They could have called it the 5K Mud Run.
I arrive early Christmas Eve morning to participate in the Following the Star 5K and Fun Run at Idlewild Baptist Church in Matthews, N.C.; the start is still a couple of hours away. The temperature is hovering in the 30s – a cold way to run a race.
And then there’s the mud.
Steady rains the past couple of days have turned parts of the trail slippery and mucky, forcing portions to be rerouted. But these conditions aren’t slowing down Christy Godwin, a member of Idlewild and an “MK” (missionary kid) who grew up on the mission field in Nigeria.
IMB photo by Rick Houston
No way. She’s toting a box of T-shirts here and helping set up a tent over there. She needs a couple of tables out of a nearby shed, so I pitch in and help associate pastor Travis Byrd fetch them.
At the race’s start/finish line, there’s a video playing that features the Light of Hope Center, a day shelter in Bangladesh where impoverished girls receive an education, health care, moral training and life skills.
For potential race sponsors and participants alike, the video is a tangible reminder of why we’re here.
“I wanted to give everybody something they could understand, hold onto and say, ‘Yes, I want to help,’” notes Christy, who adds that proceeds from the race are headed directly to the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering.
“When I came across the Light of Hope Center, it just struck me and my husband. We showed the video, did the QR code on all our promotional pieces and he showed it to every sponsor he talked to. It was a very real way of providing education to girls, and telling them about Jesus.”
A step of faith
All of this – every table, tent, display, bib number, runner and walker – is the result of Christy’s vision. Back in October 2012, as she was waiting on her husband, she began prayerfully walking the church parking lot. The 100th anniversary of Lottie Moon’s passing was approaching, and Christy wanted to find a way she could personally donate $10,000 to the annual Lottie Moon Christmas Offering for International Missions.
A 5K. That’s it. There was only one small problem. Only a few short weeks remained before Christmas Eve, and putting on a race is no small feat. Still, she pressed on and the morning of the 2012 race some 200 participants showed up.
“I went forward, just taking it one step at a time,” Christy says. “I had like six weeks. I just thought, ‘This is impossible. I can’t put together a 5K in this short amount of time.’”
Christy’s continued prayers quieted those doubts.
“I said, ‘OK, I’ll keep walking through the open doors as long as You hold them open for me,’” she told the Lord. “There we were, six weeks later, with 200 people running our first 5K. It was truly a miracle, something that God put together.”
The event grew this past Christmas Eve, with nearly 250 registering for the Following the Star 5K and Fun Run. In all, the 2013 run raised approximately $5,000.
When it comes to missions in general and the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering in particular, the members of Idlewild Baptist are all in. On a morning like this, they have to be. Over at the registration tent, Diane Petro is getting ready. She and husband Bruce have two sons on the mission field, so for them the race is personal. One of those sons, David, is in Zambia with his wife, Heather, and their children. It’s a journey that started at Idlewild Baptist.
“It’s hard to let them go, but we have family who are not believers and so they’re like, ‘I just wouldn’t let them go,’” Diane says. But she believes her children need to be obedient to their calling. “They’re adults. If God tells them that’s where they need to be, that’s where they need to be.”
Missions a way of life
Finally, it’s time to start the race. For me, it’s a milestone of sorts – the Following the Star 5K is my 20th race in the past three years, but it’s my first on a trail – as opposed to running solely on pavement. A trail race is run on grass and through wooded areas, complete with tree roots, leaves, branches and mud. It’s impossible to forget about the mud this morning, and I’m nervous as I start out. Before I go a couple of yards, I stumble.
As soon as I decide to take it easy and be sure of my footing, I spot Keith Whitener as we head down a small but soupy incline. Christy had introduced me to Keith, Idlewild Baptist’s senior pastor, before the race and it’s been under his leadership the past 14 years that the congregation’s focus on missions has blossomed.
Mission trips are a way of life for Idlewild’s approximately 550 members, and the congregation’s most recent annual missions offering brought in more than $100,000.
“That’s phenomenal for a church our size,” says Keith, who estimates that church members have ventured to nearly 20 different countries as well as various parts of the United States. “It excites but it grieves me, because there are churches that actually, financially, could do a lot more than we do, but they don’t. I’m grateful to be part of a church that gives to missions, prays for missions, does missions.”
As I continue running the course, I meet a few members of Team Petro from Northside Baptist in nearby Rock Hill, S.C. They are running the 5K to support the congregation’s former minister of education, David Petro – Diane’s son – who is now serving overseas as a Southern Baptist missionary. We smile, wave and keep going.
Not long afterward, I strike up a conversation with Blair Austin, who is doing the race with her husband, Billy, and 11-year-old son Wyatt. Billy’s not supposed to be running due to his recovery from a back injury, but when I see him on a different portion of the trail, sure enough, he’s running.
The husband and wife used to routinely do this kind of thing before Wyatt came along, and they’re here now because of an invitation from a friend.
“You can find a 5K just about anywhere,” Blair says. “This one seemed like a really cool one to do because it’s focused more on Christ than some of the others.”
Blair finishes the race just ahead of me. It takes 34 minutes, 59.4 seconds to complete the course, which puts me 109th out of the 173 who actually participate. After stopping to snap a few pictures here and there, I’m happy with the result.
In the end, however, my time and the fact that my running shoes are filthy don’t really matter. This is for Christy. It’s for Idlewild Baptist and its heart for missions; for Keith, David, Heather and Diane; for Team Petro, Billy, Blair and Wyatt.
Most of all, it’s for Lottie and the Jesus she served.
Like the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering, the Annie Armstrong Easter Offering is missions-oriented. When people give to the offering, 100 percent of their gift will be transformed into North American missionary salaries and ministry supplies. Those missionaries and supplies will help others hear the message of Christ and respond in faith to His offer of salvation.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Rick Houston is a freelance writer living in Yadkinville, N.C., with his wife, Jeanie, a district court judge, and their twin sons, Adam and Jesse. Over the course of his running “career” Rick has lost more than 110 pounds. Plans for the third annual Following the Star 5K and Fun Run are already under way. If you’d like to participate or need other information, contact Christy Godwin at [email protected] or the Idlewild church office at (704) 847-6565.)