Ten of us, all beginners, were climbing White Gap Mountain in North Carolina. We were using ropes in a system called belaying. I served as belayer, which means that I controlled the safety rope for the person climbing the mountain. My job was to take up slack as each person climbed up to me and to hold the rope if he or she should fall on the way. It was very hard work.

One climber was somewhat overweight and fell several times. Each time, I was able to break her fall, but it caused great pain; the belaying rope cut into my waist with the tension of her weight on it. The whole procedure became for me a parable of my ministry.

I wasn't climbing the mountain, she was. I was there to support her, and I was thoroughly bound to her, but it was she who had to do the climbing. Each time she reached a difficult spot, I knew she would fall, and I also knew her fall would cause me pain. I was tempted at times to grab the rope and pull her over the difficult parts. It would have been a lot easier on ...

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