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.

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

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.”

it didn’t have to be this way

by Climber Cathey Anderson

It’s easy to get unfocused as we plan and prepare for the Freedom Climb.  There are a crazy amount of logistics and challenges to pull something like this off.  All of the ‘what ifs’ bombard my head and occasionally make me want to give up on the whole idea.  A whole lot of pacing goes on.  And then I remember the vision; the crazy, absurd, really God? vision.  I think about the women whom we’ve never met but are connected because they live in the same time of history as we do, and they’re women just like us.  But, they haven’t been afforded the same luxuries and benefits and choices that we have.  They live each day wondering if there will be a day to call tomorrow.  I remember the young girls who have no concept of what a shopping mall is.  In fact, there are those who have to borrow a blouse to wear while they wash the one they’re wearing.  Shoes?  A luxury, along with a hairbrush and a blanket.  I could go on and on, but instead I want to tell you the story of a woman we met while visiting a poor neighborhood in India.

She was older than most of the people who lived there.  As we walked along the dirt path, she scrambled out to us on all fours.  Her tiny, make shift hut was no larger than our breakfast nook.  Through the interpreter we realized that the fungus on her feet was so severe that she couldn’t walk.  She sat down at our feet and the tears began falling down her cheeks.  She didn’t beg or plead; she just wept as she looked upward toward the heavens.  It was the cry of a woman whose soul was in desperate search of something to give her hope.  I’ve heard that cry before during my darkest, deepest times of despair.  I remember those times because when you’ve been there you never forget them.   And you pray you will never have to go there again.  Her husband had died two weeks earlier and she hadn’t eaten in three days.  She was a woman who had no hope left.  It dawned on me that if my husband died, I would have life insurance, social security, and a retirement fund.  She was in this situation because she had been told from the first day of her life that she was an ‘outcast’.  Dogs were better than her, and she wasn’t worthy of an education or opportunity.  She was the end result of a system that robbed people of their dignity and worth.  As westerners, walking away from that situation was unfathomable.  But after asking the neighbor to give her some rice with the money we left, we walked away.

How do we make a change in a system that’s centuries old?   What if she had had the opportunity for an education?  What if someone had told her she was made in the image of God and she was valuable?  What if she had been given a skill to provide for herself and her family?  What if?  What would her life look like then?   I pray for the next generation that they may know what she never had the chance or choice to know.

Welcome to The Freedom Climb Blog!

What is THE FREEDOM CLIMB? The Freedom Climb is an event where women from across the globe will begin their ascent of Mt. Kilimanjaro beginning January 11, 2012 (National Human Trafficking Awareness Day) for the purpose of bringing awareness to the atrocities against women and children, and generating much needed resources to those who are oppressed, enslaved, exploited and trafficked. The Freedom Climb goal for 2012 is to provide opportunities for freedom and hope to 10,000 women and children through projects that break the cycles of poverty, shame, slavery, and despair. The Freedom Climb will raise finances for a variety of projects that help women: micro-loans that empower women to start a business and care for their children, skills training, education for their children, providing rescue and safe haven from exploitation, to list a few.

Why Mt. Kilimanjaro? Climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro is symbolic of the huge climb to freedom these women and children have to face every day of their lives. Believers are compelled by the love God has for his children to “speak up for those who have no voice” and “see that they get justice” and the human decencies they deserve (Proverbs 31:8-9 NLT).

The uniqueness of a group of women from a variety of cultures climbing Kilimanjaro has already attracted interest from media to tell this story, and in doing so, will bring a spotlight to the cry for freedom for women and children. This blog will document the climb each day, escalating the voice of advocacy on behalf of women’s freedom issues.