Ready | Set | Go

Indian music played softly through the speakers, struggling for a chance to be heard over the monotonous drone of the car’s engine. I shifted uneasily in my seat, and gazed out of the window at the passing landscape. India, the land of color, surely lived up to its name, as we passed markets bustling with people, stands overflowing with native produce, and temples dedicated to countless gods positioned on every street corner. Horns blaring, motorcyclists whizzed by us on the crowded roads. The traffic carefully parted like water around a rock, a single cow sleeping in the street, unaffected by the commotion around it.

Soon enough we passed the outskirts of the city, and broke out into the country roads, local villages dotting the sparse landscape. I searched for the words to say, but nothing came to mind. Probably for the better, it was the type of silence that must be embraced; any words would have simply cluttered the atmosphere.

We turned onto a dusty road that skirted a nearby village. The car pulled in front of a piece of land with tall overgrown grass. “We’re here,” said Nyzil as we both exited the vehicle. We had been in India for nearly three weeks, staying in a children’s home, that Nyzil and his wife Shweta founded nearly a year ago. After hearing the call from the Lord the young couple began taking in orphaned children, nineteen in total, from very harsh walks of life, giving them housing, food, schooling, and the love of a Heavenly Father. We had the honor of serving and living amongst them for those 3 short weeks in Varanasi, India. Persecution can be quite cruel in India, we witnessed this first hand, moving them multiple times from their rented homes after the landlord kicked them out, upon discovery that they were Christians. They had no guaranteed place to stay, sometimes resorting to moving the entire family of twenty to a single room in his parent’s home. They desperately needed a change.

We waded through the tall grass with Nyzil’s cousin and friend who had met us at the location. A tall iron gate stood alone in the field, a sentinel with nothing to guard, its brick walls lay crumbled around it. That was the site of Nyzil’s dream. He had plans of building an orphanage on that patch of land. He had already poured all of his life savings into the first stage of construction, the outer wall. We stood on the remains of that dream, scattered bricks strewn underfoot, the result of a heavy storm the night before.

The group began to converse in Hindi, talks of the bricks getting stolen, of no money for repairs, and even of selling the land. I made my way to the middle of the field where the children’s home would have been built. A children’s home that could have brought in many more orphaned children, from local slums, train stations, and red light districts. Children who could have been given a hope and a future.

I looked up at the sky as puffy white clouds were floating overhead. I remember looking up at those same clouds as a child on sunny summer days. Squinting intensely at them, blurring the lines between reality and imagination, until they took on the form of something greater, a castle, a dragon, or a princess perhaps. But that day they just looked like clouds, and no matter how I squinted at the rubble around me, the secret to its greatness lay tightly locked behind the walls of reality.

Seven of us sat around the table in hushed anticipation, searching the deep crevices of our minds for any lost relic of creative genius that may have been buried deep inside. It had been nearly eight weeks since leaving India, since standing on the rubble of a broken dream, since gathering with the team, in the small Indian home, and unanimously coming to the decision to raise Nyzil the money to build the orphanage. Somehow, someway God would do it, and He would get the glory for it. The roots of our old life had once again taken a firm hold, having been back in America, indifferent comfort threatened to cast a fog of choice blindness over everything we had heard, seen, and done. To prevent such a mindset we gathered together, both the Nepal and India missions teams, to brainstorm fundraising Ideas. So far our best ideas consisted of: a bake sale, a car wash, and selling rocks on the side of the road… Yes, literally selling stones to cars that drove by. To say the least, it wasn’t going well. Until Ian, a member of the Nepal team struck pure gold, “We could put on a 5k run.”

Needless to say, selling rocks or putting on a 5k did not get taken to a vote. None of us had ever done anything like this before, half of us had never even run a 5k, I still kind of wanted to try the rock idea, but none of that mattered, God had given us His “what”, so we were going to the leave the “how” in His department. So we set a date, in two months time we would host the first annual Illuminate 5k, with nothing more than a heart full of passion, a goal of three hundred runners and ten thousand dollars raised, and a whole lot of faith in an awesome God.

The next several weeks were some of the most difficult and most rewarding of our lives. Countless insurmountable walls were met with the Lord’s grace and miraculous provision. There were quite a few times we almost gave up completely and scrapped the entire idea. Several weeks away from the race we had no location, no support, no money, and only seven runners signed up, one of them being myself. Tensions flared, relationships strained, and giving up seemed like an easy solution, “at least we tried right?” ”No one could blame us for that”. Wrong. This was what we were called to and we had to see it through, two thousand years ago a man did not give up on us when the going got tough so how could we? Besides, nothing worth having ever came easily.

We began to spread the word more than ever before. I think our friends and family got a little tired of hearing of the 5k. One man even claimed to have received multiple emails and fliers on his house, his car, in his office mailbox, and even at the local gym. In retrospect we may have overdone that part, but people could feel our excitement and it began to catch on. What we began to see was nothing short of beautiful and makes my eyes swell now just thinking about it. Church families falling in love with these children whom they had never met, local businesses willing to hurt their bottom line to see the 5k put on and the orphanage built, college students voluntarily sacrificing their time and money, and people in the community who just looked a whole lot like Jesus in the way that they loved. Newspapers got a hold of it and began printing articles, businesses donated thousands of fliers, hundreds of bottles of water, food, shirts and signs, the college got involved and began to help out in any way they could, even the president of the school donated enough to make the entire race glow-in-the-dark. People like Brittany Maksym, the director of the 5k, Rickus Otto, the maverick leader, and Mrs. Goff and Mr. Stelter, college professors, began to pour their hearts into the success of the race and future of the kids. Nyzil’s dream began to spread like a wildfire, his passionate self sacrificing love was so contagious it now found itself in the heart of our community. This was the church, the body of Christ in action, His hands and His feet led by the beating of His heart, a heart for the lost, the hurting, and the broken. We now had our 5k.

Two weeks came and went. I look down at my watch, October 11, 7:18 pm. It’s only a few minutes until the race begins. We are gathered atop the Lone Star College parking garage, as Michael speaks into the megaphone the instructions for the race and begins to share the story of the children who had captured our hearts just three short months ago. I look around in amazement; hundreds of people have come out in support. Three hundred some runners: children, parents, teachers, and students all covered in paint and glow sticks, gathered at the starting line prepared to run the race as a unified light in the darkness. The ten thousand dollar mark was broken just moments ago as the last few runners signed up. Thousands will be used to feed, clothe, house and teach the children in the Indian and Nepali children homes. Half will be used to build the beginning stages of Nyzil’s orphanage in India, some will be given away to others in need, so we can be the answer to someone else’s prayer, as many were to ours. More will have to be raised in order to finish the orphanage. God will provide as He always has, and the dream will become a reality. “Is everybody ready!?” Michael booms over the megaphone. The crowd cheers and presses up to the starting line. I take a deep breath and look around at the family surrounding me, steadily coming to the conclusion that all things are possible and if I squint my eyes hard enough, I can almost begin to see an orphanage taking shape, walls going up, rooms being built, and the laughing faces of a group of amazing kids that are worth the world! The boundaries between imagination and reality are only as real as you make them out to be. So squint a little harder, believe a little deeper, and get ready to see what an awesome God will do. “Ready, Set, Go!”

Illuminate Nations