Casper MLK Day: Wyoming Adventurer Finds Harmony Among Religions
Wyoming native, University of Wyoming graduate and lecturer, and National Geographic writer Mark Jenkins has hiked to the summit of Mount Everest, explored the largest caves in the world in Vietnam, and visited about 100 countries in between.
"I expect to learn something about myself, which is usually your fear and your own failures on expeditions, but more importantly I expect to learn something about cultures," Jenkins told about a hundred people at the First United Methodist Church for the annual Martin Luther King, Jr./Wyoming Equality Day Celebration on Monday.
Jenkins spoke after the march from Art 321 to the church, where the band from the United Church of Christ performed, organizers from ServeWyoming, talked about service projects, Casper Mayor Charlie Powell issued a proclamation, and participants made personal pledges of nonviolence.
One of Jenkins' recent adventures took him to Egypt, he said.
The nation is about the size of Wyoming, Montana, Idaho, Washington and Oregon combined, with 95 million people including 20 million who live in the Cairo metropolitan area.
The Middle East is known for its conflicts and terrorism, but Jenkins reminded the audience that most of that is sectarian violence. Egypt has had its share of violence, too, but he said a person is 25 times more likely to be shot to death in the United States than in Egypt. The U.S. is No. 1 in the world for murder, compared to Egypt, which comes in at No. 110.
Last year, he and three buddies from Wyoming decided to go to Egypt to climb the wall of a mountain twice the size of Devils Tower.
That meant driving for a day to St. Catherine Monastery in the Sinai Peninsula, where the Bible says Moses received the 10 Commandments. The monastery was their base while they trained for five days for the climb.
From there, they hired Bedouin (nomadic Arabs) to guide them and hired camels, Jenkins said. "Without camels, no one goes anywhere."
The Bedouin treated the four Wyoming climbers like family, with one arising at 2 a.m. to prepare breakfast, and in the evening welcoming them with a feast.
At one point, they were asked what sect of Islam they adhered to, Jenkins said.
That offended them because they refused to be categorized with the religious-political strife in the region, and they responded, "'we are Muslim, that's all,'" he said.
The Americans also found a harmony among religions rarely seen because of the attention-grabbing conflicts in the Middle East.
They climbed to the St. Catherine's monastery at the summit of Mount Sinai, where they saw members of the three Abrahamic religions -- Judaism, Christianity and Islam -- enjoying the view and worshiping as they pleased without any discord, Jenkins said. "Everyone gave each other space," he added.
The monastery even has a mosque on its grounds, Jenkins added.
"Christians and Muslims have lived in harmony for 1,500 years," he said.
As a traveler, writer, adventurer and world correspondent, Jenkins said he's reported from war zones, and yet has seen similar examples of amity that defy our perceptions of different cultures.
"Particular to today, Martin Luther King Day, the challenge is to get out in your own community because that's where you see people rather than just reading about them, you meet actual humans, and you can make a difference in their lives," Jenkins said.
"That's what's special about today," he said. "It's easy to become kind of complacent or very disappointed in humans. But when you're out there with them, you are one of them and you make a difference."