A Race for Water
By Elliott Wright
New York, NY, April 17, 2009--Michael Lightfoot wanted to do something exciting and worthwhile for his 50th birthday. His choice for a birthday celebration combines his love of running and his commitment to Christian mission.
On May 24, Mike will compete in a 56-mile marathon in South Africa, with the funds raised by hundreds of United Methodist backers going to support mission-related clean-water projects in Africa. He is director of music at the First United Methodist Church in Richardson, Texas, and his birthday has turned into "Project 56," a mission cause of a mission-minded congregation.
Each family in the 5,800-member congregation has been challenged to contribute $56.00 to Mike's race for water. The money raised will be contributed through The Advance, the United Methodist designated-giving mission channel, to projects such as Water for Life, a ministry to bring clean water to 45 communities in Liberia. The Advance is part of the General Board of Global Ministries, the international mission agency of the denomination.
Lightfoot has already qualified to enter the grueling 56-mile Comrades Marathon, one of the longest and most famous foot races in the world, run between the South African cities of Pietermaritzburg and Durban since 1921. "My goal is to finish the race, not to win it," he said in a telephone interview. "Runners have 12 hours to cross the finish line. Seeing how many make it is as exciting as watching the winner come in."
The Comrades Marathon is one of the biggest, nationally televised annual sporting events in South Africa.
The Richardson church music director has been running for some 20 years and entered his first marathon nine years ago at the age of 41. He qualified for the Comrades in January at the Texas Marathon in Kingswood. He has been preparing for South Africa by trial runs of 24, 28, and 30 miles. For several weeks prior to the race he will not run but relax his body and mind in preparation for the big push on May 24.
Project 56 also includes a healthy-living component, another primary concern of Mike Lightfoot, one that parallels aspects of the current United Methodist focus on health. The runner in early February challenged the 45 staff members of First Church to help him mark his birthday by collectively running 5,600 miles—a hundred miles for each of the 56 he expects to cover in South Africa.
At the start of April, the church runners were right on target, clocking 3,300 miles in February and March. The pastors are allowed to use pedometers to register their daily movement; no bicycle miles, although one staffer with a walking handicap can count swimming miles.
"Check His Sanity"
"When Mike broached the idea of running 56 miles to support mission, I thought we needed to check his sanity," said the Rev. Dr. Clayton Oliphint, Richardson First Church senior pastor, in a telephone conversation. "That's two regular marathons plus, but Mike had this dream of doing something special, something to bless others as he turned 50. Our church has a heart for mission, and Mike's project is exciting and will also help people."
Lightfoot says that the idea of dedicating funds raised by his run to water projects in Africa was inspired by a sermon in which Pastor Oliphint pointed to a lack of uncontaminated water in parts of Africa. "I realized that wells affect many lives and I wanted to do something to increase their number."
"Water Is Life"
"What Mike Lightfoot is doing is heroic," said the Rev. Sam Dixon, who heads the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR). "A billion of the earth's people do not have access to clean water--causing thousands of children and adults to die from preventable diseases. Constructing wells and improving access to clean water sources is an act of Christian compassion. Water is life, and an abundant life is what the church seeks to offer in Jesus' name."
Several well-digging and clean-water projects in Africa can be supported through The Advance, and every dollar goes to the project or projects designated.
A Congregation in Mission
Mike Lightfoot has been music director at the Richardson church for seven years. His wife, Mary, who will accompany him to South Africa, is organist.
"The Richardson church is the healthiest congregation in many ways that I have ever seen," says the Rev. Joy Anderson, minister of mission. "It is a mixed-income church, predominantly Anglo but with slowly increasing numbers of African, African American, Hispanic, and Asian families. Mission is truly at the heart of things."
The First United Methodist Church of Richardson has an average weekly worship attendance of between 1,900 and 2,100, and between 800 and 1,000 in Sunday school. There are 22 adult Sunday school classes with more being added, according to Rev. Anderson. It supports five covenant relationships with missionaries through Global Ministries and has partnerships with congregations in the Czech Republic and Russia.
Elliott Wright is the information officer of the General Board of Global Ministries.
Date posted: Apr 17, 2009