Climbing mountains

Maria Niechwiadowicz


Hiking is one of my favorite ways to interact with nature. I love exploring paths in the midst of wooded forests or navigating over rocky slopes, but mostly the aspect of being in nature for an adventurous walk. In Chinese, the idea of hiking doesn’t translate as well. I have been asked by my students, “Would you like to go climb the mountain?” In my mind, climbing a mountain means you are using both your hands and feet to ascend up a rock, normally harnessed by ropes. But what my students really mean is, do you want to walk (or hike) up the mountain…which really means climbing hundreds of steps to a mountaintop containing a temple. :)

With a week of holiday break, I have had the opportunity to visit various mountains with my students as guides. These excursions have been incredibly eye-opening for me as well as spiritual.

I was able to visit three different areas in Southern Ningxia:

Located in the southern tip of Ningxia (about 2 hours south of Guyuan) the Luipan Mountains are lush and green amidst the dry Loess Plateau. It is often referred to as “Green Island” due to its native vegetation and biodiversity. Entering this haven, I was surprised at the peaceful beauty. A bus drove us around winding paths to Luipan Park. As we made our way down a path, shaded by trees, we came upon a river. We walked along the raging Erlong river for over an hour- crossing bridges, carefully tip toeing along the slippery rock path, and taking pictures around every river bend. The cool of the water rising up with the warmth of the sun shining down made for a perfect autumn day. Yellow leaves lightly fell into the rushing water and dotted our path with colorful decoration. This experience matched my definition of a hike!




Hiking troupe!



The Mount Sumero Grottoes, located within the Xumi Shan, are a vastly different experience. Just north of Ningxia, this area exhibits the dry landscape of the plateau. Brown and rust-colored mountains, layered with erosion, rise up into the blue sky. Only small patches of coniferous foliage are visible. The ravine that ran through the mountains is now a sandy path for visitors to travel upon. But the prime features are the 162 grottoes tucked into the contour of the mountains. The caves house Buddhist statues and tablets, carved over 1400 years ago. We climbed up and down and up and down the eight small mountains, peering into each cave we passed. This was a true stair stepper challenge! By the time we reached the main point of attraction (after two hours of stairs), it was a struggle to make it up to the Big Buddha. This Buddha stands 65 feet tall… the Mount Rushmore of Ningxia (the faces of Rushmore stand 60 feet tall)!



“Xumi Shan”




My students Jeremy & Frank


The Buddha

Dongyue Mountain sits on the northern edge of Guyuan. Walking from my apartment to the edge of the city only takes 20 minutes. From there we crossed the highway and began hiking. From the ground, the mountain is dotted with Buddhist temples and as we climbed the stairs, almost every landing containing one of these temples. The further we climbed, the older the temples seemed to be. Their colored walls were beautifully faded with years of sun and rain while wild flowers ran free. As we reached the top, drums from one of the temples boomed over the valley. Lady bugs clung to the railings of the stairs and the backs of our shirts. And as I looked upon a panorama of Guyuan and the countryside beyond I thought, wow, this small place is larger than I thought!


Welcome to Guyuan


My students Danielle & Glenda



These three experiences, along with simply exploring the city have had quite an impact on me. I have realized that Guyuan is so much bigger than my apartment walls or even my surrounding community. Futhermore, Ningxia is an overlooked haven in China. Being in these spiritual mountain spaces have reminded me of our God’s omnipotent presence. Mountains are incredibly sacred in Asian religions. Naturally, it is believed that the higher you are, the closer you are to a god or the spirits. This is why temples tend to be built into mountains for daily ritual or for pilgrimage. But despite being in places of differing religious beliefs, it still held deep spirituality for me. How can you not feel the spirit in the quiet rage of a river or feel humbled in standing on the top of a peak looking out upon natural beauty? How small we are as human souls in our vast world, searching for truth and for peace. And amidst our differing beliefs we often fail to recognize how much humanity we share in searching for truth. I have been struggling with how much conflict is currently present in our world- between protests in Hong Kong, hostages in Syria, continued cases of Ebola, and more it is hard not to feel discouraged and helpless. But amidst these hurts, I know that there are pockets of hope where God’s hand is working. Maybe our entire world needs to stop, climb a mountain, sweat a little, and rediscover truth at its peak.

In light of World Communion Sunday, I encourage you to take time in prayer for our world community. I also ask you to consider an financial offering at this time to allow more young adults, like myself, to see our world and make a difference in it.  Give Now Here! or Learn more about World Communion Sunday Giving. 


Ready for more