Despite his previous disdain for running long distances, a Chicago-area pastor is planning to run approximately the equivalent distance of a marathon per day from the U.S. West Coast to East Coast in order to provide a community of 30,000 people in Kenya a lifelong supply of clean water.
Steve Spear, who served as a regional campus pastor for Willow Creek Community Church, will begin the running phase of his fundraising effort on April 8th. He plans to take five months to run the 3,000 miles. After a 15-year career at Willow Creek (founded by Bill Hybels), Spear left his position earlier this year to devote time to the project that is endorsed by the Christian relief organization World Vision as a partner.
"My wife and I had supported World Vision financially so I just felt like I didn't need to run a marathon to do it. I just had put a bunch of blockades to not do it," he told The Christian Post. "I finally got to the point where I really felt like I was being led by God to surrender myself to the inconveniences that I was associating with training for and running a marathon."
The decision to run across America came after several months of prayer, discussions, and research, he stated. It meant that he had to give up his "stable job and career at one of the most influential churches in the country to do something that less than 300 people in this country have ever done."
Spear explained that 30 years ago some friends convinced him to run a 10K. "I hated every minute of that 10K experience and didn't lace up a pair of running shoes for another 25 years," he wrote in a blog for World Vision.
"But that all changed in 2007 when I sensed a whisper to surrender myself to the unknowns that come with training for and running the Chicago Marathon with Team World Vision. Through groups much like my own church team, thousands of Team World Vision runners have raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for clean water in Africa," he stated.
The Chicago Marathon "ignited something" in Spear and he began to sense an increasing call to devote himself to more to running and "the idea that running can change lives."
"Then in 2009, I was asked to run the world-renowned Comrades 56-Mile Ultra Marathon in South Africa with Team World Vision," he explained. Before deciding to participate there was the nagging desire to simply say "no," he said. However, he said he was challenged to "invite God into my fears and move past them."
"That became a story line because I surrendered at that point, ran it, and raised some money for awareness," he told CP. "It's kind of been my storyline for the last five years throughout my short running career. If there had not been a cause like 'clean water' to supplement this whole thing I would not even be running 5K's because there has to be a huge cause for me and I feel there isn't anything more gripping than the clean water issue."
After the ultra-marathon in South Africa, Spear said he has been able to recruit hundreds of people to run for the cause of clean water as well.
"After the first couple of times I visited Africa I had a chance to walk with mainly women and girls who are the main water carriers," he shared. "I was able to see when I walked alongside them that women and children walk between five to eight miles a day carrying contaminated water in an old 5-gallon, 50-pound fuel containers and I [said to myself] this is nuts.
"I figure I use 95 gallons of water a day and I don't even have to walk a yard for it and we have a billion people on the planet that walk on average five to eight miles a day. From a pure mathematical level it is the largest inequity in our world. The number one preventable cause of death in the world is [lack of] water. So we can make a dent in this."
In planning for the fundraiser, Spear said he kept thinking of the number 30,000 and didn't realize until later that the number is roughly the same size as the communities he has always resided in.
"While I cannot get my head around a billion I can see a town or community of 30,000 people. I can visualize that so what if we can provide water for life in the way of wells or reservoirs or a full pipeline system, that's what I'd like to see happen," he said. "Believe it or not $50 is all it takes to provide clean water for life for one person. We are asking people to get involved."
The Kenyan community he and World Vision plan to provide clean water for are slated for a pipeline system project that would employ residents of Kenya.
In his blog he added, "If you would have told me that someday I would be running across America, I would have said 'No way times 100.'"
On the Web: www.teamworldvision.org/runningforwater.