By Jennifer Kotila
DELANO, MN For the second year in a row, a group of runners have traveled the 200-mile journey from the South Dakota/Minnesota border to Stillwater, running through Montrose, Delano, and the rest of southern Wright County June 28, to raise funds and awareness of humanitarian injustices in Southeast Asia.
The run was organized by Venture Expeditions, which focuses on partnering with local churches and organizations to facilitate care points focusing on education, food security, and discipleship for refugees and oppressed people in Southeast Asia.
The core value of Venture Expeditions is to use physical sacrifice in community with Christ for Biblical justice. In this case, the physical hardship is running 200 miles in two weeks, while stopping and sharing the reason for their journey with people of faith and raising funds for those in need in Southeast Asia.
In Cokato, runners stopped at Good Shepherd Lutheran Church June 29 to share with congregants the reason for the tour and the needs of the people in Southeast Asia.
In Eastern Burma, Venture partners with Solomon Sorcher, an Ahka pastor who works with families and communities throughout eastern Burma.
Venture has helped provide safe houses, where Christians gather for worship and support.
The safe houses also serve as a safe place for individuals recovering from forced prostitution, rape, and domestic violence to be counseled and restored to healthy lives.
Venture also assists in providing a stable environment for local orphans to be enrolled in school and other community programs in Eastern Burma.
In Northern Thailand, Venture works with the HOSEA Center, offering educational and developmental resources such as part-time teachers, child sponsorships, day camps, recreational activities, community empowerment programs, community outreach, and opportunities to hear the Gospel.
Along the Thailand/Burma border, where there is an influx of refugees fleeing from Burma to Thailand, Venture partners with local pastors and Feed My Starving Children, operating a refugee care point center.
The care point offers much needed food security and serves as a center for educational opportunities for refugee children, as well as a place for local Christians to gather and worship together.
Running for the cause
There were four runners in this group, ranging in age from 18 to 31 and coming from all over the US.
The youngest and most inexperienced runner of this group is Paige Appel, an 18-year-old college student going into her sophomore year at St. Cloud State University. Her hometown is St. Croix Falls, WI.
“This area’s people are extremely vulnerable right now, and definitely in need of help,” Appel said of Southeast Asia.
The area she speaks of is coming out of one of the world’s longest civil wars, and is plagued by poverty, sex trafficking, AIDS, and unclean water, she noted.
“It has been super difficult,” Appel said of the run. “Sometimes, on the longest runs (26 miles per day), I think, ‘Why am I doing this?’ But then I think of the people I am doing this for, and keep going.”
The three male runners are all experienced runners who are 31 years old.
Aaron Coe is from Portland, OR and first heard of Venture’s cycling tours a couple of years ago at a justice conference.
“I’ve been thinking recently about what running means to me,” said Coe, who has been running competitively for 16 years. “I wanted to find a way to have more purpose with running.”
He noted this run has helped him connect running more to his faith and helping people.
He noted along the way, the group has had some really great hosts who have been generous and supportive, giving of their prayers and money.
“It is good to see people coming together as a community,” he said.
Greg Bargo is married with a child. He met his wife in 2008 on a cross-country cycling tour with Venture.
Although it was difficult for him to leave his wife and child, he noted his wife also has an adventurous, outdoor spirit and understood why he wanted to do this running tour.
“It’s hard to do, being away from my child, but it is something I am passionate about,” Bargo said.
He noted that Venture has helped him to grow as a person and challenge himself, and helped him to think outside the box.
Adding that he and the other runners will be lifelong friends, Bargo said, “We are growing as a team and as people, and helping people around the world, as well.”
Dallas Horne, an assistant high school principal from Dallas, TX was also introduced to Venture in 2008 when a group visited his church.
This is the first time he has been able to take time to join a running tour, and noted doing something like this really puts individuals out there to talk about the issues.
As the runners have progressed each mile, they stop to pray, which is something Horne said has been very beneficial to him. “There’s not any particular reason [to pray each time we stop], it’s just to bring us closer together,” he said.