Nick DeBone is your typical runner. He’s the 30-year-old dad you see running while pushing his kids in a stroller. Occasionally, his kids might jump out for a bit and join him, or they might be asking if it’s time to head home yet. He enjoys running, and he’s tackled a marathon and a few half-marathons. Nick could have easily run the 6K his church hosted that frigid Saturday morning in March 2016, but instead he chose mostly to walk.
6K, a little more than 3.7 miles, is the average distance women and children in Africa walk for water that is often unsafe to drink. Nick alternatively walked and jogged that morning so he could get to know and encourage the people around him — members of his church congregation who were walking, jogging, and running this average distance for an extraordinary cause.
“It’s a great distance,” Nick says. “Anyone can walk that. It’s the biggest impact, I think, that $50 can make. … The idea of us not having clean water is insane. We don’t even understand that.”
As a host site, his church in Spring Lake, Michigan, helped everyone register, mapped out a course site, and hosted more than 40 participants, who each wore a race bib with the name, age, and a location of a child who would receive clean water.
“Honestly, a lot of times nonrunners really have the biggest hearts for this mission,” says Nick. He organizes Team World Vision events — like the Global 6K for Water — with the All Shores Wesleyan Church outreach pastor, Thad Spring.
“The transformation that the 6K brings to you personally and those that you’re walking or running for is worth it. I’ve watched children drink out of dirty streams where cows are standing in Zambia, watched children drink dirty water in Haiti, and seen pastors who are dying of cholera because of dirty water. So for me, there’s a personal touch and involvement.”
But unlike Nick, Thad doesn’t think of himself as a runner.
“I’m 5’10”, 230 pounds. It takes me a while to get in shape and get going,” the 46-year-old says, laughing. “But I enjoy running and the running process. Anybody can do it. Old and young.”
All Shores — a two-campus church of about 1,200 — first participated in the 6K back in 2015 with three participants, including Nick, but one runner was sick and barely slept the night before.
“These people in Africa — it doesn’t matter what their night was like — they have to wake up to walk 6K for water anyway,” says Nick. “He had that thought process: They don’t get to skip out on a walk for water in a day because they aren’t feeling good, so I’m not going to.”
Then in 2016, their church became a 6K host site. The morning of the 6K, they had about 25 people signed up, but then families kept arriving, and they nearly doubled that amount when it came time to begin.
“We had a lot of people with strollers who walked and ran. We had younger kids who could walk the entire distance,” Thad says. The family impact really struck a chord with their congregation.
This year, All Shores will collaborate with other local churches, expecting to more than double the number of participants from last year. And to heighten the experience, they’re offering water tanks for people to carry at the halfway point.
“I think about the age of kids and the women that do this,” Nick says. “They have to get [to a water source] and then come back with gallons of water. It makes it tangible and real.”
All Shores has raised about $50,000 for clean water over the past three years between the 6K events and running the Grand Rapids marathon and half marathon with Team World Vision. And now on Saturday mornings, their group of runners gathers for devotions, a running or fundraising tip, and a training run together.
“We’ve created a running group and community of people who are reaching out to their friends for Christ,” says Thad.