Two pairs of hiking boots are scuffed and stained from a six-day climb on rocky trails and snow-covered paths leading to the Uhuru Peak of Mount Kilimanjaro. The women who wore those boots have returned with spiritual strength and a passion for spreading awareness about human trafficking.
Kimberly Bradley and Holly Harris, members of Tri-Cities Baptist Church, committed to the Freedom Climb in November with only a few months to prepare and raise funds for Operation Mobilization, an international Christian organization that helps women affected by poverty and slavery.
They went to Tanzania with the mindset that they would climb the highest mountain in Africa with 46 women from around the world as a symbolic representation of someone climbing from slavery to freedom, but it became much more.
“I was prepared as much as I could be for the short amount of time we had to prepare,” said Bradley, a homemaker who helps run Crosspoint International ministry. “Up through day four it was manageable, but then the summit day was just brutal.
“If God asked me to climb it again, I would.”
Both Harris and Bradley relied on their faith and prayers from supporters around the world to make it through the 18-hour hike to Uhuru Peak, the highest summit of Mount Kilimanjaro. Bradley and several of the 12 hikers in their group suffered from altitude sickness, which worsened as the weather got colder and they climbed higher.
“It was so slow,” said Harris, a homemaker and fitness instructor at The Wellness Center. “You can only climb as quick as your slowest climber. We had several people who weren’t feeling well. The altitude was effecting them so we were going very slow and were getting passed by some of the teams.”
At that point, the climb became more of mental challenge for Harris while Bradley struggled to find the physical strength to make each step. Before they started on the summit portion of the hike, Harris and Bradley used a satellite phone to call home to ask for prayers for their fingers and toes that were frigid from the high elevation.
Bradley said her fingers got so cold that she could no longer wrap them around the poles that helped the hikers keep their balance and make the upward climb. Around that time, about halfway around the world, people were gathering at Tri-Cities Baptist for a prayer vigil for the Freedom Climbers.
“Not long after that my fingers started getting warm like they are now and I could wrap them around the poles,” Bradley said. “I just started crying because that’s the first time I’ve ever felt prayer manifest itself in my life.
“I can’t even describe it. It was amazing.”
While Bradley and Harris fought to get up the mountain, their minds remained focused on the children and adults living in slavery.
“Every step I took, I said, ‘This is for a man, a boy, a girl, a woman.’ Every step I took was for freedom for somebody,” Bradley said.
Out of the entire group, 43 women made it to the summit. Harris said many of the guides and porters who traveled with the Freedom Climbers were shocked by their 91 percent success rate, which is normally 70 percent for any group that takes on Mount Kilimanjaro.
On the way home, a driver asked the ladies how they managed to get so many people up to Uhuru Peak.
“Someone on the bus shared with him about our prayer partners and that they had people all over the world praying about this climb,” Harris said. “She told him we were prayed up that mountain and we ate the word of God and the Holy Spirit pushed us up that mountain.”
Bradley and Harris returned to the states on Jan. 21 and it took them several days to decompress from the trip. Since November, the two had been working nonstop to raise about $32,000 for Operation Mobilization through donations and the Freedom 5K race.
“I still think God is still molding us into what he wants us to take from the mountain and what he wants us to do for this issue of human trafficking,” Bradley said. “Right now, we’re still looking at where to go from here.”
The hometown hikers are scheduling speaking engagements to talk to others about their experience, as well as the national and local statistics associated with human trafficking.
“I feel a real calling to become more aware, but to make other people aware,” Harris said. “I feel like that’s why the Lord exposed all of this to me because I recognize through all the speaking engagements and people that we’ve talked to, how truly unaware most people are in thinking that it’s not a problem here.”
They’ve also talked about hosting seminars and possibly a local Freedom Climb.
“My goal is to get people to listen and learn preventative measures to keep children and students from getting accidentally involved,” Harris said.
Those interested in contacting the hikers to speak to a group can email Harris at firstname.lastname@example.org or Bradley at email@example.com.