Lead Climber Events: Chaplain ends up climbing the walls

By Chaplain Sean Callahan, US Army, Fort Brag, NC

One of my favorite pastimes is rock climbing. I not only enjoy the physical challenge of scaling the rock, but the mental challenge of analyzing the “problem” and deciphering the best sequence of hand and foot holds to ascend it. After rock climbing for years, I’ve learned that it is a very communal sport: people tend to congregate at the base of the wall, talk together, attack problems together, and climb together. Even before coming onto Active Duty, I would spend Friday afternoons at a local rock gym, making friends and sharing the gospel with the guys I frequently saw there.

Again, faced with the challenge of creating opportunities for connection and gospel sharing with my Paratroopers, the Lead Climber program was born. I found out that a local rock gym held “Military PT” hours, where, for a reduced rate they would open the gym from 0630-1200, provide equipment rentals, and offer a belay class. The gym isn’t open to the public at that time, so the entire facility is for the group that reserved it. I had a thought: what if I could take a group of Paratroopers off post for PT, smoke them on the rock wall, and then offer them breakfast and food for the soul?

In Lead Climbing, one climber sets the route and hammers in safety anchors, while another climber follows in tandem. They clip into the anchors set by the lead climber, and if one falls, they are caught and counterbalanced by the rope, the anchor, and their respective weight. The concept behind the “Lead Climber” event is that much like actual lead climbing, Christ is our spiritual lead climber. On every climb there is a crux: the move or sequence of moves that are the hardest part of the climb. For us, that crux is sin and death. We can’t overcome it. But when we trust in Christ as our Lead Climber, the only one who has ever successfully conquered that crux, we can move past the crux, finish the climb, and experience the blessing of a relationship with God. 

 As a voluntary “spiritual fitness” event, Paratroopers who sign up understand that though they will get access to the gym and free breakfast, they will also receive about a 10-minute evangelistic message about Christ. I try to address relevant issues that the Paratroopers face by connecting climbing stories to deep truths from Scripture (we have currently been using some OT narratives), which culminate in a very clear gospel presentation of how Christ is our answer.

The response to the program has been overwhelmingly positive, even from Paratroopers who are atheist, agnostic, or non-religious. I think what helps draw them together is the community-building that occurs by encouraging each other on the wall and tackling these difficult physical and mental problems. Many of them have never climbed before and get hooked. For others, they are meeting people outside of their immediate troop or company. And according to many, they are encouraged or challenged by the message. For me, the thread that ties it all together is the opportunity to build deeper relationships and invest in them with a clear gospel message. My prayer is that through these events, our Paratroopers will put their faith in Christ.

Join me in thanking God for creative outreach ministry by Chaplain Callahan and our other CBAmerica chaplains.  Pray for God’s Spirit to use the words and relationships to reach members of one of the largest “youth groups” in America! 

For more stories by and about CBAmerica chaplains, log onto www.cbamerica.org/chaplaincy.  For information on endorsement for chaplaincy ministries, contact Andy Meverden, Director of Chaplaincy at chapandy@cbamerica.org.