Running the Good Race

Three years ago, deep inside Los Angeles’s inner city, a group of visionary Christians took over the old Queen of Angels Hospital. They opened a center to help single mothers, runaways, gang members, and drug addicts who wanted to turn their lives around. They renamed the hospital the Los Angeles International Center, though it was quickly nicknamed "the Dream Center." Today, 200 volunteers provide housing, food, job counseling, and religious programs to the poorest of the poor. I’ve been in this area, and I know how desperate is the human need. But alas—now the government is now threatening to shut the center down. The Dream Center is owned by the Assembly of God Church of Phoenix, Arizona. Unless the church makes two million dollars worth of improvements, city officials warn, the Dream Center must close its doors. For many churches, that would be the end of it. But not this church. Sixty-year-old pastor Tommy Barnett is not only a gifted preacher but also a man with vision and guts. Barnett issued a challenge to his middle-class Phoenix congregation. He proposed to put on his sneakers and run the 400-mile distance between Phoenix and Los Angeles—a journey he calculated would take 700,000 steps. He asked his congregation: Would they donate three dollars a step for portions of his run? His enthusiastic parishioners agreed to help. And on October 26, Barnett hit the road. He ran and walked up to 30 miles a day. Churches along the route held rallies to bolster his spirits. During a stop in Las Vegas, Barnett prayed with boxer Evander Holyfield. In Death Valley, a man in a pickup tried to give him a ride. As Barnett told the Los Angeles Times, "I told him why I was running and about the center. By the time I was done, he had tears in his eyes. [He] told me he was an alcoholic and asked for help." Right on the spot, Barnett led the man to Christ and baptized him with a bottle of Evian water. Barnett finished his run two weeks ago at Mann’s Chinese Theatre. He had raised more than $750,000. I love this story: It’s a great illustration of what Christians can do to make a difference in today’s society. One man went out and gave himself, through an incredible act of endurance, to help the homeless, gang members, drug addicts, and ex-prisoners. It’s a story of the church being the church. The Dream Center is just what this decaying Los Angeles neighborhood most needs. Here are Christians who pick people up off the street and give them a new life in Christ, and a chance to make it. This is a job the government cannot do—a job that government, in fact, often stands in the way of doing, as the Dream Center found out. If you would like to help Rev. Tommy Barnett in his quest to raise the rest of the two million dollars he needs to keep the Dream Center open, contact him at the address below. He’s a man who takes the words of the prophet Isaiah seriously: He’s willing literally to run the good race—to pour himself out for the hungry and satisfy the desire of the afflicted.


Chuck Colson


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