“People were coming through just limping along, but when we started cheering for them, they would smile, pick up the pace, and keep going again. It was fulfilling for us to see that we made a difference for them as they ran,” said Sara Saunders, Service Learning Coordinator at Middle East University.
On Sunday, November 12, 2017, Middle East University (MEU), the only Adventist University in the region, and MEU church joined the BLOM Bank Beirut Marathon in its 15th consecutive year of running for health, peace, and well-being.
The 47,859 runners came from around the world, representing 105 nationalities.
George Jackson, dean of Biology/Pre-med program, said that it was exciting for MEU to be a part of something that big, particularly in a country that has suffered from divisions between different groups in the past and from recent tension in the Middle East.
“To see Maronites, Catholics, Sunnis, Hindus, atheists, Shias, and Seventh-day Adventists running together showed that there is still a community of people who believe that peace is possible,” said Jackson.
20 volunteers including MEU students and MEU church members helped pass out hundreds of water bottles at the MEU water station to promote importance of drinking water.
One of the students who had signed up to run, Wacjkir Deng, Business major from South Sudan, had broken his arm several weeks earlier but was happy he could still volunteer at the water station.
The first to come by were the para-athletes on their special bicycles, then the relay race runners, and finally the 42K marathon runners.
“You knew the marathon had begun when you saw the first runners coming through—the Ethiopians and Kenyans. They were so focused, eyes straight ahead, as they were on a serious mission,” Saunders reflected. “Others really needed a lot of encouragement, especially those coming by the middle and towards the end.”
Lujia Wang, Theology major from China, was volunteering at the water station when she saw a Chinese lady running by. “I ran with her for a long time, holding the Chinese flag, and I also met her husband. I taught everyone how to say Jia-yo to cheer for her.” (Jia-yo means good luck, all the best, or do your best, in Chinese.)
She was very excited to see the runners, saying “I was amazed at how they ran so many miles, I couldn’t do that, but at least I could volunteer. I wanted to be helpful for people.”
Feda Dous, Business major from Egypt, woke up at 4 am to be sure she got a ride on the MEU van. She and her fiancé Yechan Jung, Theology major from South Korea, hand-drew brightly colored posters to encourage the runners who passed the MEU water station. Slogans such as “MEU loves you!” “You’ve got a motor on your feet” and “If your legs get tired, run with your heart” were held high alongside the much-needed water bottles.
“I met an Egyptian guy running with a flag, so I ran with him. I really enjoyed the race and I’m glad I went; I would do it again,” said Dous. Jung agreed, saying “We were happy when people were encouraged by our posters. Many of the runners were giving us high-fives.”
Dous and several other students signed up to partially fulfill hours for their Philosophy of Service class. The course emphasizes its practical aspect by requiring students to complete a minimum of 15 service hours during the semester.
Instructor Saunders gave students the option to choose based on their interest and location, such as visiting an orphanage, tutoring neighbor kids in English, helping in a construction project with a non-profit organization, volunteering with the Red Cross, or teaching an elderly neighbor lady how to use her computer.
Not only did MEU volunteer, they also ran in the marathon. The University Church had a marathon relay team running 5K, 7K, and 10 K segments to complete 42.195KM. For the preparation of the relay running, Jared Miller, pastor of the MEU church took the runners down to the Corniche early Sunday mornings where they would train by the Mediterranean Sea.
Miller drew a spiritual lesson for the runners who participated in the marathon, pointing out that it was a great relief to pass the baton on to a teammate who was rested and ready. None of his team members were prepared to run the entire 42.195 KM marathon individually, but together they could do it.
“Likewise, the task of spreading the everlasting gospel to every nation, tribe, tongue, and people is an overwhelming task that we as individuals cannot accomplish alone. But by everyone working together as a team, we can fulfill the task Jesus gave to us,” said Miller.