Pastor Mark Lehman celebrated his 55th birthday on Sunday, Oct. 3, by doing what most people do on their 55th birthdays — get up around 3 a.m., slap on some running gear, drive to church, and then start running a 55-kilometer (34.2-mile) loop around the city.
Ok, maybe most people don’t celebrate their double-nickel birthdays with that kind of physical punishment, but Lehman, who pastors M1 Church [also known as Mansfield (Ohio) First Assembly of God], had an ulterior motive behind the run — to try to raise $10,000 in order to launch a camp scholarship fund for kids.
Lehman not only met his goal, he nearly tripled it as he raised $27,478 for the scholarship fund!
“I’m too old to be cool enough to get kids and teens to camp, that’s what we have a youth pastor and kids pastor for,” Lehman says, “but I can fund it and make a pathway where there wasn’t one.”
Lehman, who did a similar fundraising run when he turned 50 and was pastoring in Kansas, didn’t become a Christian until after high school. He says he never got the chance to go to camp as a kid, but his wife did and so did his son.
“My wife, Sarah, got to go to camp when she was a kid because someone scholarshipped her, and while there, she was filled with the Spirit and it changed her life,” Lehman says. “My son was also filled with the Spirit at kids camp and that changed his life as well . . . I don’t want to see anyone miss out [on camp], especially not because of money.”
Lehman explains that the scholarship fund isn’t currently designed to pay each child’s full cost of attending camp, but to help lower the financial barrier and make camp more affordable for families. Currently the church of just over 400 has about 130 kids and youth who attend, with the fund money to be distributed over the next five years.
The run itself, 8 miles longer than a full marathon, started at 4:15 Sunday morning, with a support crew and volunteers who ran portions of the run with Lehman. Along the way were 16 aid stations with cheering support teams, beverages, and energy snacks. Lehman says it took him 25 weeks of building up his weekly long run to prepare for the effort, with his longest run prior to the 34.2 miles being a 22-mile run.
Several times during the run, Lehman was able to check in with his church via live video, greeting and reporting to both the first and second services on his progress. The Ohio Ministry Network Youth Director Nate Ortiz, was the special speaker for the day, which neatly tied in with Lehman’s purpose for the run.
Tim Raber and Bryce Hubbard, church members, both ran significant miles with Lehman to help encourage him in his effort.
Hubbard, 19, who has been attending M1 Church for about 13 years and minsters with the church’s worship team, was able to make it 21 miles with little training as he is attending college while also working. He confirms that for several days afterward he found himself with a slow and somewhat “cowboy-esque” walk — especially when going down stairs.
“I ran for Payton Jones,” says Hubbard, explaining that the 18-year-old was killed in a car accident earlier this year. “Camp meant a lot to her. I never made it to camp, but I heard stories from her and how much it meant to her, so I wanted to run for her to help get more kids to camp, because that’s what she would have wanted.”
Raber, 27, is a former Marine who moved with his family to the Mansfield area about two years ago and began attending M1. However, with the responsibilities of a full-time job, volunteering with his wife, Olivia, at the church, having three children ages 6 and under, and going to school, Raber admits he also didn’t have time to train very much for the run.
“But that Marine pride . . .,” he says with a laugh. But in what was nearly as remarkable as Lehman’s effort, Raber was able to run 26 miles — just two-tenths of a mile shy of a full marathon — with Lehman.
“It took me about two and a half weeks before I could walk normally,” Raber says, laughing a bit sheepishly, “but I’d do it again . . . pastor Mark is a great guy and it was a great cause.”
Lehman, however, says it wasn’t his legs, but his shoulders that ended up tight and painful. Though, on a “glass-is-half-full” note, he says that the temperature was good and they never had to use sunglasses during the run — the clouds and, at times, pouring rain did a good job at keeping the sun from becoming a problem.
“It wasn’t raining when we started, but it started raining soon afterwards,” Lehman says. “The toughest parts of the run were when the rain would pick up.”
And Lehman isn’t built like a prototypical “flyweight” Olympic marathoner. Considering he’s 6-foot, 4-inches tall; 205 pounds; and was wearing water-logged size-13 running shoes, the 34.2-mile effort is even more impressive.
After more than 8 hours of running, around 12:30 p.m., Lehman crossed the finish line in the church parking lot.
“As I was approaching the finish line and I’m hearing everybody cheer,” Lehman recalls, “I just broke down, crying, but I kept moving because I didn’t want to walk in front of them.”
Lehman praises his support crew, those with him on the route as well as those who supported the aid stations along the route. He also expresses his thankfulness for those who gave so generously to help kids get to camp.
Raber says that he was surprised by how much the effort raised as people just kept on giving, but as he personally knows, church camp matters.
“Some of my most powerful weeks spiritually were at church camp,” he says, “I believe it’s very important for kids and youth to go to camp and have that time away from everything.”
And having completed the run and knowing how kids will benefit from his efforts, Lehman says he now has a connection with the younger generation.
“I can look kids and teens in the eye and say, ‘I’m looking forward to hearing your camp testimony,’ as now I believe each one will be able to afford to go to camp — something they can’t afford to miss.”