BOSTON (BP)–As Boston Marathon runners filled the streets April 16, more than 180 volunteers ministered to spectators walking past two Boston-area churches along the route.
They met physical needs by handing out countless bottles of water, free seven-minute phone cards and even maps of the race. And they offered an evangelical Christian witness as well, including a brief printed presentation of the gospel of Jesus Christ on the maps and small booklets describing a relationship with Christ in more detail.
The event was sponsored by Hearts for Boston — the name for Southern Baptists’ Strategic Focus Cities effort in the city. Strategic Focus Cities is an outreach effort sponsored by the North American Mission Board in cooperation with local and regional partners. A similar effort is also underway this year in Las Vegas.
“To me it was one of the highlights of my work with Hearts for Boston,” said Bob Moore, NAMB’s Strategic Focus Cities coordinator for Boston. “It really thrilled me to see the amount of Scripture and ministry items we were able to distribute.”
“It was great to see so many different ministries come together for a day and really accomplish something,” added Peggy Peek, Boston collegiate minister and coordinator for one of the sites.
The day of the Boston Marathon is one of the few times when the community is out en masse, and it wasn’t out of place to see volunteers passing out free items in the church’s front yard, Peek said, noting, “It was an avenue where we didn’t have to cross undue barriers to have conversations with people.”
A 10:30 a.m. chapel service near the start line, where more than 15,000 runners and spectators were gathered, was part of the official pre-race program of the Boston Marathon. Jack Graham, pastor of Prestonwood Baptist Church of Dallas, was the primary speaker for the service, which included a presentation of the gospel.
“At the closing of the chapel service, a prayer was offered for all athletes who would raise their hands requesting prayer,” said Tim Knopps, one of the event coordinators. “Athletes from over two blocks away lifted their hands as prayers for God’s mercy and God’s endurance were raised on their behalf.”
About 23,000 pieces of literature were distributed at the two sites, each of which includes a toll-free number for NAMB’s Evangelism Response Center for those who desired to talk with someone further about a relationship with Christ. The www.hearts4boston.com Internet site address was also included. The address was also prominent on about 5,000 heart-shaped red “Hearts for Boston” distributed to spectators.
Many of the spectators who came by the site graciously accepted the free items, while others appeared a bit more cautious.
“Bostonians have a skeptical spiritual attitude,” said Marc Harrienger, coordinator of the Boston Marathon outreach. “A lot of people say to me, ‘You’re trying to force me to do something I don’t want to do and then you’re going to ask me for money.'”
Harrienger hopes passing out free maps, phone cards and bottled water will help put to rest some stereotypes of Christians who want to share their faith with others. Most people seemed appreciative of the gifts, which came with no strings attached.
Many volunteers also sported hooded blue rain jackets with yellow lettering on the back that read “My heart is for Boston,” with the word “heart” represented by a heart symbol. The jackets will be used as a theme for future Hearts for Boston events as “a way to develop a relational, spiritual conversation with someone,” said Harrienger.
At Ruggles Baptist Church, a mile from the finish line, volunteers were busy setting up sound equipment, blowing up balloons and stamping maps with the contact information of several churches involved with the effort.
Red-shirted students from Louisiana College’s Baptist campus ministry kept busy passing out water, maps and phone cards alongside local volunteers from Boston-area churches and collegiate ministries.
“Christians in New England find it very difficult to share their faith,” Harrienger said. Feelings of isolation and the lack of a church culture contribute to this, he said. He hopes the event will encourage churches and believers that sharing their faith is a good thing, that it’s not something to be ashamed of, and that it’s not very hard.
Harrienger and Peek both expressed hopes there will be future marathon outreaches. Tentative plans for next year will include the same kind of event, with the possibility of expanding to four race sites.
“I think it was a real energizing effort,” Harrienger said. “Hopefully more pastors and people will participate in the future.”
Hearts for Boston events and ongoing ministry will continue throughout this year. For more information, check the www.hearts4boston.com website. Volunteer information is also available at 1-888-839-3331.
(BP) photos posted in the BP Photo Library at http://www.bpnews.net. Photo titles: ON COURSE and PRE-MARATHON MESSAGE. See more sports coverage at BPSports, www.bpsports.net.