“Therefore since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us rid ourselves of every burden and sin that clings to us and persevere in running the race that lies before us, while keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus, the leader and perfecter of our faith.”
+ Hebrews 12:1-2 +
This past fall while at Intake (our four-month missionary training), I was challenged by some friends to consider running a marathon. We found ourselves running basically every morning and our distances kept increasing. I’ve always enjoyed running but always needed a little push – even since my fourth grade PE days at Our Lady of Fatima school (shout out to fellow fourth grade 100 mile clubbers D.J. Ashy and Paul Crochet), but up to that point in my life I had never run more than probably seven miles in one outing.
So I rose to the challenge and continued to train for one of my bucket list events. I lost weight and eventually most feeling in my knees and barely crossed the finish line in a December marathon in Dallas, TX. My children looked at me like I was a 90-year-old hobbling around the streets of Dallas after my race, but I felt great.
Like most first-time finishers, I went home and googled things like “how to not die in your next marathon” or “how to fix your knees before your next marathon and shave off time.” In short, I wanted to run more! I had no clue what God had in store for me in terms of running.
In Coopevega, Costa Rica, we are surrounded by miles and miles and miles of dirt and rock roads leading to the some 50 small communities we have been asked to serve. In the dry season the dust and heat create a desert like environment. Dust on eyebrows, dust in the ears, dust everywhere. Heat so hot I can’t figure out if I am in Louisiana or if this place is hotter than a Louisiana July.
These 50 communities make up what I call a “forgotten” people. They are forgotten because most of them don’t own a vehicle, or a home, or a bike, or even a horse to ride. Many of them live extremely remote lives, far from the modern conveniences I have so quickly become accustomed to: vehicles, stores, churches, refrigerators, iPads, entertainment, etc. Very few people go out to their communities to see them because there is essentially no draw for anyone to venture out there… except for themselves. They are the only draw out there. Theirs are lives of simplicity, hard work, sincere faith, and poverty. They are a beautiful draw and one so worth venturing out to meet and see. A people well worth RUNNING out to see.
Sometimes I hear God’s voice in Mass, in the Eucharist and every morning in Scripture. Often times I hear His voice in my simple daily desires. I want to run! (Click here for an extremely inspirational video on running by John Piper)
So I started to run. With my camel pack full of water and a banana, a pocket knife, and a few colones (Costa Rican currency).
“Where are you running to?” Lacy asks.
“To meet some people in a new community,” I often respond.
When we first arrived here, I felt a need to meet so many people in such a short time and a need to run. So I am doing both. In doing so, I am finding such greatness in the “forgotten” people. Many of them are literally just waiting for someone to visit them and many have been waiting for years for a visitor. You can imagine their faces when a sweaty gringo arrives at their door speaking horrible Spanish and reminding them of the love of Jesus. We have a family card with our family picture on it that I hand out and tell them that my army of gringos is coming back to visit soon to pray with them. I am logging plenty of miles back and forth in these narrow and rocky roads.
The other day while running back from a small community my legs were aching and I was feeling all of my 37 years. I noticed that my water supply was running low and that I still had a good five or six miles to go. I usually try to ration my water supply and at the end of most runs I find that I have a good bit of water left –water that is eventually wasted.
It dawned on me that when I die I do not want to have any water left in my tank. I do not want to have anything left in my tank. I pray that I will have given it all and not saved up a bunch for days that won’t ever come. I pray that I die having given it all.
Did I give and love freely or did I save up unnecessarily for myself? Did my wife and children know my love was unconditional or was there a doubt in their hearts? Did the poor truly know my name or did I simply look right through them? Did I speak the name of Jesus with my mouth and deeds or did my pride cripple me? Did I eat with the hungry or did I simply fill my own belly? In the end will my tank be empty or will I still have so much that I failed to give to God and my neighbor?
Now the seasons are changing here in Costa Rica and we are experiencing great downpours of rain. The dust is gone and the mud is here. The once dry and predictable roads are now tricky and tough to navigate. Time to run.
“Do you not know that all the runners in the stadium all run in the race, but only one wins the prize? RUN SO AS TO WIN.”
+ 1 Corinthians 9:24 +
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