What would cause over 600 people to show up early Easter Sunday morning at Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan? Could it be that they wanted to enjoy a special Sunrise Service and celebrate that they are followers of Jesus Christ? Or could it be that they wanted to run a special race that honored their faith in Jesus? Or finally, could it be that they wanted to get a fabulous race tee shirt and proudly show their friends? Well, I think the answer is “yes” to all of this.
It was 0600 on Easter Sunday morning and over 600 people were crowded into the Clam Shell gym on Bagram Airfield. Chaplain (MAJ) Stanton Trotter, the brigade chaplain for the 82nd Combat Aviation Brigade, was helping this large crowd get excited about Jesus. He along with Chaplains’ Miller, Brown, and Sherbourne, had developed a special sunrise service followed by a dynamic five mile run for Jesus race.
The service started with a traditional call to worship, “Alleluia, Christ is risen. Christ is risen indeed, alleluia.” They then continued with worship by singing a hymn, reading scriptures, and then another hymn after a short but challenging sermon. But what was extra unique about this worship service was that the bulletin, or liturgy, was printed on the back of custom racing bibs, designed and made especially for that morning.
After the worship service was complete, all of the runners/worshippers gathered right out in front of the gym and ran five miles to the other side of the airfield. They got to live out the challenge from the morning’s sermon. Chaplain Trotter challenged them from the resurrection account recorded in the Gospel of John. Peter and John were on their way to the tomb after Mary Magdalene had told them how she had already seen the empty tomb. But while the disciples journeyed together to the empty tomb, John could not wait. He was filled with such excitement and anticipation that “John ran on a head” and got to the tomb first. And that was the theme of the morning as Chaplain Trotter encouraged everyone there to run with that same excitement. They were also challenged to put their faith into every step and make the entire five miles a testimony to their faith in Jesus Christ.
To help aid in this challenge/theme to run for Jesus, runners noticed large signs placed at every mile on the route. They included scripture verses reminding them of the resurrection account from the Gospels. For example, mile marker number two read: “Don't be alarmed,” He said. “You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified. He has risen!" (MARK 16:6).
When the runners reached the finish line, they were greeted with cheerful supporters and then handed the special “Run for Jesus 5-Miler” tee shirt. The shirt was specially made just for that event with the great support of “Adopt-a-Chaplain.” On the front was a picture of Jesus coming out of an empty tomb, light surrounding him showing that he overcame the power of death. Everything about the morning was about celebrating Jesus as the Son of God who rose from the dead. And on that morning, over 600 runners participated.
While this was a friendly encouraging fun-run to celebrate one’s faith in Jesus, there was a little incentive for runners to run quickly. There were 500 of the special tee shirts, and they were awarded to the first 500 finisher. So when over 600 runners toed the line at the start, everyone looked around and wanted to make sure that they ran fast enough to get a tee shirt.
A few soldiers asked Chaplain Trotter if he thought this race might be a little offensive to non-Christians stationed at Bagram. Chaplain Trotter answered, “This is a completely volunteer event just like any other church service, except this church service ends with a run. If someone does not believe in Jesus, then he or she does not have to participate. Soldiers gather here on Bagram and run for many different causes or occasions: St. Patrick’s Day, Turkey Trot, Jiggle Bell Jog, etc . But this morning, for those who want to participate, we gather to celebrate our faith in Jesus Christ.”
The energy of the entire morning was overwhelming at times. Many soldiers who had not run in months got out there ran as a testimony to their faith. Some ran in small groups encouraging each other the entire way. And at different places along the route, volunteers cheered th runners to “Run for Jesus.” But what was the most incredible act of devotion that morning was a group of soldiers who carried a large wooden cross the entire race. They ran the entire five mile run taking turns carrying the cross. As they came across the finish line holding the large cross up high, it brought tears to all of us who saw it. What a glorious way to testify and celebrate your faith!
So the next time you wonder about the faith of service members and their dedication to God, I encourage you to remember this day when over 600 or them in a combat zone boldly celebrated their faith in Jesus Christ. This will be an Easter Sunday that none of them will ever forget. Alleluia, Christ is risen!
CH Maj. Stanton Trotter is Anglican Priest with the Diocese of the Mid-Atlantic.
He is currently serving as an Army chaplain in Afghanistan.