By Jeanne Halsey
In 1998, my husband Kenneth Halsey and our son Alex ran the Seattle Marathon together. Having only an observer’s understanding of the rigorous preparation—both physical and mental—that is required to train your body to run more than twenty-six consecutive miles (forty-two), I rightly came to honor and respect my men for their achievement; I fondly and proudly called them “demi-gods.”
In October 2001, we met Bob Marvel, a young pastor from Cornwall Church in Bellingham, Washington, who had developed his own fondness for running marathons; at the time, he had completed two or three marathon races and was hoping to qualify for the prestigious Boston Marathon. From his own wisdom and experience, Kenneth offered to purchase a particular pair of running shoes for Bob, and also supplied the airfare so he could travel further afield as he aimed for his goals. Simultaneously, I felt prompted to write an article, “The Running Pastor,” which was picked up by various online news agencies and subsequently received wide publication. In that essay, I likened Pastor Bob’s race-running experiences with his soul-winning strategies—both at which he was quite successful. The photos which accompanied that article were taken when he completed his first Boston Marathon (and yes, he and his wife Dorene were also running the 2013 Boston Marathon, when the tragic bombings took place; they were able to minister to and pray with many in the immediate aftermath).
Over these years, our family has continued to track with this vibrant pastor in his ministry and in his marathon races. Last year, he invited Kenneth and me to attend a special non-church-related meeting where he announced a new goal: to run in the grueling, internationally-recognized Comrades Ultra-Marathon—fifty-six nonstop miles, from the sea-level start at Durban, South Africa, uphill with seven thousand feet of elevation gain, within twelve hours. [At the exact twelve-hour mark, all runners who have not completed the race are barred from the finish; evidently they employ heavy-duty musclemen to prevent anyone else from crossing the finish line beyond that specific time. No medals awarded, no records marked—what a soul-crushing result if you don’t complete this daunting feat within twelve hours!]
This, however, is not just another race for Pastor Bob (age fifty-one): this Ultra-Marathon—wherein he will push his physical body, his mental endurance and his spiritual strength past any point he has yet accomplished—is very intentionally a fundraiser for an equally challenging project. On the west coast of South Africa, near the city of Capetown, is a major slum area known as Khayelitsha, a dumping-ground for unwanted peoples caught in the residual cross-fire of decades of apartheid government. Most of the illegally-erected homes of the four million people are shacks made of tin, wood and cardboard; sanitation scarcely exists; and drug-resistant diseases, such as HIV, tuberculosis and hepatitis are rampant. Gang violence and murder are daily events; law enforcement is negligible, ineffective or corrupt.
Bob established Beyond Our Borders (true to his quirky sense of humor, the entity’s initials also happen to spell BOB), a nonprofit organization focused on managing the task of penetrating the violence-ridden heart of Khayelitsha to build a much-needed community center. By gathering financial support “by the mile” of running the Comrades Marathon, Bob would be able to contribute toward the building a church, a medical clinic, a school, even a pre-school—right in the heart of gang-controlled slums.
The poverty and violence of Khayelitsha does not deter Bob Marvel. The Khayelitsha Project aims to establish a stronghold of peace, health, education, love, and lasting change in this dangerous township. Armed with the everlasting love of Christ Jesus, Bob is willing to literally put his own body on the line in order to make an enduring difference in Khayelitsha. He invited friends to be a part of this endeavor; a local business, Woods Coffee, picked up the tab of the costs of Beyond Our Borders, so that all the funds raised by Bob’s accomplishment of the Comrades Marathon would go completely and directly to the Khayelitsha Project, which would then be fully funded for the first two years of operation.
To prepare for the fifty-six-mile race, over the past year Bob has run five more marathons, one half-marathon and an Ultra-Marathon (50k); he recently completed a forty-mile training run in six hours, nineteen minutes. His goal for the Comrades Marathon is to complete it in ten hours or less; his training indicates he will be able to meet that goal. Comrades—which annually attracts 22,000 runners—will be run with the support of his nine-person team; Bob wisely knows that no one runs alone.
Along with the BOB Board of Directors, Bob set a goal to raise $112,000 in American funds ($2,000 per mile); as of two weeks prior to Comrades, he has raised over $122,000, putting him over the initial goal needed to establish and sustain the Khayelitsha Project for two years. More funds, including some matching-amounts, are expected before he and his wife leave for South Africa. On the morning of May 31 (which is the evening of Saturday, May 30 in Washington State, a nine-hour time difference), Bob will begin running the Comrades Ultra-Marathon, and hundreds of prayer warriors will continue sending their spiritual support across the miles, even as they have contributed their financial support toward this great cause. After the race, he will travel to Khayelitsha itself, and meet with a large team of missionaries, pastors, teachers, administrators, and directors who have already begun to break ground on the Khayelitsha Project’s community center.
Bob Marvel’s goal of running the Comrades Marathon: to be a catalyst for the life-transforming power of God at work in a dangerous part of our world, to make a difference now and for eternity.
For more information and how to support, visit www.beyondourborders.net.
Bob Marvel is the senior pastor of Cornwall Church of God in Bellingham, Washington; he can be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or at Beyond Our Borders, PO Box 1380, Ferndale, Washington 98248. Jeanne Halsey is a freelance writer who “doesn’t know much about sports but does recognize heroes living in her own community.” She can be reached via e-mail at www.halseywrite.com. Learn more about the Church of God at www.JesusIsTheSubject.org.