On a hot July Sabbath in 2005 at the Oregon Camp Meeting, Ron and Virginia Oliver listened as Shawn Boonstra, speaker and director of It Is Written, talked about creation and how, when God created humans, He gave them a spark of adventure. “The desire to go on adventures was given to us by God,” Ron remembers hearing Boonstra say.
At the end of his sermon, Boonstra connected this spirit of adventure to the Bible's commission to preach the gospel to the whole world. He called forward those people willing to commit to doing something great for God. “Virginia and I went forward, but I remember wondering what more we could do. At that time, we had already gone to Africa or India five times to preach two-week evangelistic programs.” But somehow the phrase, “God-given spirit of adventure,” got Ron thinking about the adventure of climbing Mt. Everest, Earth’s highest mountain.
Ron has been on many mountain-climbing adventures in the Northwest, South America, Africa, Europe and Asia. “When I am in the mountains, I find myself thinking about God,” Ron says. “And that’s fair, because sometimes in church I find myself thinking of mountains!”
But what did mountain climbing have to do with evangelism? “Climbing is recreation, not ministry,” Ron explains, “and God calls us to do a job, to spread the gospel, and calls us to serve him in every way we can. And that is a far higher calling than climbing. But God made the creation, and He gives us certain abilities and certain interests. I see Him interested in us using those abilities and interests He gives us, not only in evangelism but in all aspects of life.”
An inherent sense of evangelism is a lifelong legacy for both Ron and Virginia. Ron, the son of missionary parents, is a certified public accountant in Vancouver, Washington, where he and Virginia are active members of the Vancouver Church. Four of Virginia’s siblings have been overseas missionaries, and she herself served in Irian Jaya (Indonesian New Guinea). Virginia is a musician and has a bachelor of science in nursing.
Though Ron and Virginia stay quite busy with a home rental business and a blended family of seven adult children and their families, they have been on at least 25 different mission trips, serving in many capacities around the world. Their first short-term mission trip was in July 1992 when they went to Magadan, Russia, as a part of Operation Bear Hug. When two containers of food for the project did not arrive in time, Virginia spent most of her time shopping and scavenging food for the group, while Ron and the other volunteers poured the foundations for a new church.
Adding to the adventure of their mission trips, Ron and Virginia, along with the other members of their party, would often take a side trip to see something interesting or climb another mountain. On one trip, their adventurous spirit made them a day late arriving in Lusaka, Zambia, for the evangelistic meetings because they had both climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro. Upon arriving at the meeting site, they were surprised and unprepared when Ron was told that he was to preach in a church on Sabbath, and Virginia was invited to give some of the health lectures. Terrified of public speaking and unprepared, Virginia declined.
A year later, in October 2000, they went to Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe, for another evangelistic series. This time Virginia was prepared in her heart and willing to give health talks, and Ron preached, using chapters of a Mark Finley book. Although Ron had the words and pictures, they were not together, so Ron spent frantic days preparing the PowerPoint graphics to illustrate that night’s sermons. It was so stressful that he was ready to vow that he would never preach again.
Near the end of the series, Ron made a call for people to accept Jesus and be baptized, and the people came forward. That last Sabbath, as the people were baptized, Ron could hardly see because his eyes were so full of tears. “There are so many places to go, and the need is so great. It is so awesome when you preach the gospel, see people accept it and are baptized,” Ron says. “Each time I preach, I dread doing it, but I am hooked on the baptisms.”
Virginia feels the same way. “For me, I feel that Jesus is coming soon, and I want to do all I can to spread the gospel,” she says. “Time is short, and I want to tell as many people about Jesus as possible.”
In addition to their mission adventures, Ron has been on 64 mountain-climbing trips, including his latest: a climbing expedition on Mt. Everest in May 2006. While Ron doesn’t think that God called him to climb Mt. Everest, he did wonder how he might use the experience to witness for God. With that in mind and with his video camera, he not only recorded pictures of the scenery and climbing adventures but some of his personal testimony as well.
Climbing attracted Ron’s interest many years ago when he saw a Mt. Everest exhibit at Mt. Rainier National Park. Through the years, he developed a goal to climb an 8,000-meter mountain. Ron reached that goal when he climbed Cho Oyu, an 8,201-meter (26,906-foot) Tibetan peak, in September 2004. From the summit of Cho Oyu, he could see the summit of Mt. Everest, and the sight gave him the idea that maybe he could also climb to the top of the world.
Ron discovered that climbing Mt. Everest is not a great technical challenge. The real problem is that it wears you down because it takes such a long time and is so grueling. “Oxygen, energy and time are three key things you need to be successful on Everest,” Ron explains. “You have to have enough of each to get back down, or you will get into trouble.”
Climbing with his Sherpa companion, Pasang, Ron attacked the mountain in stages. They climbed from Base Camp to the top of the Khumbu Ice Fall and then returned to Base Camp to rest for a day or so. Then they climbed up to Camp One, stayed the night and climbed down again to rest again before climbing higher.
Although food, water and rest were in bountiful supply, Ron caught a bad cold, which weakened his physical condition. He was able to climb up to 7,000 meters (24,606 feet) on the Lhotse Face, from which he could see Camp Three and the summit of Mt. Everest before finally turning back.
Three of Ron’s team members did reach the summit, and although he did not, he had a great trip. “I’ve never thought that the experience was worthless if I did not get to the summit,” Ron explains. “Getting to the summit does not mean very much by itself. It’s mostly the experience and the desire within a person to face a challenge. For a climber, having the opportunity to climb Mt. Everest is the chance of a lifetime. It was exciting to just be there, walk up through the Ice Fall and be on the slopes.”
In the end, though, the world’s highest point isn’t enough for Ron because his greater goal is for his Mt. Everest experience to be used as a witness to the One who created this mammoth peak. He hopes that someone who is interested in mountains and reads this story will sense Christ’s invitation for service as well as adventure.
“Maybe someone will come up to me some day and say, ‘I saw your pictures from Mt. Everest and heard your testimony, and I want to follow Jesus’ leading,’” Ron says. “If that ever happens, it will mean far more to me than reaching the summit.”