26 miles isn’t enough this weekend. But 100 miles might work. If you are in Chicago on October 9, look for Team World Vision, a mass of orange-jerseyed runners one thousand strong, running in the Bank of America Chicago Marathon to fight poverty in Kenya. Michael Chitwood, president of Team World Vision, and three friends will be running 100 miles instead of the usual 26.2.
“At 4:30 Saturday afternoon, we’ll launch a big sendoff, and my friends and I start our 76 mile run through the night,” says Michael. “We’ll meet the rest of the team at the starting line of the Chicago Marathon the next morning.”
What is Team World Vision?
The Christian humanitarian organization World Vision has been fighting global poverty since 1950. The largest organization of its kind, they employ a five-fingered approach to transformational community development:
Many people know them primarily through their child sponsorship program.
In 2006, Team World Vision established a unique approach for individuals to participate in a personal way in the fight against poverty. The money each runner raises to support his or her race goes directly to help communities establish and maintain clean water and sanitation.
How it All Started
Michael Chitwood played defensive lineman football for Olivet Nazarene University, so “I was a big guy,” he says. After getting married in 2000, “I got bigger,” he chuckles. When a friend of his encouraged him to join him in training for a marathon three years later, Michael thought it would be a good way to get in shape. He was also looking for an emotional outlet to help him deal with the grief of losing his father who had died in 2001.
“It changed my life,” he said of that race. “My father had passed away a couple of years earlier, and running became a restorative experience for me in my faith.” It was during training for one of his subsequent races—an ironman triathalon—that, he says, “God laid it on my heart to start racing on behalf of the poorest kids in the world.” Within a few months, he was talking about his idea with a World Vision staff member in the Chicago office, and three months after that, in January 2006, Michael was hired to oversee a pilot program known as Team World Vision.
Later that year, he and 95 other runners participated in the Chicago Marathon, raising $150,000. Over the course of the next two years Team World Vision became the largest charity team, out of 162, at the Chicago Marathon. Their numbers rose steadily, growing from 95 to 500, then to 750 by 2008. Since 2009 they’ve consistently registered close to 1000 runners each year.
The organization competes in six major marathons across the US: Minneapolis, New York, Los Angeles, Dallas, Miami, and Chicago, as well dozens of other shorter races. Michael will have plenty of supporters alongside him running to raise money for a clean water project in Kenya.
How it Works
Team World Vision gives each runner a personal fundraising web page. “It’s kind of like when we were kids, going door to door asking for pledges,” Michael smiles. “But now it’s all online.” The runners share their web address with friends and family, offering an informative and easy way to help. Each runner is encouraged to raise $50 per mile (or more). A marathoner might raise $1310, and a half-marathoner around $650. But any amount is welcome; there is no minimum requirement.
“That’s about how much it costs to bring a person clean water for life,” Michael explains.
All funds raised through Team World Vision are dedicated to the Kenyan Integrated Water Initiative, a series of clean water and sanitation projects throughout Kenya. Donors can be kept apprised of the project’s progress through regular newsletters.
“People might be surprised to hear that 80% of our team are first-time runners,” says Michael. “It is for people like me, who might be dealing with personal issues like I was when my dad died. Running can be therapeutic in their lives like it has been in mine.”
Michael’s enthusiasm is palpable. “There is something unique about TWV; it is an experience that is physical, spiritual, emotional and relational. Training for a marathon is where I learned to talk to God again. Relationally, running with a team provides an opportunity to build deep relationships with one another. It’s also missional because we are having a global impact.”
Anticipation in Dallas
Paul Johnson agrees. The Texas Area Coordinator for Team World Vision joined the program as a beginner. “Two years ago, at age 36, I was not a runner at all,” he laughs. But after a friend “dragged him into it,” he started training. “Then I ran the White Rock Half-Marathon with that friend as my first race ever.”
Having been sponsoring a child for three years, he recognized the World Vision logo on a runner’s jersey during that race. He remembers thinking, “Wow, I can run for these guys. This is awesome!”
A few weeks later he saw a church colleague also wearing a Team World Vision shirt and asked him if he knew whether they were hiring. One resume and several conversations later, Paul was hired on to oversee Team World Vision’s efforts in Texas.
He works alone, utilizing corporate and church volunteer partners to help spread the word and organize participants. Team World Vision in Dallas includes 600 runners in two races, the October 22nd “13.1 Dallas Half Marathon and 5 Mile Benefiting World Vision” and the December 4th White Rock Marathon.
Assuming interested runners have already been training, they are invited to join Team World Vision at any time up to one week before the marathon. Paul encourages runners to sign up sooner to ensure they get in the race before registration is closed.
Many churches will partner with Team World Vision as volunteer coordinators, gathering teams of runners from within their own church body or neighborhood. One local church in the Dallas area has registered 110 runners and raised close to $1 million.
Other organizations join the fun too: Women of Faith is headquartered in Dallas, and their staff formed a team of around 10 runners who raised over $7,000 last year and will be running again this year.
Another unique group is the team of homeless women, sponsored by some local Dallas churches, who will run in the 5K race on October 22nd. Cheering them on will be a group of women from a local jail who are coming to the 5K to pray for the homeless women’s team while they race.
“My prayer is that these races will bring healing to participants,” says Paul. “I’ve shared Christ so many times while running. Running breaks down a lot of preconceived barriers that people might bring. There a lot of ministry opportunities going on.”
Going the Extra Mile
Back in Chicago, Michael and his team prepare for a wild weekend and an extra-long race. Why run 100 miles? Because for every mile they run, they’ve gathered at least $50 that goes toward the regular support of an African child.
Michael’s goal is to raise enough support for 400 children.
Originally posted on October 7, 2011.