A South Carolinian raised over $27,000 for Operation Heal Our Patriots by bagging Africa’s highest peak
Lani Spivey, a grandmother of 10, decided more than a year ago to fulfill her dream of climbing Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania. She was also determined to raise donations for a good cause in the process. She even had a group picked out. Everything seemed set.
Then, a conversation with fellow Myrtle Beach resident Clebe McClary gave her a new focus.
Clebe, who was critically injured as a Marine serving in Vietnam, introduced Lani to Operation Heal Our Patriots, a Samaritan’s Purse project that provides marriage enrichment to military personnel injured after 9/11 and their spouses. Clebe and his wife, Deanna, have encouraged program participants both in Alaska—where couples enjoy a week of spiritual and physical refreshment focused on strengthening their marriage—and at reunions in North Carolina.
Lani soon visited the Samaritan’s Purse website and looked through articles, photos, and videos about the program. The content captured her heart and illustrated God’s healing power to change lives and marriages.
“It was the perfect charity for me,” she said. “I had found my mission.”
Lani’s husband, Larkin, is a Christian author, speaker, military historian, and retired Marine lieutenant colonel, so she understands first-hand the challenges of military marriage. They also have a long-time friend who lost a leg in Vietnam and has gone through four marriages.
“I’ve always had a heart for our soldiers and what they’ve done for our country,” she said.
Lani had a banner with the Operation Heal Our Patriots logo created and took it to Africa with her in January. When she reached Uhuru Peak—19,341 feet above sea level—the banner was unfurled and a picture snapped to prove her feat to dozens of supporters who had given a penny per foot, or more.
Lani raised a total of $27,288.35 from friends, family, and fellow church members. The checks were sent to Operation Heal Our Patriots Executive Director Jim Walker, a retired Marine general, in late March.
“I was truly humbled when I first spoke to Lani and learned of her fundraising effort,” General Walker said. “Supporting Operation Heal Our Patriots by climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro is definitely unique, but as I talked to Lani what really struck me was her strong faith and commitment to supporting wounded veterans.”
Lani, who made the climb with her daughter, Catherine-Alexa, and a friend, Pamela Pyle, said their nine-day trek up and down Kilimanjaro was the hardest thing she’s ever done. They were joined by two other adventurers, two guides, and 26 porters/cooks for the quest.
On the day of their final ascent, the group climbed over 4,000 feet to the highest point in all of Africa. They had to scramble over boulders and negotiate scree, or loose stones, covering the mountain.
Going from 15,000 feet to 19,431 feet above sea level and back down took them 15 hours, from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m.
“The air is very thin. There’s no oxygen,” she said. “It’s truly just one step at a time.”
She said she feels mountain climbing is a good metaphor for life—especially for military personnel returning home. Veterans need to concentrate on moving forward one step at a time, she said, then “let Christ do the rest.”
“If they [veterans] don’t get the family intact and pointed toward Christ, they’re not going to make it,” Lani said.
Lani sees Operation Heal Our Patriots meeting the urgent spiritual needs of recent combat veterans and their spouses and hopes to do more to help the project in the future.
“I’m not finished yet,” she said. “I’m a believer in Operation Heal Our Patriots.”