November 25, 2017

Adventist University Reaches Out to Marathon Runners in Lebanon

Maria Lombart, Middle East and North Africa Union & Adventist Review

On Sunday, Nov. 12, Middle East University (MEU) students and Middle East University Church volunteers joined the BLOM Bank Beirut Marathon in its 15th consecutive year of running for health, peace, and well-being in Beirut, Lebanon’s capital city. MEU is the only Adventist-managed university in the region.

The 47,859 runners who took part in the marathon came from around the world, representing 105 nationalities. Some MEU students ran the marathon, as another group set up a water station and cheered the passing runners.

“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,” said Sara Saunders, Service Learning Coordinator at Middle East University. “It was fulfilling for us to see that we made a difference for them as they ran.”

George Jackson, dean of the Biology/Pre-med program, said that it was exciting to be a part of something so 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.

Water and Cheers

Twenty volunteers, including MEU students and MEU church members helped pass out hundreds of water bottles at the MEU water station to promote the importance of drinking water.

One of the students who had signed up to run, Wacjkir Deng, a 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 needed a lot of encouragement, especially those coming by the middle and towards the end.”

Lujia Wang, a theology major from China, was volunteering at the water station when she saw a Chinese woman 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, a business major from Egypt, woke up at 4 am to be sure she got a ride in the MEU van. She and her fiancé Yechan Jung, a theology major from South Korea, hand-drew brightly colored posters to encourage 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 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.”

Philosophy of Service

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.

MEU students not only volunteered but also ran. The University Church had a marathon relay team running 5K, 7K, and 10 K segments to complete 42.195 KM. For the preparation for the relay running, Jared Miller, pastor of the MEU Church, took the runners early Sunday mornings to a place where they would train by the Mediterranean Sea.

Miller delivered the runners a spiritual message about taking part in the marathon. He said that it was a great relief to pass the baton onto 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,” he said.