It’s difficult to know if Michael Chitwood would have accomplished all that he has if his father hadn’t died when Michael was only 25. That’s part of what makes his memoir about setting up Team World Vision, a branch of the famous agency that seeks to solve two challenges at once by getting North Americans off the couch while raising money for children that can’t afford clean water or nutritious food, let alone couches, so readable. The other part is that it is so inspiring that if you are like me it’s gonna make you want to run a marathon.
Anyone who has ever encountered pain knows that Chitwood is right when he says, “as human beings we are able to endure far more than we would ever believe possible.” As an endurance athlete he is speaking of our physical bodies. As a Christian he, correctly, believes it is true of our souls as well. He also believes that while we can never be fully prepared for the sorts of trials we will all face, we can be partially ready and that is better than the alternative.
Chitwood founded Team World Vision and he tells the story of how he stumbled in to that and what it has meant for him. TWV asks people to run races of various length to raise money so that children can have access to clean water and to raise awareness about the challenges many people in the world face today. The book contains the heart-warming story of his sponsored child (Maurine, who I must admit I met briefly in Chicago last October) and how much she has meant to him and how her life and village have been transformed through the world of TWV.
Chitwood points out that we have only one life to live, which while cliché is true and for those who understand that, those who let that sink in, the question becomes what sort of legacy we want to leave behind, and for Christians, in particular, the question is what sort of spiritual legacy shall we leave? His father, a few months before his surprising death wrote his own answer to that question, “that we will remember the poor—and do what we can to relieve their suffering.”
Chitwood’s dream is to raise funds so that no children would have to live without hope, without access to clean water, education, and the opportunity to find meaningful employment. These are lofty goals, goals that he leans into daily by remembering that each child is a child of God and by remembering how blessed he is to live when and where he does.
The process is simple. A person, or church, signs up to run a marathon near them. They register with World Vision who helps them to raise money. Wells get built, and when wells get built kids get to go to school instead of trek water all day.
What motivates a person might be heartache they have felt when they realize that all those kids we see in those advertisements with distended bellies are someone’s child, many run in memory of someone. Others want to lose weight, some already fit people want to find a way to make their fitness less self-serving. Some want to learn to overcome obstacles, they want to be bad at something and yet do it until they are good at it (or at least feel good about doing it), just like we all did with most things when we were kids. Regardless of why they get up and run, it changes both their lives and the lives of those they run for, when they get to the starting line of the big race.
One thing I disagree with Chitwood about is the utility of running if you truly hate it. He thinks the constant pain is humbling in a good way and great preparation for going through pain later. Still, I think that it is worth trying running for a while, but if you well and truly hate it, then you should find another physical activity that you actual enjoy. Fitness is not only possible with running, nor is raising money for children or having a powerful legacy only for runners. Of course, you need to run enough to see if you like it, don’t give up too soon, but if you HATE it, try biking, swimming, tennis, soccer, anything that gets you moving. And keep trying them until you find one that satisfies.
I’ve never run more than 30km and the last 10 were miserable for me. You might think my regular exercise would make me less daunted by a marathon.
You would be wrong.
My fitness so far has taught me that I feel more in control, can endure more pain and discomfort than I would have thought, it makes me less fearful of just about everything in my life because I constantly discover strength I didn’t know was there, it makes me more peaceful.
Yet, hurting between kilometer 20 and 30, I am more intimately able to guess how painful kilometers 30-42.2 would be for me. I don’t think I want to let that stand between me and that level of fitness, and I certainly don’t want that fear to stand between me and raising enough money to make a serious impact on the life of a little child that has done nothing, nothing, to deserve its terrible fate. So keep an eye out for chances to sponsor a friend and I as we run the Victoria Marathon in October 2017.
Chitwood says, “almost every good thing God has for us in this life lays just on the other side of fear.”
To which I say Amen because Isaiah wrote, “So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” (41:10).
To learn more about Team World Vision please visit: http://www.teamworldvision.org