the whole equation.

You see, when we started the Kilimanjaro ascent, we were in the ‘broccoli, naps, and spiders’ mind-set.  Human trafficking, oppression, exploitation, and slavery are as bad as it gets.  But, as we came down from that mountain, we began to hear the stories of bondages broken, suffering released, fears conquered, and brokenness healed.  It was as though we watched a metamorphic transformation directly in front our blurry eyed faces.  Women literally ran down the mountain released from their own form of personal pain and suffering.  It was glorious! God was breaking chains of bondage for the women were climbing for AND He was cutting the chains we were enslaved by.  Who knew this was going to be another integral component of the Freedom Climb?  Certainly not us………but God did!  And, it was not a one-time deal–this same thing has held true with every climb we’ve gone on.  God is forever faithful. 

The Freedom Climb is merely a symbolic gesture of the climb to freedom for every single one of us.  By embarking on something as demanding as these climbs, it’s impossible to come away the same as when we began.  It’s the suffering that does something to these women.  It’s in the suffering that we are driven to our Lord because when we’re at the end of ourselves, He’s waiting right there.  He walks that personal path of suffering right next to us.  It’s suffering that teaches us to be compassionate and allows us to walk with others in their pain with a heart of understanding.  Suffering moves us from a place of judgment to grace.  When we’re suffering, the lines of difference and distance begin to blur. 

There’s so much about the Freedom Climb we will likely never fully understand, and that’s OK.  The Lord was right when He said, “Women from around the world climb for women around the world.”  Little did we know that He meant we would also be climbing for ourselves.  And, yes, when we come off the mountain we can say we saw “God’s kingdom: the happiest place on earth”.

A GREAT example of why we do what we do!!!

By OM Philippines

A group of women climbing Everest Base Camp - 2013

A group of women climbing Everest Base Camp – 2013

The Freedom Climb strategically focuses on three areas of intervention when battling modern day slavery, oppression, exploitation, and trafficking. All of the projects funded through the Freedom Climb are effective in the area of prevention, development, and/or rescue/rehabilitation. We believe that OM is uniquely gifted and strong in the area of prevention. An example of this came in from OM Philippines just recently. When the biggest child cyber sex scandal was discovered in Cebu, it happened in the very town where they have their children’s outreach and where they helped send 5 precious young girls to school. These young girls are now actively involved in outreaches helping other children get to know the Lord and teaching them how to stay away from this kind of destructive and dangerous activity. OM Philippines has sponsored these five scholars, whom FC is supporting. They are growing up as fine young girls, excelling in their studies. However, they easily could have been one of those victimized in cybersex in their neighborhood, if the OM team in the Philippines have not intervened.
What we are doing through Freedom Climb really makes the difference. What YOU can do will change the lives of many people too. Join us in this beautiful opportunity to bless women and children around the world and make God’s love known by them.