Why do you run?
It is the question often asked of marathon runners. Sure, there are health benefits from getting some exercise, but to run 26.2 miles without stopping is something altogether different. Toward the end of a marathon, the body pushes its limits with each painful step. The training and dedication required — exemplified by marathoners running as much as 100 miles a week in preparation — begs the question: Why do you press on? Why do you care so much? Why do you run?
Marathon runner Brian Evans, the senior pastor at Calvary Baptist Church in Columbia, answered the questions in 2004 when he started his charity, I Run For Orphans. It all began when he ran his first marathon and raised money for an orphanage in Africa. Today, the charity involves more than 30 runners from across the country raising thousands of dollars for orphanages in Haiti, Sudan, Kenya and Russia.
The organization also has a Web site (www.irunfororphans.com) to connect runners with donors and help them raise money. Runners can create profile pages on the Web site where donors can read about them and donate for the specific races they run. Runners and donors also can suggest new orphanages for fundraising; if they check out, the charity will add them to the list.
Sitting in his office at Calvary, the 38-year-old Evans looks the part of a marathon runner and visionary. Slender and fit, his eyes are bright; the hint of a smile plays at the corners of his mouth. When he talks, he sometimes moves his hands as if trying to help listeners see what he sees.
Back in the summer of 2003, Evans was the youth pastor at Calvary. He took his youth group on a mission trip to Denver, where they attended a church camp gathering of more than 500 youths. The camp director there was a younger man who was training for a marathon. Evans had run a little as a child and recalls his father, who ran half-marathons, had always told him he had the body of a runner and should try it. Evans ran track in ninth grade but “wasn’t any good,” he says, so he focused on tennis during his years at Hickman High School. When Evans saw the camp director training for a marathon, his father’s old advice surfaced and he decided to give running another try.
“I thought, ‘If he’s doing it, why can’t I do that?‘ ” Evans says. “ ‘That would be really neat.’ ”
Evans started by running a few miles a day. Soon, this hobby — this idea to give running a try — became his passion and grew into all-out marathon training.
“First, I just started running a little a day, like two or three miles,” Evans says. “Then I’d add another mile: four, then it was five, then it was six, then it was eight. Basically, it just kind of grew, and then I downloaded the [online marathon training] program and started training.”
Evans went online and found basic marathon training programs. He heard about Columbia’s Heart of America Marathon held every Labor Day. In 2004, he decided to make it his first marathon. He told Steve Stonecipher-Fisher, owner of the Tryathletics store in Columbia, of his plans.
Stonecipher-Fisher informed Evans that the Heart of America course’s hilly terrain makes it one of the nation’s toughest marathons. He recommended Evans find a flatter course for his first marathon. Evans responded with the logic of a first-time marathon runner.
“Well, I know that no matter what marathon I run it’s going to be really painful,” Evans recalls saying. “I don’t know the difference, so I might as well just do the one here in town even if it is the third-hardest in the United States, or whatever it is.”
Once he’d made his decision, Evans poured himself into his marathon preparation, running farther and farther each week.
“At one point he was running near 100-mile weeks and some over 100-mile weeks,” says Stonecipher-Fisher. “Most people look at running as a penalty. For those of us who are addicted, it’s seen as a good thing.”
All this running had refreshing benefits for Evans. It helped him deal with the stress of being in the ministry.
“I needed a release,” he says. “Being in the ministry can be stressful, very stressful; your work is never done. I really needed some kind of an outlet where I could let some of that stress get out.”
But as he ran mile after mile, Evans had an epiphany. He thought about what his running could do to help others and the people he feels God has called him to help.
“[Running] is such a selfish sport,” Evans says. “I’m out here by myself. I’m not really benefiting anybody but me. And I have a heart for orphans. I’ve always kind of had a heart for orphans and helping them out. So wouldn’t it be cool if I could use my running to raise money, so when I run a marathon, I’m sending the money to an orphanage somewhere?”
Evans came home from a run one day and told his wife, Beth, about his plans to raise money for orphans when he ran, and to start a charity to help other runners do so. Beth Evans knows her husband, knows his passion and dedication, and she knew he could and would do what he set his mind to.
“He has such a tender heart toward people in general,” she says, “and especially when he knows people are suffering and need things. He can’t just look the other way.”
Before his first marathon, Evans told his church that he was starting a charity, and would run to raise money for orphans in Sudan. The congregation responded, and has been “extremely supportive” of the charity ever since, he says. After setting a modest goal to raise $500, Evans raised more than $800 in his first marathon.
Even with these small beginnings, the self-described dreamer could see it all from the start: the Web site, runners participating from across the country and raising thousands or even millions of dollars for orphans around the world.
His time goals for his first marathon were also ambitious. Evans wanted to run the race in less than 3 hours and 10 minutes, the time required for his age group to qualify for the famed Boston Marathon. Hilly course or not, Evans achieved his time goal, finishing eighth in the 2004 Heart of America Marathon with a time of 3 hours and 8 minutes.
Again raising money for orphans, Evans ran in the Boston Marathon in April 2005. Beth and their boys, Josiah, now 15, and Matty, now 13, traveled with him and cheered him on. Qualifying for this prestigious marathon and enjoying the experience with his family were all it took — Evans was hooked on running.
“That kind of sealed the deal and made me think this is fun,” Evans says. “I really enjoyed it.”
The Boston Marathon, with its seemingly endless tales of the triumph of the human spirit and running for a cause, matched well with Evans and his burgeoning charity. In 1946, Greek marathoner Stylianos Kyriakides shocked the world when he won the race in an effort to raise awareness, money and supplies for the people in his war-torn and famine-plagued homeland. According to newspaper reports, Kyriakides, himself rail thin and on the brink of starvation, pulled away near the end after an old man in the crowd yelled, “For Greece, for your children!” Fifty-nine years later, Evans was running the same race, also to help children overseas in need.
Evans has continued running in marathons, usually one or two a year. His best time is 2 hours and 44 minutes, but he is quick to point out that his running is not about his time or how fast he goes.
“Donors don’t care how fast I go,” he says. All runners — regardless of how fast or slow they go, whether they run marathons, half-marathons or other races — can sign up for I Run For Orphans. The charity is for anyone who wants to help orphans, whether they like running or if they just want to donate.
“The point is you’re running for orphans who don’t have clean water, who don’t have education, who don’t have a future unless we give it to them with God blessing our efforts,” Evans says. “It’s not about how fast you go. It’s about what you can do for them.”
Evans’ mission has always been to remove barriers between these orphans and those who want to help them. The charity’s staff and Web site administrator work on a volunteer basis, so 100 percent of the money donated goes directly to the orphanages. Donations to the nonprofit charity are tax-exempt. As the organization continues to grow, Evans continues to envision the next steps and where those steps may lead. He can see how many orphans could be helped, how many people could get involved.
“I’m kind of a dreamer,” he says. “All along I’ve had big dreams for this. My dream is that we’re raising more than $1 million a year. That’s what I want to get to.”
As he builds his charity, Evans has to balance time between serving as Calvary’s senior pastor and doing his work for I Run For Orphans. Like most pastors, he puts in long hours with church meetings, sermon preparation and availability when church members need him. “He’s busier than a lot of folks,” Stonecipher-Fisher says.
Making A Difference
There are challenges, but Evans finds rewards in helping others in their spiritual walk and in spreading the Gospel. He knows he is making a difference for people. Running still serves as a release and refreshment for him, both physically and mentally. Although time commitments make it difficult to train, he is considering running in the 50th annual Heart of America Marathon in Columbia this year.
Evans runs with a purpose and a passion. He runs to fight the scourge of global poverty and to aid the orphans who desperately need his help. On his runner profile page of the I Run For Orphans Web site, Evans quotes Job 29:15–16, a Bible passage that he says sums up his feelings about running: “I was eyes to the blind and feet to the lame. I was a father to the needy, and I searched out the cause of him whom I did not know.”
One man or one charity probably can’t end global poverty or the plight of orphans worldwide, but he can keep running. Each step, especially the painful ones, makes a difference. Each dollar donated and each race run helps those in need. I Run For Orphans already has made a difference for the children it has helped. The vision and the indomitable will of one runner has become reality, and children around the globe are testament to its results.
“That’s what keeps him going,” Beth says, “knowing he’s making a difference.”
Run With Your Dreams
In Brian Evans’ office at Calvary Baptist Church, high on the wall, hangs a black and white poster of Czech runner Emil Zatopek, who at the 1952 Helsinki Olympic Games became the only man to win the 5,000-meter, 10,000-meter and marathon events. Evans enjoys showing visitors a YouTube clip of the end of the 5,000-meter race, where an exhausted Zatopek is passed and appears defeated, only to rally and win going away.
A quote by Zatopek at the top of the poster describes Evans well: “A runner must run with dreams in his heart.”