St. Louis Public Radio News
9:23 am
Thu December 24, 2009

St. Louisan shoots for summit of Kilimanjaro in fundraising quest

St. Louis – Almost everyone has had experience with the traditional forms of fundraising: walk-a-thons, bake sales, trivia nights. But one St. Louis resident is taking his efforts to new heights. More precisely, he plans to climb Tanzania's Mount Kilimanjaro, the highest point in Africa in the hopes of shifting how people think about Christmas.

On an unseasonably warm Saturday morning in November, Chris Juhasz is preparing to hike through Creve Coeur Lake Park.

It's a twice-weekly routine for the Boeing engineer from Ohio - strap on a 30-pound pack and hit the trails in pursuit of his goal - the 19,000 foot summit of Mount Kilimanjaro, the highest peak in Africa.

It's a journey that started while Juhasz was training for the Chicago marathon.

"I was reading some books about mountain climbing at the time, and it was kind of an achievement for me to get through that first marathon, and I was kind of thinking about what's next?" he said.

Juhasz's quest turned charitable the more he read about Tanzania. It's difficult to access clean water in the country. Through his church, Juhasz had become familiar with Living Water International, a charity that raises money to dig wells in the developing world

It was a perfect fit.

"It just kind of started out as, I wanted to take a trip and get a new adventure out of it, but with all of the exposure to Living Water, it was just something that I couldn't not do," he explained. "It's kind of a social issue, because if you're spending all your time trying to get clean water sources, then you can't focus on other things, like improving your living conditions or improving your education."

Juhasz is paying for the climb himself. Any money he raises on his blog and from events will go to Living Water. He's hoping to raise about $16,000, the cost of digging a well in Tanzania. It's slow-going. He's about an eighth of the way there, but says the point isn't the money.

"For me, it was also about just raising awareness for what Living Water does throughout the world, and maybe when conditions are better in the economy and all that kind of stuff they can contribute more," he said.

And his goal is larger still.

Juhasz's pastor at The Crossing in Chesterfield helped found a movement called Advent Conspiracy, which Juhasz calls "kind of this grand initiative to push back against the over-consumerism that goes on around the holidays and just kind of doing the holidays in the way that Christianity was meant to be."

The pastor, Greg Holder isn't opposed to Christmas gifts. He just wants people to think about them differently.

"We're talking about gifts that might be simpler, but in many ways much more thoughtful," he said. "Gifts that celebrate the idea of the relationship between the two of us. And so then you get to a place where maybe you've actually saved some resources. Take some of the money and let's give it to those that Jesus calls the least of these."

Advent Conspiracy's founders chose to focus on clean water, though individuals can take up any cause they choose.

Physically, the movement is little more than a Web site and a book written by the three founding pastors. But it has a huge presence.

AC's Facebook group has 49,000 members. More than one million people have watched its YouTube video. At least 2,000 churches around the world are participating. Advent Conspiracy's caught the attention of the mainstream media. And it's got some serious star power, too. Albert Pujols - yes, that Albert Pujols - is a supporter.

Holder acknowledges concerns that fame will cause the movement - like Christmas - to drift from its original meaning. But he says the fact that the three founders have no control and do not benefit from the movement financially is the best shield.

"Whatever people do with this, they're going to now have to prayerfully consider what are they doing, why are they doing it, where does the money go?" he said.

For Chris Juhasz, that careful consideration will send him 8,500 miles away and more than three and a half miles up. He starts for the summit of Kilimanjaro just after the New Year.

Learn more about Advent Conspiracy
Chris Juhasz's blog