Connections: Lisa Harper
March 10, 2013
Running for a Reason
In 2003, Lisa Harper founded Marathon Mission, a group of walkers and runners who lace up their shoes for a variety of compassionate causes benefitting the community and the kingdom of God. From its humble beginnings of one runner in a single race (the Detroit Free Press Marathon), Marathon Mission has raised thousands of dollars for its charity partners, while promoting physical wellness and spiritual growth among participants across the United States.
Harper and her husband, Scott, pastor Clare (Mich.) Assembly of God. She spoke recently with former Pentecostal Evangel Technical Editor James Meredith. In 2006, Meredith ran with Marathon Mission on behalf of Coins for Kids.
evangel: How did Marathon Mission get started?
Harper: I had run a few marathons during my college years, and then I took a 17-year break from being a marathoner. Life and ministry got busy, and I never thought I would run another marathon [26.2 miles]. During those years I was pregnant nine times, having five miscarriages and four precious children.
In 2002, I completed my first post-childbearing marathon in Detroit with little training, and I caught the marathon bug. The next year I decided that I wanted to run the marathon in Detroit for a reason beyond myself.
I called my humble efforts in that Oct. 5, 2003, Detroit Free Press Marathon, “Marathon Mission.” My heart had been heavy for missionaries in particular. I wanted to do more to assist them than what our church’s budget would allow. So I asked the Lord, “What can I do to help?”
The Lord said to me, You can run, Lisa. You can run a long way. You can run a marathon and do it for missions!
Eureka! I thought. If people can do rock-a-thons and bowl-a-thons to raise support for worthy causes, why not do a marathon for missions? After that, there was no turning back.
My husband, Scott, said, “You never know, Lisa. This might just become an annual event.” I chuckled. Never did I expect what was to unfold in the years to come. To date, by God’s grace, I’ve run 15 full marathons. I prefer to run one marathon a year with the Marathon Mission Team, usually in Detroit. In 2013 we celebrate our 10-year Marathon Mission anniversary. To God be the glory!
evangel: What are some ministries and charities impacted by Marathon Mission, both through giving and increased awareness?
Harper: The list of ministries and charities impacted by Marathon Mission is quite extensive. I started by running to benefit five missionary families my first year (raising $3,000).
Although MM has grown to reach beyond the Assemblies of God, many of our AG churches and ministries have also benefited from the tenacity and perseverance of our walkers and runners, including BGMC (Boys and Girls Missionary Challenge), Speed the Light, Chi Alpha, MAPS (Mission America Placement Service), and National Girls Ministries, as well as a number of individual U.S. and world missionaries and AG churches.
We even had our first “Marathon Mission Missionary Marathoner” with Carrie Love. Carrie and her husband, Matt, are missionaries with Latin America ChildCare. In 2007, Carrie ran her first marathon with MM in Detroit and raised $15,000! That’s taking it to a whole new level!
Although Detroit is the hub of our Marathon Mission wheel, the MM team continues to expand to new races and places. From Boston to Chicago, from Maine to Dearborn, Mich., we endeavor to leave a mark for Jesus at all sorts of road-racing venues.
evangel: Over the years, Marathon Mission has had some unique opportunities for ministry that may not have come about through a more traditional, church-oriented program. Tell us about those.
Harper: God has poured forth His blessing on Marathon Mission in great measure. The marathon in Detroit is one of the nation’s largest, with over 24,000 participants annually. Every year before the race, we hold our Sunrise Celebration near the starting line. Gathering in the dark, amid stretches and “high fives,” the MM team sings praises to God for His blessings and provision. Guitars and percussion make it a unique setting for participants and spectators. It’s street witnessing at its best.
Some of our new and faithful MM participants don’t yet know Christ, but the love of God is compelling them to walk or run with us. God is using MM to change families who would never darken the doors of a church. They are not threatened by us, even as they are compelled to mingle with our group and help meet needs around them. God is working outside of what sometimes becomes our “ministry in a box” mindset.
Our goal is that walkers, runners, supporters and onlookers will be able to tell that we are fervent followers of God because of our love for and devotion to the well-being of our fellow man.
evangel: Marathon Mission has grown as a result of your interest in running. Many in the church may not share the same hobbies and interests, but they’re looking for ways to make a difference. What encouragement and advice would you give to someone who has a unique idea for ministry, but doesn’t know where to start?
Harper: It’s important to emphasize that running is not for everyone! No one should feel guilty if they’re not interested in — or capable of — running.
I’ve always told myself, Lisa, if you can’t run, then walk. If you can’t walk, then move. Do something with the strength and gifts God has given you, for a reason beyond yourself. Psalm 103:1 says, “Bless the Lord, O my soul: and all that is within me, bless his holy name” (KJV).
God made each of us with unique interests and hobbies for a reason. We must not resist those, nor should we minimize their impact. I say, “Let God be the captain of your ship. Wake up every day declaring, ‘This is the day that the Lord has made. I will rejoice and be glad in it.’”
For example, in addition to running, one of my passions is writing. Through the years of marathon training, I have realized that life is a lot like a marathon. God began to birth in my heart short lessons that can be gleaned. So I combined these passions and wrote a book: Living and Loving — The Marathon of Life. But do you know what got me started? One day in 2008, my husband said, “Lisa, it’s time to write the book.”
So I encourage each reader of the Evangel to fill in these blanks: “____________ (your name), it’s time to ____________ (your idea).”
Pray about it. Read God’s Word for guidance. Listen to His voice. Share your idea with people you respect. Brainstorm with them about how God might want you to use your passions in unconventional ways. Our methods may change but the message of Christ remains the same. Take a risk to try something new, particularly as it relates to reaching out to others.
Sometimes we don’t realize the giftings we’ve received from God because they are so natural to us. Are you a handy person? Prolific writer? Servant extraordinaire? Quiet organizer? Nurse to the broken? Chef supreme? Talented carpenter? God has a plan for you and your passions.
Use your giftings to deliver a message of hope to a hurting world. Remember, though, that as you ponder your strengths, it’s really not about you or me. It’s all about God. May we each play our part in having His kingdom come and His will be done on earth as it is in heaven.