The second annual Run for the Unreached held by the Antioch Initiative in partnership with North Central University (NCU) in Minneapolis was supposed to help even more people to become aware of the thousands of people groups still needing to hear the gospel message, but then . . . COVID-19. The event seemed destined to disappear, but then God turned a setback into a celebration.
Nick and Marcae Robertson are AG World Missions missionaries who direct the Antioch Initiative, an outreach that firmly connects with AGWM’s focus on unreached people. “Our primary role is to cast vision and train up young people to reach the unreached of the world,” Nick Robertson explains. “We do this in partnership with North Central.”
Last year, the Robertsons came up with the idea of hosting a run to raise awareness of unreached people groups.
“Name the cause — diseases, racism, trafficking — and there’s a 5K run for it,” Nick says. “So we thought, Why not have a run for the unreached who don’t have access to the gospel? We believe this is a way to raise awareness, care, and concern for those people groups who still need to hear the heart of the gospel and need access to Jesus.”
The inaugural run got off to a good start, with about 100 people, including volunteers, participating.
However, with plans underway for the second annual Run for the Unreached slated for April 18, the coronavirus pandemic halted everything. The Robertsons, and the 100 NCU students who participate in the Antioch Initiative, had prayerfully hoped to double participation this year and, more importantly, double the awareness.
“At first, we thought things were going to be okay because the students were supposed to come back,” Nick says. “But things changed; they didn’t come back. So, in addition to social distancing challenges, we also lost our volunteer base.”
For about a week the Robertsons debated canceling the 5K, because now even the park where the 5K was held wouldn’t allow the event to be held on its grounds. But in late March, they received three pieces of mail on the same day: one from a missionary who had volunteered to help with the race, a second from another missionary (which included a registration check for the run), and a third from the event’s T-shirt company.
“I got to thinking, God I think You’re speaking here, and I began to pray about it,” Nick recalls. “Then the idea came to me that we’re not supposed to give up; we’re supposed to do something virtually. We didn’t give up and God did a miracle!”
Although many races this year have allowed participants to run the race virtually — doing the same distance at home on their own course — the Robertsons created an experience that not only drew people to the race, but set the mark for communicating its message.
Following online registration, participants were given the option of choosing one of eight different regions of the world they were most interested in learning about. They were then assigned to that area. Then on race day, when it came time to check in, they were taken to a Zoom call room, hosted by an NCU student and a missionary from that part of the world.
“As participants checked in, they were able to hear the missionary share his or her story and tell of the unreached people groups they were taking the gospel to,” Nick says. “After that, the missionary shared prayer points for individuals to pray over as they participated in the race.”
In addition to a Zoom meeting with missionaries, participants were also supplied with podcasts that explained about the unreached and the efforts being made by AG missionaries to see those groups reached. The race was also made into a “flexible” distance — people could walk around their house, their block, or run/walk however far they wanted to for the event.
The Robertsons, who spent about 20 years in Asia as missionaries prior to beginning to serve with the Antioch Initiative in 2015, admit at first they didn’t know what to expect. But through social media, the word began to spread.
How did it go?
“Well, let’s just say there are people still waiting to receive their T-shirts, as we had to order more,” Nick says, a bit embarrassed. “We were praying for maybe 200, but we had 518 people register!”
Joe and Abi Cyr’s family participated in the event. As they are in the Eastern Time Zone, check-in began at 11 a.m. for them.
“Our heart as a family is to always be involved in missions,” says Joe, who co-pastors L!FE Church in Manchester, New Hampshire, with Abi. “With everything going on with COVID-19, this was a great opportunity to look outside ourselves and take time out to pray for the unreached.”
Two of the Cyrs’ six children, Adalia and Chloe, attend NCU and are a part of the Antioch Society, the initiative’s interface with NCU’s students, so the entire family participated in the event. Quite a few from the church also registered and participated.
“I took the boys on a hike and we prayed through the prayer points, while my wife took the girls,” Joe says. “We listened to the podcasts and prayed — missions is a big deal for our family. Individually, together, and with our church we’ve gone on over 50 missions trips.”
Even Michael, who’s 11 and the youngest, enjoyed the experience. “I thought it was cool,” he says. “I prayed for the relationships between missionaries in Asia (to continue to develop).”
Since the cost to register was only $10 a person, it made the fee affordable for even large families. However, Joe adds that the church sent additional support to help with the ministry of reaching the unreached.
“The best part,” Joe says, “was being able to connect before the event through a Zoom call and to see and talk live to a specific missionary and hear their heart . . . I think that was a huge part of the success of this.”
For the Robertsons, the event wasn’t about making money ($10 barely covers the cost of a T-shirt and shipping), but about raising awareness of the need. Perhaps, instead of someone investing just money, they choose to invest their life in sharing the gospel with the unreached.
“Socially, we were distant,” Nick says, “but that day we were all together in the Great Commission.”