10 Ways Missions Is Like Running

According to Shawne (writer) & Harold (runner): ABWE missionaries in South Asia

From Message magazine issue "Able"

Harold drips his way onto our back veranda. His shoes squish as he walks. He just ran for two hours. Before breakfast. In the dark. In our stifling South Asia heat.

“Productive discomfort,” he says with a smile, before guzzling a bottle of recovery drink.

Productive discomfort? Sounds like the definition of our lives. Is that what missions is meant to be? As he wipes sweat from his eyes, I ponder the many parallels between running and missions work.

  1. Practice. Before we came here, Harold and I had received advanced training. We thought we were in-shape and ready for life here, but we quickly discovered we were weak and needy. We had much to learn.
  2. Focus every motion on forward movement. As I converse with neighbors, I jot down new vocabulary. Harold discovers that his national co-workers share concerns and insights over cups of tea, not during formal meetings. We learn and press forward.
  3. Don’t tense up. Countrywide strikes and world events can cause tension. Unexpected speaking opportunities, unplanned daily events, and unanticipated guests at the door can cause panic. But we give our fear to God and pray for His peace and calm.
  4. Pain is a message; make adjustments. We cross-cultural workers make mistakes; we hurt feelings of nationals and miscommunicate with our colleagues. So, we ask forgiveness, make adjustments, and pray to do better the next time.
  5. Lean into the run; your feet will leap forward to catch you. We never know how God is going to work in the hearts of the people we minister to, but we run in faith. We keep leaning into God, and over the years, He has never let us fall.
  6. Keep looking up. Solomon wrote, “A man’s heart plans his way, but the Lord directs his steps.” And so we pray for guidance. We strategize with teammates, but all the while, we keep our eyes up and fixed on God.
  7. Appreciate your whole body working together. Our team is a diverse mix of ages, backgrounds, and personalities, but our work is united by the same purpose.
  8. Enjoy the run. As marathoner Ryan Hall tells it, “the most powerful mental tool in running is joy.” Missions is no different, so at our prayer meetings, tea breaks, and in the middle of the struggles, we work to find joy in the many stories of God’s grace and provision.
  9. Be content with where you are in the process. No matter the pace, we’re thankful to be able to run and to be a part of God’s amazing work. It’s all God’s grace from beginning to end.
  10. Think hope on those hills. Our hope is in our Lord. And He is the reason we are happy in our productive discomfort and the reason we keep smiling in our squishy shoes.