Heartfelt experience drives Team World Vision at marathon

At the Chicago Marathon, some 1,000 Team World Vision runners aimed to raise $1 million and secure sponsors for hundreds of children in African communities struggling with poverty.

Story and photos by James Addis, World Vision U.S.
Published October 10, 2011 at 12:00am PDT

U.S. Olympic runner Lopez Lomong saluted a gathering of Team World Vision runners about to participate in the Chicago Marathon last weekend, saying that it was a great honor to represent one’s country at the Olympics — but those who ran to serve people living in poverty in Africa were also deserving of great honor.

“All of you in this room are an inspiration to me,” he said at a pre-race dinner for runners. “What you are doing is giving an opportunity to kids out there in Africa: to save lives, to give opportunities like the supply of clean water and education.”

Inspired to help save lives

Lopez was born in Sudan and was kidnapped by rebels at age 6. He was subsequently rescued by older boys, who together made a hazardous journey to reach a refugee camp in Kenya. After a dramatic change in fortunes, he was allowed to settle in the United States, where he demonstrated a talent for middle-distance running.

His talk helped inspire about 1,000 Team World Vision runners aiming to raise $1 million at the Bank of America Chicago Marathon, and secure sponsors for hundreds of children in African communities affected by poverty.

Making the run personal

In addition to Lopez’s talk, many Team World Vision runners ran for deeply personal reasons.

Paul Jansen Van Rensburg, a pastor at Willow Creek Community Church in South Barrington, Illinois, said he was moved to run after witnessing the dire poverty just minutes from his privileged home while growing up in Apartheid-era South Africa.

“Kids were dying of malnutrition, kids did not have clean drinking water, kids did not have education, they did not have hope,” he said.

He said that joining Team World Vision enabled him to give hope to children in such a predicament. Paul was one of four Team World Vision runners who ran 74 miles to the marathon start line before completing the marathon itself — a distance of more than 100 miles in an effort to secure sponsors for 100 children.

‘I just thought of my family’

Another runner, Sandra Morais, who grew up in Angola but now lives in Bridgeport, Illinois, spoke of the many miles of walking she endured as a child to fetch water from contaminated sources. The polluted water killed several of her cousins, and many of her relatives still in Angola continue to struggle to access clean water.

Andy Stearns donated $1,000 for every one of his friends who sponsored a child. He secured 50 sponsors and donated $50,000.“At mile 23, I felt I had no strength, but I just thought of my family, and that kept me going,” she said. “Even if I had to crawl, I had to finish it. I’ve never been so happy to run.”

Clean water was on the mind of Eugene Robinson of Lowell, Indiana, when he decided to run 24 miles to the marathon start line before undertaking the marathon itself — making 50 miles in all.

He said he aimed to celebrate turning 50 this year and was attempting to raise $50,000 for World Vision water projects.

“Lack of clean water is one of the engines of poverty. If we can remove that engine, poverty loses a lot of power,” he said.

‘We did not need the money, but many others did’

One of the top fundraisers, Andy Stearns, donated $1,000 for every one of his friends who sponsored a child. He secured 50 sponsors and donated $50,000.

“For us, it really got down to realizing we did not need the money, but many others did,” he said.

As the marathon wound down on Sunday, Team World Vision had raised close to $600,000 for the event, with hundreds of thousands more expected to come in as pledges are honored.

Two ways you can help

Thank God for the commitment of these runners. Pray that more potential sponsors would come forward to help a child in need.

Sponsor a child today. For about $1 a day, you’ll help provide children in need with access to life-saving basics like clean water, nutritious food, healthcare, education and more.