I am a product of Project Forty discipleship. My connection to Project Forty first began through a Facebook marketplace ad. No, Matt was not selling his never ending trail riddles, he was selling chalk bags as a fundraiser for wilderness ministry, and I wanted to know more. I needed more than just a chalk bag at that point in my life, I needed to be mentored and encouraged in my walk with Christ. I was at the point in my life where I was pondering whether God was calling me to a life of singleness living out my dreams of being a dirtbag out West. For those of you who don’t know, a dirtbag is a person who commits their life to climbing…. I had it all planned out and I was just waiting for God to get on board- I mean that’s how God works right? Wrong. God had a plan for me to grow deeper in community with others while revealing how my passions for climbing could actually be used for His glory. I can try and plan life out detail by detail, but God has always had a better plan for me.
I tugged the rope through the tubular belay device that was secured to my harness by a pear-shaped carabiner, locked, of course. Sitting back into the harness once again, the weight transferring back onto my hips, I had had enough. Up until this point I kept my mouth shut and allowed Michael to coach Jahiem through this challenging section of the climb. More than one voice from the ground can get really muddy. However, I took a risk at what I thought might be motivating, though brutally honest: “Jahiem, this is your moment. Frankly, you’re not climbing because your attitude stinks. If you don’t want to climb, that’s fine; just come down. But if you want this, then stick your foot in the crack, twist it toward you and go. You have the ability to do this climb, you just have to decide if you want to or not.”
It wasn’t long after my purchase Matt started to connect with me. We would head to the climbing gym to climb and chat. He had just taken his ministry full time and invited me to come on an upcoming ice climbing trip. I had gone once before but could never commit to buying all the gear to manage my own trips. I invited another friend from church to go with me and we embarked on our first big trip. It consisted of weekly trainings with the guys, then with each training ending, we had a small study. After many weeks of training, it was finally time for the ice trip. We were heading up to Pictured Rocks in Munising Michigan for a three-day trek into the back country, pursuing frozen cliffs over Lake Superior. We had to snowshoe seven miles in with all our gear to set up camp. From there we took trips out to two different climbs, Spray Falls and HMR. The trip had a lot of firsts for me. It was my first-time snowshoeing with packs on, (I missed the training for this part). First-time camping in the snow and waking up to a what seemed like a winter wonderland. It was my first nearly two-hundred-foot climb, I had only been close to one hundred feet on rock before. Each night on our trip we were asked to share our life stories with the group. This has always been a challenge for me with the hurt that comes from some of my story. Practice makes perfect though, and God gave us these stories to share and impact others, there’s no better place to share it than on an epic adventure sitting under the stars. There is a special connection that comes from going on adventures with people. You share a common struggle through long miles in the snow that breeds a vulnerability with one another. We encourage each other to step over that edge that reveals hundreds of feet of ice over open water. We have experienced life together on an extreme level. My pre-marital counselor explained to me that men need this side-by-side time, or doing life together, to feel close to one another. I can say that’s how I have experienced my closest relationships in life, going on adventures and sharing the stories that come from them. For me personally I think its even more so when those adventures have hardships, or what we like to call type two fun. The harder experiences create our best stories, our fondest memories, and our closest relationships.
After these trips Matt follows up with all the students, to take these strengthened relationships into discipleship. For the next two years Matt encouraged and challenged me in my relationship with God. We would meet biweekly and do studies together. At this point in my life, I was dating my now wife, Courtney, and working as an electrician for the Detroit local union. I was really struggling being a bold Christian and being a light at work. The blue-collar work force is a dark place to be every day. Matt offered to call me every morning on my commute to work to pray over me for my day, to encourage me to be bold through my day, and conquer all the challenges I was facing. This also became our time for accountability in all aspects of life, from our time spent with God to how the boundaries with my future wife were going. This time spent together and the intentionality from Matt really progressed my relationship with God.
I started volunteering to help co-guide some trips with Project Forty for a couple of years. Shortly after I had a mountain biking accident that put a lot of life on hold for me. I had surgery on my shoulder that put me out of work and volunteering. Right as I was recovering from six months of rehab, I was getting married, and right after our wedding we were moving to an island to support my wife’s dream of going to medical school. Knowing that God had been pulling me away from electrical, this time in life gave me an opportunity to try and figure out a new path for my career. I started taking some online classes, but nothing was really sticking out. During this time, I had a very close childhood friend pass away unexpectedly. Throwing my life into even more confusion, I didn’t know where God was calling me. My friend was the biggest fisherman I knew and we spent our childhood on the water or in the woods hunting and fishing. He had just completed his captains license to turn his passion for fishing into a career of guiding. I talked to Matt a bit about doing something similar, maybe turning my passion of fishing with his organization. I wanted help guys build their relationships with God and other men to be sharpened and open with each other. Later that year Matt invited me to come on board full time with Project Forty. It sounded like dream job. Matt was even open to the potential of bringing fishing into the ministry down the road. My wife and I prayed for quite some time, wanting to make sure this was God calling me to ministry, and that I am going into this with the heart for ministry and not guiding. After a month we both felt like this was God calling me to this and had so much peace committing to joining without holding anything back.
God plan has blessed me in more ways than I could imagine. He gave me an amazing wife when I thought I was destined to be single. He opened countless doors for me to strengthen my relationship with him. One of those doors being Project Forty which in turn became a subtle career calling that became louder and louder in life. I am so grateful for his plan for my life and wish to continue to try and walk through every door he opens.