In September my friend Steve embarked on a run he called “Rim to Rim,” as part of a campaign to help free 50 women from sex trafficking. He and four other guys ran the length of the Grand Canyon from the North Rim to the South Rim in about ten hours. It’s a 23 mile run and covers over 11,000 feet of elevation change.
Steve started blogging about his plans and asked us to join in it with him by donating money to Eyes that See.
When I first read about Steve’s caper on his blog, I was pumped. I’ve been on a personal journey of learning to see people around me the way Jesus does. Day by day, I’m setting aside my boxes, my preconceived ideas about who people are and how they should act and how they will meet my expectations. Instead, I’m learning to see beauty, a longing for love, brokenness, needs waiting to be met, and hunger for more.
I donated money to Rim to Rim and felt good about being part of the caper.
I shared the link on Facebook and talked it up to my friends. I was proud to go to a church where the pastor would do this cool thing for these women in Africa.
My donation was helping a woman start a new life.
As the date of Steve’s run drew near, though, I started to feel like my donation wasn’t enough. I couldn’t stop thinking about the suffering these women endured and the challenges they faced every day. Truthfully, the money I donated didn’t hurt. I didn’t have to give up a single gourmet coffee or buy one less bottle of wine. I didn’t even notice the debit in my bank account.
I wanted it to hurt. I needed to hurt with these women.
In one post shortly before the big run, Steve mentioned a friend of his who would be running 50 miles in solidarity the day Steve ran the Grand Canyon. The idea of running with Drew crossed my mind. It was easy to dismiss, though, because while I’m a runner, I’m not conditioned to run that far, especially at his pace.
I couldn’t let the idea go, though, so I got in contact with Drew. We made plans for me to meet up with him that Sunday and run one of the 5-mile laps with him. Saturday night, into Sunday morning, I just kept thinking about what a stupid idea it was. I’m so much slower than he is. I’d never met the guy. I wanted to relax at home with my family before a crazy week of work and school. I could think of a hundred reasons not to meet up with Drew.
That’s how I knew I had to run.
How many times do those women in Ethiopia wonder if they will ever live a life different than the one they’ve been living? How many times do they think life can’t get any better? How often do they feel alone and unseen?
I ended up running the final five miles with Drew on Sunday. There were six of us running, and I met some pretty cool people. It was an honor to run with him. Despite coming from different places, geographically and in life, we all had a sense of belonging. We were united around a common cause, and we were all runners.
Drew carried the name of a woman from Eyes that See with him on each five mile lap, and he prayed for her during the run. He named her struggles aloud as he climbed each hill.
And we ran together. Something changed in me on that run.
The run wasn’t just for me or about me. Every step was a step for a woman I will never meet. I couldn’t quit because nothing I was facing on that run could compare to the hardship of their every day lives. Even the hardest hill I faced was nothing but a memory 5 minutes later.
I kept thinking about the craziness of it all. There are women around the world who cannot fathom having the money to feed and clothe their families, let alone extra for entertainment. They run because they have to, possibly for their very lives.
How often do I pay $25 to run 3 or 6 miles and get a t-shirt I will wear once?
My priorities are so different from theirs. Things that are luxuries to them, I take for granted every single day.
Participating in that run felt like stepping into a community of people, many of whom I will never meet, that is united around a common cause: seeing the unseen. Now, every time I run I think of those women in Ethiopia, and I say a prayer for them. Every hill, every hard run, I’m reminded of the challenges they face every day and of their commitment to make a change for the better in their own lives. It’s motivation for me to keep moving up each hill, pushing past the parts of me that want to walk and catch my breath.
I’m walking through a tough season of life, and there are plenty of days I want to take the shortcut and get some temporary emotional reprieve.
God keeps telling me to stick it out, to keep loving and forgiving and holding on to hope no matter how hard it is.
Every step on every run is a step in that journey too. I’m pushing myself past physical and emotional limits I didn’t think I could surpass, and it’s all by God’s grace. I run for me, to stay fit physically and emotionally. I also run for my family, for my marriage, for my running companions and for women in Ethiopia I will never meet.
With every step I take back a little of what has been taken from me.
And now I carry those women in my heart.