East Asia - Aaron Juergens* had the mountains tattooed on his arm long before he moved to the Himalayas.
On his heart, too. And, it seems, on his genetic makeup.
“When I was 1 years old, my dad moved my family out to Colorado to be near the mountains where there was more stuff to do,” he said.
For the next 25 years, Juergens was cold, wet, dirty and happy.
“We did pretty much everything outdoors you could do when I was a kid, and after high school I started climbing ‘fourteeners,’” he said of Colorado’s 54 peaks that soar over 14,000 feet. “I would climb three mountains a week. It got to the point where I was never home.”
He froze his fingers enough times that he never again forgot gloves. He earned a college degree in mapmaking. He learned weather patterns. Orientation. Knot tying.
It was ordained entertainment, Juergens said. “God had that planned out.”
Some mountains have people who need to hear and other mountains have people who need to go.
And he needed to go.
“I understand exactly why I have been brought up and raised the way I am,” Juergens said. “God knew who I was when I was a little kid and He knew who I’d be today.”
Today, Juergens is the Colorado kid who hikes the “roof of the world,” freezing and throwing up, adapting inadequate maps and running from lightning storms.
And finding people who have never heard the Gospel.
“Not all people live in the cities where you can take a taxi to their front door,” Juergens said. “People live in places that we would never dream of living in but the fact is they live there. That’s where they’re put and they’re not coming to us. We have to go to them.”
So he and his teammates do just that. It’s a tough job even for Juergens, he said. People get sick from the altitude or food. Travel is grueling. The spiritual warfare is intense.
“It takes five days from leaving the city before you ever make it to a village,” said John Costa,* Juergens’ team leader. “It’s a multiple-hour bus ride into the mountains and then you have to spend a couple of days in a base town acclimatizing before you can start to hike or mountain bike out.”
Then once you start, the ridges are between 10,000 and 15,000 feet. It’s over a ridge and down into a valley, another ridge and then a valley. It’s vicious dogs and a giant yak squaring off with you in the trail. It’s camping in thin, cold air.
It’s getting to an unreached people who are just that — hard to reach, Costa said.
“There are a lot of people out there that if we want to actually walk through their front door and share the Gospel with them, we’re going to have to use our feet or a bike,” he said. “And the obstacles aren’t just geographic — they’re physical, spiritual and political.”
Each unreached people group has its own challenges — language, hostile terrain, security or perhaps trouble with access, Juergens said.
In his team’s case, it’s all of the above.
“If you don’t like the cold or you don’t like inclement weather or you’re afraid to get tired and sweat or if you’re afraid your makeup’s going to run or you don’t like how your hair looks when you’re tired, this isn’t the job for you,” Juergens said. “Climbing mountains isn’t easy. They don’t climb themselves.”
And they can kill you.
Severe altitude sickness hit one team member on a ridge recently and it took 14 hours to evacuate him. Costa and Juergens took him down the mountain on villagers’ horses, then by a borrowed car and then hired a car to drive to the hospital.
“We had to pull off a rescue,” Costa said. “We take great care not to let that happen. We push to the edge, but it’s a calculated risk. We are compelled to reach these people, so we want to put significant effort into it.”
But sometimes you still can’t predict what the mountains will throw you.
And sometimes there are other issues that make access difficult: permits might be denied, civil unrest, travel restrictions and in some areas, foreigners are not allowed.
“We are seeing more questioning than ever before but Gospel is advancing more than ever,” he said, noting that the spiritual warfare is producing spiritual fruit. “The two go hand in hand.”
But even so, it’s not an overwhelming movement.
Costa has been working among the people of the Himalayas for more than 10 years and has seen three people come to faith in Jesus Christ.
“We would love to see it go faster. We would love to say there have already been churches planted but we are only just starting to see tangible fruit,” he said.
Only now, after more than a decade of hiking and biking long distances, being sick, drinking tea, learning language and sharing over and over and over.
“This for us is a long haul effort to reach these people,” Costa said.
It’s something Grace Westrick,* a summer worker, said was difficult to grasp.
“You spend so much time and effort getting out to the people, and then once you get there, their hearts are so closed it’s crazy,” she said.
“But there’s something about being the ones to pray from a mountaintop in Jesus’ name over a valley that has long been the enemy’s territory,” she added. “If the one who has been defeated can be here, why not the Victor?”
And the Victor is showing up, Costa said.
“We’ve seen a spike in people coming to know Christ and I think that’s indicative of what God is doing,” he said.
One new believer wants to be baptized soon — the first to want baptism in front of his family and community.
“We are facing more obstacles than we ever have before, but this is no surprise. This believer represents the very first person who wants to be baptized in this place. Satan’s not just going to give that up easily,” Costa said.
But that isn’t a reason to quit, Juergens said — it’s a reason to keep going, even when you’re sick and freezing on top of a mountain.
“I’m up there, wearing six jackets and three gloves and five socks and I really just kind of want to sit in a bed,” he said. “But then you think about those people (who haven’t heard yet). If we turn around, who is going to come next? I mean, how many people have turned around? The world is getting smaller. The day is coming when everybody is going to have no excuse whatsoever for not hearing. There’s no excuse for turning back — we keep going.”