By Paula Schlueter Ross
In his quest to run for 24 hours straight to raise funds for LINC Houston programs and the communities the LCMS Recognized Service Organization serves, the Rev. Mark Junkans threw up, continued to feel nauseous for hours, endured wrenching pain in his legs and lost some 10 pounds of body weight.
Junkans, an endurance athlete who has run 26-mile marathons and competed in “ironman” triathlons, had to lie down twice — for an hour each time — during the grueling 24-hour ordeal, and walked when he had to, but he “never thought of giving up” because he “wanted to make a difference for the kingdom of God.”
And God, in turn, got him through it, he says.
When the pain in his legs was almost unbearable, he “started to concentrate on God’s grace and mercy, singing hymns in my head and out loud to keep my mind on Him,” Junkans told Reporter. “The words of ‘What a Friend We Have in Jesus’ had new meaning during this time.”
Unable to keep food and drink down after some eight hours on the run, Junkans was forced to lie down and rest. He managed to eat a peanut butter-and-jelly sandwich some 14 hours in, but “basically subsisted on water and electrolyte tablets for the remaining 10 hours” because of the lingering nausea.
When he ended his run at 2 p.m. Oct. 13 — a full 24 hours after he started it the day before — his “Run 4 the City” had totaled 119 miles and raised more than $80,000 for LINC Houston’s work in church planting and community outreach.
Even though the total is short of the run’s $100,000 goal, it is nonetheless “a testament to how committed our partners are to making an impact in the city” and he thanked “all the individuals, churches and local businesses who contributed so that we can serve more people.”
Since LINC Houston (www.linchouston.org) was founded by Junkans in 2002 to “empower families to become self-sufficient,” it has served more than 125,000 people by providing assistance for basic needs, leadership training, and community services such as housing and food distribution. The ministry also has started more than 35 churches in the city’s low-income and immigrant communities.
The run began at St. Timothy Lutheran Church in Northwest Houston and ended at Trinity Lutheran Church downtown. It included stops at 10 other Houston-area Lutheran churches along the way, where pastors and members prayed and cheered for Junkans.
He said he is “very glad” he did the run “because of the impact that it has made in our communities. I have received so many messages from our mission churches and partner congregations telling about how motivating this is for people struggling in their faith — that someone would make this kind of effort so that more people in our community could know Jesus’ love.”
Junkans said he believes that “no matter our calling, vocation or gifting, God can — and does — use us for His purposes. If someone is able to sing, God can use them. If someone is able to care for the hurting, God can use them as well.
“Sometimes, He calls us to attempt something beyond our abilities so that others can see His power at work in us.”
A member from an African Lutheran congregation told Junkans that his run “represented the Christian life to her. We are redeemed by God’s grace and empowered to live for Him. Along the way, there are trials and struggles, but the Holy Spirit preserves our faith until the end, when we finally arrive at our heavenly home. At the end of our race, those that went before us will be there to welcome us home and celebrate the victory that Jesus won for us on the cross.”
Junkans said the first three verses of Hebrews 12 were on his mind during the run: about running “with perseverance the race marked out for us,” and “fixing our eyes on Jesus,” and considering what Jesus endured “so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.”
One of his goals, he said, “was to inspire other Christians to boldly use their gifts and talents to serve others and to promote the message of Jesus,” and he said he believes that goal was realized among LINC Houston’s mission workers and their congregations.
Said Junkans: “I heard several stories of how this run has encouraged them in their faith, and to keep doing the work that God has called them to — no matter how difficult and challenging.”
Updated Nov. 13, 2013
How inspiring! I am an ultra runner, too. I have told people on numerous occasions that God brought me through each race by giving me strength where I did not have any left. I have sung hymns and prayed out loud in the middle of the night deep in the wilderness where God has pulled me through to the next aid station. It is wonderful to hear of someone else doing the same! Keep up the great work, Pastor Junkans!