Calum Burke is Youth for Christ’s Strategic Funding Manager and was one of 11 people accompanying National Director, Neil O’Boyle as he climbed Kilimanjaro. Calum met his colleague, Barry Mason, to compare notes from his challenge and the Seven Deadlies – 7 British climbs in 5 days, which Barry and another team tackled. Both teams’ efforts were to raise funds for the ministry of Youth for Christ.
Barry: What on earth made you want to climb Mount Kilimanjaro, the largest freestanding mountain in the world, standing at 19,340ft?
Calum: Well, anyone who knows me personally would attest to the fact, I’m not at all an outdoors type person. Until May of this year, I had never climbed a mountain of any size. However, I knew that I’d be leaving the staff team of Youth for Christ in the Summer (Calum has been accepted for Anglican ordination) and wanted to give one huge push towards raising as much money as possible towards the ministry before I left.
Barry: Okay, I get that, but surely you could have just held a tea party or maybe a sponsored silence?
Calum: True but the idea of climbing such a mountain, well technically a volcano, grabbed my attention. I have always been intrigued by other cultures and their customs – so the chance to take on such a challenge in another continent was very exciting. I knew that this was exactly the sort of challenge which would grab others’ attention and inspire a greater wave of giving to Youth for Christ.
What about you, though? What was your challenge all about?
Barry: It wasn’t enough to see others climbing to make a change, whilst I didn’t play my part. So, I decided to try something that matched the efforts of those heading to Tanzania. I considered doing the 3 Peaks challenge but it pales in comparison. After that 24hr challenge, I thought about carrying on. The next two prominent mountains in Britain are Carn Eige (The Highlands) and Sgurr Alasdair (Isle of Skye) and these got added. We had to return to the Midlands, so the next tallest mountains in England – Skiddaw and Helvellyn, would break up the long journey South. There we had it – the Seven Deadlies – a total of over 22,000ft of ascent.
Calum: Wow, that’s impressive. How did you convince others to join you?
Barry: It didn’t take a lot of effort. People gather when they see opportunity. The bulk of the team committed to the 3 Peaks aspect, experiencing Snowdon, Scafell Pike and Ben Nevis within the first 24 hours. Phil Knox was all in from the start and I was honoured when my good friend, P Morris, offered to support our efforts, having completed his mountain leader’s training.
It was great to see everyone look at how they could get themselves ready for the climbs. I guess there was a lot of training for your challenge. How did that look?
Calum: It started with some simple lifestyle changes – introducing walking every day, focussing on my diet and joining an office fitness class each week. Once these were in place though, I increased the intensity with going out running most evenings and regularly walking the 6-mile commute to or from the office. It’s amazing how quickly these small changes have an impact on your body and mind. Soon the 2 ½ hour commute became something that didn’t feel challenging at all.
Barry: You make it sound simple but I assume that still took some discipline. You mentioned your mind as well. How did you occupy your mind during the longer walks?
Calum: I took up singing songs which allowed me to worship whilst exercising and remembering what was behind me taking this on. This often led to me praying for the work of Youth for Christ and the young people we work with. This carried over into the climb itself, with me starting each day with songs of worship and helping the group to keep their focus on why we were there. As we reached the climax of the climb itself, this discipline also reached a climax as I introduced a chant, which some of the group joined in with.
Would you like to know how it went?
Barry: Of course.
Calum: It came from a book I’d been reading, ‘Celebration of Discipline’ by Richard Foster. There’s a passage on how fasting involves overcoming the demands of our body. So, I simply chanted “My body. My body. My body!” over and over to declare that I was in charge of my mind and body and I would prevail in the strength that God was giving me.
Barry: How did your preparation and event change your heart for young people?
Calum: On the third afternoon of the climb we reached Lava Tower. This is at an altitude of 15,000ft and I was feeling particularly ill throughout the day as altitude sickness started to take hold. As we sat for lunch under the tower, we decided to share stories of young people we knew personally or through the ministry of Youth for Christ. With a few anti-sickness pills and these stories, I felt inspired and encouraged to continue the climb for every young person who I’d met and who still lives without hope – in particular my young friend Vinny*, who is currently serving a life sentence.
I have been involved in youth work for over 10 years and in that time have seen hundreds of young people hear the good news of Jesus Christ for the first time. This is my passion in life. My heart for young people has not changed through this experience, but it was that heart – a love for young people given to me by God, that enabled me to carry on, when everything else suggested it was time to quit.
Barry: When it came to starting the climb itself, were you ready?
Calum: I was. However, nothing could have prepared me for the challenge of the summit night. It involved leaving the Barafu Camp at 11:30pm, walking overnight across ice and snow with temperatures dropping to -18C. We did not arrive at the summit itself until 10:15am. This can only be described as the most horrendous experience of my life. I felt pushed beyond any preparational training I could have done, taking us each beyond breaking point physically as well as our capacity to breathe and think clearly due to the extreme altitude conditions.
Barry: Was that the lowest point of the challenge?
Calum: Yes, by far. I felt like giving up many times during this stage. I just had nothing left to give.
Barry: So why didn’t you?
Calum: The chanting helped. I guess there was just something deeper within me. After all the effort of the previous four days, I really didn’t want to leave the challenge incomplete. Somewhere inside there was a small voice reminding me that each step I took really did mean more young people’s lives being changed by Jesus. Young people like Vinny!
Barry: You mention it being a driving factor on the mountain, so what difference will this really make?
Calum: We started this whole challenge with the intention of raising £60,000 towards the ministry of Youth for Christ. Right now, the total has passed £55,000. I’m confident we will reach our target with remaining pledges.
In times where it is proving increasingly difficult to raise money for evangelistic ministry, these funds provide a springboard for Youth for Christ to continue advancing the good news of Jesus. I, myself, had an experience which I will never forget. I will remain an advocate and passionate supporter of Youth for Christ and their commitment to young people as I take up my own calling into ordained ministry in the Church of England.
How have you seen others responding to what you did?
Barry: I’ve been totally overwhelmed by those supporting us financially and with messages of encouragement. The texts, tweets and social media posts, kept the team going. When you take a break and are struggling to get going again – hearing a little beep on someone’s phone – a message, a donation, a reminder of why we are doing it, gave everyone the boost needed. I really can’t express enough just how much we felt others were with us.
Thanks Calum. It’s been great to hear just a snippet of your experience on this adventure. Can you share your abiding memory from The Climb?
Calum: The highlight for me was 12 individuals from different backgrounds creating a close-knit community, sharing with each other as needs arose. There was no complaining or criticising just building one another up for the challenges faced each day. Such a group – committed to a cause, with a single-minded focus on bringing about change – really could make a difference. That’s why we do, what we do.