Ryan Shankles and his American hiking partner Jarrot Stanford stood at 18,000 feet. They had already made tremendous progress but were still 1,300 feet shy of the pinnacle of Mount Kilimanjaro, the world’s tallest free-standing mountain.
“We were coming to a mental wall,” Shankles said.
One of three San Diego hikers who got lost last May during a training hike to San Bernardino’s Mount San Gorgonio, Shankles was no stranger to trail-side drama.
At 11,503 feet, San Gorgonio—the highest peak in Southern California—is much less treacherous than Africa’s Kilimanjaro.
But when a snowed-over path blocked their ascent on San Gorgonio, Shankles and friends, David Yoder and Miguel de la Torre, left the trail, only to lose their way and become stranded for four days. While huddled together inside a makeshift cave they created from tree branches, members of their Grace Chapel of the Coast in Oceanside huddled together in prayer at the church, while rescue teams huddled over maps in an effort to track the missing hikers, underdressed in shorts and T-shirts.
The prayers—coupled with the ingenuity of using a small scrap of a red mylar balloon to spark a fire from a fleeting sun—resulted in their high-profile rescue that made national news. The ordeal served to strengthen their friendship, their faith and provide valuable publicity for Shankles’ ministry, Aiding Children’s Villages, the beneficiary of their fundraising climbs.
The May 2013 expedition underscored the ministry’s mission statement: “Conquering the physical and spiritual mountains for those without fathers and mothers.”
“When you go through a life-and-death ordeal, nothing can break that bond,” Shankles said. “We experienced true miracles and, if it means to some that I am in the wrong place, then please, let me be in the wrong place some more.”
The incident on Mount San Gorgonio failed to sway Shankles from his plan to take on Kilimanjaro, though logistical challenges prevented Yoder and de la Torre from doing the same.
“They continue to be a part of what the heart of the organization is striving for,” he said of his buddies.
For the January Kilimanjaro climb, Shankles’ ministry partnered with Treasures of Africa, which is building an orphanage for 120 children, many of them with AIDS, in Moshi, Tanzania.
Helping Shankles and Stanford on the ambitious climb were three Tanzanians, including their guide, Edward “Teacher” Lazaro, who Shankles said inspired them to push through their mental struggles at 18,000 feet. Lazaro, a believer, was making his 602nd climb on Kilimanjaro.
“Teacher started to worship God in Swahili,” Shankles said. “The song seemed familiar, but we could not make out all the words. All I remember is it was 4 a.m., it was dark, and I was tired.”
As Teacher—defying the breath-taking and breath-stealing altitude—got to the chorus of “My God Jehovah,” he asked God to bless each of the climbers.
“He started to name all kinds of people and I heard a group leader below start singing as well and it got louder and my spirit just inflated well beyond the starting point,” the Oceanside resident said. “Both Jarrot and I were in tears of the beauty from God’s servants.”
Shankles said the impromptu worship session motivated them on to Stella Point, about an hour from the summit.
“From that time on, I was walking on clouds,” he said. “We made it to the top.”
Having about 45 minutes on the peak to themselves, Shankles and Stanford took communion at 19,341 feet and then left their calling card, a three-foot metal stake with the inscription “Jesus is Lord.”
“We prayed over the land and asked God for revival for Moshi and for the Treasures of Africa orphanage to be blessed,” Shankles said.
Although Shankles conquered the climb, his date with the mountain is not over as he plans to host subsequent climbs to Mount Kilimanjaro every December for the next seven years. Through a sponsorship arrangement with Zara Tours, four teenage orphans from Kilimanjaro Orphanage Centre will also do the climb each year. To help train, he will be joining a group in Israel that plans to hike from Mount Hebron to Jerusalem in September.
“Walking the same steps as Jesus is all of our dreams and we will actually get to do it,” he said.
After the climb, Shankles and Stanford spent four days at the orphanage handing out donated backpacks, soccer balls, nets and other sporting equipment. They attended a ceremonial picnic celebration that drew 100 adults and kids, and later participated in an evangelism conference.
“The common thread through all of this was we know we are being directed by God,” he said. “When God directs your path, you are in His favor and this is a great place to be.”
Learn more at www.aidingchildrensvillages.org.
To read more about the harrowing experience see Lost: Hikers experience power of prayer after veering off trailhead