CUSCO, Peru — During Eastern Mennonite Missions’ (EMM’s) first-ever adventure fundraiser, harsh weather and altitude effects didn’t stop the 10 hikers from finishing the trek — and raising $58,142 to benefit the PROMESA school.
Adventure fundraising company Steep Adventures facilitated the trek, which took the hikers 61 miles around Peru’s Ausangate mountain, the highest peak in the Cusco region at 20,945 feet. The hikers crossed four mountain passes over 16,000 feet and spent two nights sleeping at elevations over 15,000 feet.
The October 17–21 trek was a fundraiser to help PROMESA, a K–11 Peruvian Mennonite school, pay for a road and bridge leading to the site where it plans to construct a larger school building. Trekkers set individual fundraising goals and used the trek as a platform to raise money for the school.
Besides Steep Adventures founder Michelle Deller, the trekkers included eight women and one man: Melissa Stehman, Jessica Ulrich, Lena Slusher, Melita Carnahan, mother and daughter Susan Hochstedler and Rachel Mast, Cristina Woodall, and couple Steve and Beth Gibbs.
The group unanimously agreed that the trek was a big challenge — several people described it as one of the hardest things they’d ever done. Altitude sickness was a difficulty for some of the trekkers. The unpredictable weather made the trek even more challenging: “We saw snow, sleet, hail, rain, sun, and clouds, sometimes all in one day!” said Deller.
However, the stunning views, the feeling of accomplishment, and the important cause behind the trek made the struggle worth it. A highlight of the trek came on day three, when the hikers reached the Rainbow Mountains — peaks naturally covered in bands of color.
“The Rainbow Mountains served as a symbol for the purpose of our trek,” said Deller, referencing the biblical rainbow of promise found in Genesis 9. “Reaching the Rainbow Mountains was, in a way, our promise to partner with PROMESA to continue their mission of educating the children of Cusco.”
For some trekkers, the best part of the trip came at the end, when they had the opportunity to visit the school they’d worked hard to support.
“Visiting the PROMESA school was my favorite part of the trip,” said trekker Melissa Stehman. “Being able to meet the people we were raising funds and trekking for made the trip have a deeper meaning. The hard days of the trek vanished as we saw so many children and adults with smiles on their faces and waving with happiness.”
PROMESA was started in 2005 by the Peruvian Mennonite Church with the help of EMM workers Ron and Regina Shultz. The school was founded as a place where children who experienced discrimination in the public school system, like those from evangelical or indigenous Quechua backgrounds, could get a safe, high-quality, Christian education.
Now, as student enrollment approaches 300, PROMESA needs larger facilities. Engineering Ministries International has designed PROMESA’s new building, which will stand on a 34-acre property purchased in 2014.
“PROMESA has a mountain-sized goal to accomplish, and we were privileged to make a small contribution to their dream of a new school where they have room to grow and expand the foundation of Christian education in Cusco,” said Deller.
Kaylene Derksen, Development director at EMM, was thrilled with the outcome of EMM’s first adventure fundraiser.
“This idea to fundraise through an adventure was totally new to me,” said Derksen. “Michelle Deller did an amazing job of making it happen. What was only a dream became a reality under her skilled logistical leadership and adventurous spirit.”
Anyone who is interested in adventuring for a cause should stay tuned in 2018! As Derksen said, “EMM will be working with Steep Adventures again to offer another exciting opportunity in the next year.”