July 7, 2012 was going to be the longest day, starting around midnight. The plan was that I would lead out earlier with a couple of others on the team who wanted to go a little slower than the others (for me it was absolutely necessary to get a head start), even starting a little before midnight. The other four team members would wait about 45 minutes or so before taking off. Well, my first group was so slow in getting ready to start (all my fault) that we barely started ahead of the other group. As I proceeded up the mountain, it became the biggest physical/mental/spiritual battle of my life – far, far more difficult than last year’s “it’s the hardest thing I had ever done” assault on Kilimanjaro’s summit. I had to constantly stop to catch my breath. The world (Kilimanjaro) was telling me that it was unconquerable for me this year. My flesh was weak. It was everything I could do to put one foot in front of the other – I constantly wanted to stop for air and it was everything I could do to begin again after catching my breath. Then the devil began throwing his searing darts at me: “Mike, why are you doing this? You are too old. You are not going to make it. You’re not really helping anyone. You should do other things with your time. You are crazy. What is wrong with you. You would be so much more comfortable staying home. Turn around and go back.” On and on the assaults came from the world, the flesh, and the devil. But I not only had a great defense I had even a more powerful offense than all that was being thrown at me. I had the power of God’s Word within me. I kept reminding myself and reciting to myself what the Apostle Paul said to the Philippian church: “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” I also kept remembering all those donors who contributed their hard earned money for clean water for Malawi. I was not going to disappoint the Lord, I was not going to disappoint my donors, and I was not going to disappoint the thousands of Malawian villagers who need clean water – water that I take for granted. Other scriptures came to mind: “He who is in me, is greater than he who is in the world”, “but they who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint.” That was it. I declared: “Kilimanjaro, give me your best shot, but you will not win – I have Christ. Flesh, you may be weak – but I am stronger than you with Christ. Devil, you can say what you want – but I have Christ, my redeemer, my joy, my hope.” This battle to the summit (19,341′) went on for 9 hours, as that was how long it took me to make it to the top – an hour longer than last year. Towards the end it was take a step – count to 3 – take another step – count to 3. By doing this I could fend off the breathlessness, though I felt like a snail. In the end, Christ proved to me once again He is more powerful than the world, more powerful than my flesh, and more powerful than the devil. I was the last to summit, but so thankful to the Lord for His help along the way. I was reminded of the sufficiency of the grace of Christ. Paul spoke so eloquently of this to the Corinthian church: “So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited. Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weakness, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, harships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong” ( 2 Corinthians 12: 7-10).
I made it to the top but I wasn’t through yet. I still had to go back down over 3900′ to Kibo Huts, rest a bit, pack my stuff up, then go down another 3200′ to Horombo Huts where we would sleep for the night. One would think that going downhill would be simple and easy. Just put one foot in front of the other and let gravity do what it is supposed to. Well that wasn’t the case – at least not for me. I experienced the same heavy panting and breathlessness that I did going up, but at least not as frequently. However, it was a very long way down to Kibo. Our wonderful lead guide, Bruce, not only took my backpack, but at one point on the way down grabbed one of my arms and supported me going down. Then he sent for reinforcements – up came the cook and several porters – they grabbed both arms and supported me on the way down, but even with all that help the breathlessness would return and I would have to stop. Finally I made it back to Kibo Huts, where I was utterly exhausted – I didn’t want to do anything. But I knew I had to eat and I knew I had to pack up. I asked Bruce if I could be stretchered to the Horombo Huts, but all the stretchers had been used by others before me with more serious problems, so I was on my own to hike out. It ended up not being so bad after all. Lunch and the lower elevation rejuvenated me and I was able to hike out under my own power after all. It was the longest day – it started at midnight and did not end until around 7pm. An ascent of 3941′ and a descent of 7141′ all in less than 24 hours.