High Hopes

Huntington, Ind. - It started with a pledge. That grew to a goal. Now it's a climb.

It's called the "Kili Climb for Clean Water." About 40 men and women, including Huntington University student Phil Baker and his son Josiah, are climbing Mount Kilimanjaro this month to raise money to build clean water wells in African villages.

"As I watch this unfold, I have a sense of fulfillment," Phil said.

Along with being a youth ministry graduate student at HU, Phil is a professor and a part-time pastor in Reading, Pa., where he teaches youth ministry at Valley Forge Christian College. Beyond that, he is an average 47-year-old man who is climbing Africa's highest peak with his 15-year-old son. Why you ask? Well, it may have been a momentary lapse of sanity, but more likely, it's to provide hope to a needing nation.

It started as a church project at Phil's home congregation of Glad Tidings Assembly of God in Reading. They were raising money through a concert and other fundraisers to provide clean drinking water to African villages. What they lacked at the time, however, was a mission organization to build the wells. A pastor at the church discovered the "Kili Climb," and soon after, the Bakers signed on for the trip.

"We weren't diverting from our original goal. We were doubling it," Phil said of the organization that has helped their fundraising efforts as well as provided a way for them to build the wells.

The goal for the climb is to raise $25,000 to build a well and also to pay for the expenses of the trip. For every $10,000 that is raised beyond that amount, another climber is permitted to attend.

The climbers left the U.S. on Jan. 3 and will return on Jan. 14. They are tracking their experiences at www.kiliclimb.org/follow-the-climb.

This is a first-time - and most likely a last-time - climbing experience for Phil. For 18 years, he served as a youth pastor until seven years ago when he made the switch to teaching. Then in 2006 to improve his academic credentials, Phil enrolled in HU's graduate program to earn his master's degree in youth ministry leadership.

"Having the academic piece for me is very important because I changed my pulpit for a lectern," Phil said.

Phil hopes to graduate this spring from the graduate program and then continue teaching at Valley Forge.

He said that his time at Huntington has been positive and has created many connections for the future - even though they probably won't lead to another mountain climbing adventure.

"I just feel blessed that I have been a part of this (graduate program)," Phil said.