Stations and Witnesses
BY VICTORINA HOLDING
Bro. Jake Taube’s analogy of help stations for marathon runners to those “stations” God has provided along life’s race steered my thoughts back to an adventure in which my husband and I took part on August 19, 2000. Donned in layers of light clothing and a pair of hiking boots, I excitedly joined our church group as we started our trip to Mt. Fuji in the Shizuoka prefecture, about an hour-and-a-half drive from Yokota Air Base, Japan. As our car pulled out of sight, I could still hear my teenage son pleading with tears: “Mom, please don’t do this. You won’t make it! It is not a hike at the park. It’s so hard! Please, Dad, don’t let Mom go!” He was speaking from experience. He, along with a few of our young people from church, climbed the massive height the previous summer. Determined and defiant, my sense of conquest for the sake of teaching from first-hand account left my poor boy defeated.
Our group’s trek started from one of the four ascending trails near the 5th station, approximately 7,545 feet above sea level. My personal cargo included a CamelBak, a small canister of portable oxygen, a few Tylenol, and an assortment of protein snacks. I was ready to conquer Fuji-san – a monstrous wonder that the Japanese people have held sacred through generations! My passion for learning would soon be tested, but not on a piece of paper.
Similar to the beginning of my Christian walk, the climb to the 6th station was a journey filled with abundant conversations and fellowship. Topics varied yet fluid, meaningful, and full of praise to God whose foundation is in the holy mountains (Ps.87:1). I was with brothers and sisters in Christ, heading toward the same summit – the 10th station. In the meantime, I had talked my husband into buying me a walking stick that would boast etched markings from each station in this supreme climb. Proud of my accomplishment thus far, I continued to trudge higher.
Then the test changed categories.
As the climb progressed, the familiar faces grew smaller and thinner. The general pace seemed to have increased while the atmosphere thickened. Our church group started to scatter according to individual strides. I was ready for my umpteenth break, and my husband and I hadn’t even seen the 7th station. I wanted to cry, but my pride held back the tears when I realized that a number of elderly Japanese men and women were passing us by on their way up. Added to the wound was the sight of very young children climbing ever so gracefully – like a walk in the park that my son mentioned earlier. Yet there I was, struggling to keep up. I wanted to quit!
Resolved not to make a quitter out of me and lose my credibility among my students for violating my own counsel, my husband found another rare flat-surfaced rock where I could sit and rest. He started to point out an obvious descending trail that any climber could follow if he chooses to turn around and go back. To my great surprise, it was not teeming with more quitters as I had expected. Then looking up, he drew my attention to our goal – the tip of Mount Fuji’s height, which, from the 7th station, was still quite a blur. With a pep talk that only a military leader could effect on my now-exhausted frame, my husband managed to walk me (most of the time carry me) all the way to the summit. Our friends had been waiting up there for the past four hours. By now they had already had their fill of soba soup or ramen of their choice, plus a good amount of rest for the pending descent.
Atop this mountain peak at 12,395 feet, a parade of clouds patted my head and caressed my face. With hardly any effort at all, I offered my hands to catch the wispy clouds while I mused on the truth of Hebrews 12:1 – “Wherefore, seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses…” All the climbers that day were witnesses: some to completion, others to resignation; but all of us to the undeniable fact that there is indeed a Creator, a Grand Designer and Sustainer of the entire universe. Here, the grueling eight-hour climb became the answer, not the test. The stations along the trail offered relief to those who would stop and avail themselves of help. To me, it was a reminder of my frailty and a test in humility. The mountain, the climb, the stations, the witnesses: all punctuated the laying aside of every weight and sin and the running with patience the race that is set before us. “To what end?” I mused. Ah, to see the face of my Savior, “Looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith”! (Heb.12:2a). In His presence, even Fuji-san bows down.
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