Hiking Mt Hallasan, Jeju Island

I looked up some videos on YouTube about climbing Mt Hallasan on Jeju Island, South Korea’s highest mountain at 1, 950 m. It seems most agree that it is not an easy climb. The ascent and descent together is about 18 km in total and the average person would take an estimated 10 hours.

The ascent map shows your progress

My first reaction was surprise at the elevation. Korea has many mountains yet their highest is only 1,950 m. This cannot be compared with Mt Kinabalu in East Malaysia which is 4,095m high and I have hiked there several times. By comparison, Hallasan should be doable.

However, as the day drew near my anxiety increased. I hardly could train as I had originally planned. Saturday church ministry meant I was available for training intermittently. Thus, I tried to squeeze in some training on days and times different from the rest of the Saturday hiking group. I did make sure I had at least one endurance training which went from 7.45am to about 12.45pm. I remembered how a lack of training ditched one of my earlier group hikes in Hong Kong on the MacLehose trail. And I was not as young as before when I did my earlier hikes up Mt Kinabalu. What made things worse were weather forecasts of cold weather! That worried me as I hated cold!

When the group gathered together at the airport most of us knew each other. Some of us had hiked together for years. Others were new. The oldest was Jenny Teo, 75, the leader’s elder sister. The youngest was Eunice Lian, about 23. Most of us were in their 60’s including me. With mixed ability and levels of training, the challenge was obvious, “How can we keep the group walking and summiting together?”

We stayed about five nights in Forest Hostel (photo: Yenny)

It was good we had a few days in Seoul to relax and carbo-load before the climb. I will blog about our days in Seoul in a later blogpost. We took a Jeju Air one hour flight to Jeju island and settled into the Forest Hostel. The weather was often on our mind, so we flashed our requests up to God about this.

The light of dawn revealed the beautiful autumn colours of Hallasan
At 1,200metres
Our hiking group leader Linda Teo with her elder sister Jenny (age 75) (photo: Jeffrey)
Jessie (who surprised us) and her strong husband Jeffrey who carried her backpack!

We decided to take the difficult Gwaneumsa trail (8.7km) up, and the easier Seongpanak trail (9.6km) down. We started our hike early at 6.45am. We wanted all in the group to be able to make it by the time fixed by the park. For safety sake, they turn back hikers who cannot make it to the three quarters point by a certain time. So the leader, Linda Teo, appointed Brian to be at the front and nobody was to overtake him. He would pause and regather the group at various points up the route. She took the rearguard. The route was straightforward and no guides were required.

Steps – wooden, cement, stones, rocks, mud. Be prepared to step up!
The vegetation gets wiry the higher we go
It was cold as we got higher and there was melting frost on some parts

As light gradually shed its rays on the forest we saw how beautifully the valleys were dressed in their lovely autumn colours, set in the midst of grey rocks and dried stream beds. Taking our time to enjoy the sights and take photos, the hike seemed quite leisurely during the early part of the hike. And I was thanking God for the fine weather: it was not as cold as weather reports predicted! The terrain and vegetation changed as we hiked up the route. We paused to drink, snack, take pictures, use the toilet and to regather the group.

The rangers offices and resting and toilet area where people are turned back at a specific time.
Hong Kwen and Brian 
Eunice the baby among the seniors (photo: Eunice)
Nellie and Tan Jee Lian (photo: Eunice)
Bibi (photo: Hong Kwen)
Plodding the upper stretches before the summit
A few bridges but this was the most impressive near the summit

The last stretch was deja vu for me. It felt like that last stretch before we reached the Laban Rata rest house at Mt Kinabalu. All of us made it on time except for a lovely couple who did not meet the time requirement. They were advised to go back down the same route. Later, when they heard stories of the rest of our hike, they were glad they were turned back. It would have been impossible for them to ascend to the summit and down the trail without great difficulty. By the time they were turned back, the rest were already hiking the last uphill climb to the summit. It would be another hour and a half before we reached the summit at about 1 plus. Someone brought a Singapore flag and we took photos and looked around the summit, peering down the crater lake (more of a pond), and the cotton clouds below us.

Another mountain nearby. Good thing it wasn’t Hallasan.
Another unknown mountain. Is this the Hallasan?
The summit area
Joy Lian (photo: Yenny)
Yenny and Y.K. (photo: Yenny)
Kenny, Jenny and Beng Chai (photo: Yenny)
At the summit of Hallasan with the clouds below eye level
Looking around at different directions at the summit. Some were on the way down.
The crater lake or should we say “pond”
Filled with excitement, satisfaction and relief at the Mt Hallasan summit with a Singapore flag. (photo: Linda)
Descending was difficult for the first kilometre
This was what 5.37pm looked like near the end

Then the mountain ranger hurried us off. We were at risk of hiking in the darkness if we did not hurry. Darkness fell early at about 6pm. We raced down even though we carried LED torches with us. If we could, we would rather not hike in the dark on uneven stony paths. By 5.30pm it was already dark. We reached the car park at about 6.45pm. Others in the group returned later. I thanked God for Beng Chai and Brian, who helped one of the hikers, who sprained her ankle at the summit area, down the trail at her pace. When all were in the bus, we were happy to return back to the hostel with a great sense of satisfaction, and exhaustion. I was so thankful to God during the climb for the fine weather and the strength to summit and descend safely.

Pastor P. J. Johney

Pastor Johney went home to glory on the 9th of  Nov 2001 and I thought it is good, since it is 9th of November today, if I could share some of the things I learned from this simple man of God, as I was close to him and he was my mentor and a father figure to me.

Firstly, humility. He was an unassuming man who never took credit for all the good and the sacrifices he had made for the Lord he served and still serves. He knew his strengths and his weaknesses. He guided gifted young people around him, and gave space for them to discover, deploy and develop their gifts. They flourished and he affirmed them and gave glory to God. He never saw himself as better, higher or superior to others because of his title. He served among us and treated us as his equals. He never talked down to us. He listened to our opinions and he never felt offended if we forgot to consult him and differed with him on a decision. He never pulled rank, but sought to persuade patiently waiting on God to have His will done.

Secondly, holiness. He walked with God in the ancient and proven paths: he read and meditated on God’s Word; he prayed; he believed and obeyed the truth. He walked the talk. No complicated deeper life talk. A life of prayer, devotion and solid stewardship of God’s resources and gifts in his life. He set himself apart to God to serve the Lord, and the church God assigned him to.

Thirdly, enduring faith. He never lost faith when the chips were down. There was always hope; he was an anchor in the stormy seas of the difficult periods of our church’s history. When others would have given up, he patiently continued in a steady faith and hope-filled outlook. The church was small and had to support so many full-time workers. It was tough to juggle and sometimes it looked discouraging, but he never despaired, and continued in prayer, and God indeed always proved Himself faithful in providing us with more than sufficient to meet our needs. When the church went through the wandering years of moving from one public rented space to another, losing members in every move and unable to muscle into the HDB church sites because of insufficient funds, he never gave up hope but kept his eyes fixed on God and the strength to endure and persevered in the toughest moments of trials, crisis, discouragement, disunity, and declining membership.

Fourthly, prayer. He prayed consistently with his wife, Sister Johney for all the members and concerns of the church, his family and Malayalee community. His faith in the efficacy of prayer is unshakeable. They would pray together in the morning and at night. They would have the staff over for intercession, sharing and lunch or tea. They will always be present for prayer meetings. I unburdened myself to them about a hopeless or intractable situation they would encourage me with a simple message, “Pray, brother, pray. Prayer changes things”, which I already know of course, but coming from such unshakeable faith, it was like a fresh word that strengthens my soul and gave me hope.

Fifthly, self-control. Temperance, moderation and the grace to keep in check the desires of the flesh and the natural tendencies. Few will believe if I say that before he encountered the Holy Spirit, he was an outspoken person with strong opinions. He has such a gentle disposition, one where all that force of personality and strength of position in the church as senior pastor was held back in check by spiritual brakes. He does not order; he suggests. He does not insist; but would persuade.

Sixth, he managed his family well, training them when young and relying more on prayer and persuasion as they grew older. He was prudent with his finances and trusted God for provision and was able to help others financially too. More than once he blessed me financially and I have known him to give to church members who were in need even though he himself received from the church, by his own self-imposition, a small stipend.

Seventh, he had a lot of short stories and witty sayings. He was like a walking Daily Bread devotional. I used quite a lot of his stuff for personal feeding and my sermon illustrations. Often he would answer my questions with a story. Other times, while I was driving, he would drop a story or two about some truths he read recently. Sometimes these timeless truths were so timely for my needs and I was blessed by the uncanny timing of his quips and stories. He loved reading devotional books. He said at his age he could not read through a whole book but preferred reading concise, distilled devotional stuff. Despite this personal preference in reading, he thoroughly believed in Bible school/ theological training. I remember his quip, “Be fully baked, not half-baked.” …a reference to long-term versus short-term training. He encouraged all the pastors to get their theological training, whether local or overseas. Our pastors and missionaries trained in Trinity Theological College, Singapore Bible College, New Zealand Bible College, WEC Missionary Training College in Tasmainia, Bethany Bible College, and Fuller Theological Seminary in USA.

Eighth, hospitality. His home was often the venue for meetings. We loved and enjoyed their hospitality. Curry chicken, banana chips, fish, meatballs, croquettes, banana chips, cauliflower, cabbage, banana chips. Later I found out that sometimes the two sons had to forgo some chicken because we the guests were clueless that we had overeaten. We were students. Our parents were mostly non-Christians. His home was often open for Bible study, discussions of church matters, leadership meetings. I learned hospitality.

Ninth, I shall go no further even though I could. But I would rather as a ninth point ask myself, “Have I been a good student?” I hope I have at least a B on my report card.

May his tribe increase!

Silence, solitude and prayer

This simple message was preached at New Horizon Church. It expresses my conviction about the great need for a more contemplative approach to prayer in the church. If we want to live a life that pleases God, we need to learn to silence the inner noise and listen to God. We need to learn spiritual discernment. This contemplative spirituality is akin to the old Pentecostal tradition of waiting on God. We Pentecostals should not be overly cautious about wading into the waters of contemplative spirituality.