Running for His Life

May 25, 2017

When Pastor Jason runs long distances, he’s doing what makes him feel most alive.

“My legs are pumping and it feels good. My lungs are opened up, I’m really breathing. I feel one with my surroundings, though I’m moving fast so they may be a bit of a blur,” he says. “I do feel alive!”

You might say that as pastor at Galilee, Jason is in the business of feeling alive. He gets plenty of work overseeing funerals (or “celebrations of life,” as he prefers to call them), but his real passion is pouring out the living water of God’s message to this congregation—so that all feel more spiritually alive.

“God put us on the earth to live and to know that we are alive,” says Jason. “In a sense, the question of “who am I?” or “what should I be doing?” is answered by knowing what makes us feel most alive.You have to answer the question for yourself.”

“For me, there’s a charge I get from endurance exercise. God created us with bodies and the spiritual and the physical are two sides of a coin. Exercise improves not just my health, but my understanding and my compassion. And, bonus! There is something else that makes me feel alive: service. Reaching those who I can really help charges my batteries for sure. I’m blessed to have found that I can combine these two things, by running for Mercy Hospital.”

Endurance athlete Jason and one of his biggest fans, daughter Hannah.

Last month, Jason ran the North Face Endurance Challenge 2017—his first ever marathon. An unusual marathon, it is run through the beautiful terrain of Algonkian Regional Park on the banks of the Potomac River, where there are plenty of hills to test one’s endurance. To run it is an accomplishment, and a participant can take plenty of satisfaction in conquering those 26 miles.

For Jason, there was a higher goal.

“I’m a pastor, which means I talk to a lot of people. I also have nearly a thousand friends on social media. Using the megaphone of modern technology, I set up a funding site and asked people to chip in with small donations to help my favorite cause in the world, Mercy Hospital in Bo, Sierra Leone.”

“I asked for people to give a dollar per mile, or two dollars, or a lump sum. Whatever they could. I wasn’t expecting gazillions, nor was there any reason why I needed to have money to run this marathon. It’s just that I could do this. I could lift up Bo, grabbing people’s attention for an afternoon as I huffed and puffed with a number on my back.”

Jason raised about $6000 through a combination of social fundraising sites and personal outreach, “It is an amount that I know can save lives in Sierra Leone.”

Galilee is one of the original partner churches of Helping Children Worldwide, which supports Mercy Hospital and the Child Rescue Center. Jason’s first visit to Sierra Leone happened this March.

Pastor Jason stands with Dr Aruna Stevens at Mercy Hospital.

“It was when I visited Mercy Hospital for the first time this spring that I discovered what a remarkable place Africa is, and Sierra Leone, and Bo, in particular. How helping women and children in the midst of serious poverty can make an impact that dwarfs much of what I accomplish at home.”

“Being with the doctors and the staff at Mercy, visiting with the patients alongside the Helping Children Worldwide team…I felt like I was in that zone. I felt truly alive, like this is what I’m supposed to be doing. This is where God has placed me and it is for a reason of higher significance.”

“So I made a commitment to myself. I was training to do this spiritual thing that makes me feel alive, running a marathon. How great to connect one ultimately rewarding activity to another, helping our brothers and sisters in Bo.”

“Maybe there is a better way to feel the charge of God’s positive spirit, but if there is, I don’t know what it is.”

The cascades of Great Falls formed a beautiful backdrop for the North Face Endurance Challenge halfway point. Jason’s not so winded that he can’t take a selfie.

Jason has not always been a runner. He began just three years ago. “It’s a was a conscious decision,” he says, “but a spiritual thing—not just to get healthy or lose weight. I wanted to be outdoors more, because Christ was outdoorsy! Christ made his retreats to the mountains around the Sea of Galilee, and this was an important spiritual practice for him. It’s something I like to call an “anchor habit,” a practice that makes everything else you do easier or more fulfilling. I don’t have the Sea of Galilee (just the church of Galilee), but I do have the beautiful W&OD Trail. Running became my anchor habit.”

“I did 5k and 10k runs, initially. I found I liked it. Then last year, I did two half marathons. I liked to joke that I could easily run 26 miles, it just took me a year. Finally, I thought the time was right for a full marathon.”

“The North Face Endurance Challenge was hard—I won’t lie. I knew I wasn’t going to come in first. I had thought about wearing a t-shirt that said on the back, “Running for Life – Mercy Hospital, Sierra Leone,” but dismissed the idea. Very few people would be behind me to read it!”

“Still, I finished the North Face and it was a wonderful experience that did not destroy me. I was at Galilee’s Sunday service the very next day!”

Jason crossed the finish line, but he isn’t done running. Hitting the trail and pushing his endurance is now an anchor habit for him, and one that will continue to benefit Mercy Hospital and the mission of Helping Children Worldwide.

“I hope to run an endurance race every six or twelve months. I can raise money through social media, though I won’t raise a ton of money every time. Every bit helps, and the reward for me is to help the people I love by doing the thing I love.”

“It feels good to be alive!”