John de Vries of London, Ontario, recently participated in an eight-day climb of Africa’s highest mountain to raise funds for Just Equipping, a restorative justice organization.
Just Equipping climbers and guides on their way to the summit of Kilimanjaro.
Photo by Monty Bourke
De Vries, who works as a chaplain with the Christian Reformed Church Office of Social Justice, was part of a group of 13 climbers connected through their work in correctional services and their passion for restorative justice.
Just Equipping works to promote reconciliation between people who have done harm and those who have been harmed in various situations ranging from criminal offenses in North America to genocide in other nations.
“Our work is humanizing prisons, making prisons safer, helping make society safer. There is amazing power in reconciliation,” deVries said.
De Vries’s work reaches beyond prison walls to congregations and individuals. “Restorative justice is for all of life: relationships, response to conflict . . . The focus is on fixing rather than punishment.”
Before the climb, de Vries was aware of the dangers of the trip, such as altitude sickness, but said, “I’m very eager to climb the mountain, but also to raise funds for Just Equipping. It’s a win-win situation.”
De Vries said he was never tempted to turn back. “It was an exhilarating experience,” he said. “It was challenging, grueling, but . . . it was a successful climb. We didn’t talk restorative justice, but we lived it. Six days, sharing tents with people I didn’t know—it can be difficult, but it was good.”
There were many memorable moments: climbing the lava tower, spending part of a day in one of Kilimanjaro’s craters, and seeing the sunrise from the summit. But the best part of the journey, said de Vries, was “the adventure and raising funds for a good cause—the introduction of shalom into daily reality, partnership despite differences of personality, background, and experience. It’s not just about succeeding, but about doing it, forwarding the cause.”