Nearly 20 years ago, Neil Craigan's call to ministry brought him from his hometown of Belfast, Northern Ireland, to Minnesota. In May, his call to bring help and hope to African AIDS orphans will take him to South Africa, where he will run the 56-mile Comrades Marathon to benefit World Vision's Sponsor a Child program.
"Child sponsorship is a great way to put a face on the issue of Third World poverty," said Craigan, '97, who serves as pastor at First Presbyterian Church in White Bear Lake, Minn. "I decided to use (the race) as an opportunity to raise money for a worthy cause."
Craigan and his wife sponsored their first child through World Vision, a Christian humanitarian organization, in 1995 after an eye-opening mission trip to Kenya. For the Comrades Marathon, he hopes to get enough supporters to sponsor 56 children, one for every mile he will run.
"To know that 56 Americans have made the issue of poverty something more than a news story that comes on before the sports or weather would be an amazing gift to the world," he said.
Craigan only took up running five years ago and has already run three ultra-marathons. But Comrades, with a field of 18,000 runners and a strict 12-hour limit, will be the most challenging one yet.
"In the world of distance running, this is one of those 'bucket list' races," he said. "Running Comrades will be far and away the most amazing experience of them all."
His road to ministry, however, wasn't as fast. Craigan felt called to ordained ministry as a teenager, but it wasn't until he met Richard Davis, a Twin Cities pastor spending two years in Belfast, that he truly accepted that path.
"I fought that call for several years," he said. "It was during (Davis') time at our church that my faith in Christ began to mean something and influence how I lived my life."
And, though it didn't start out that way, his passion for running has now become an extension of his ministry. That's why the upcoming Comrades Marathon is more than a race to Craigan. It's a chance to help people around the globe.
"In our global community we cannot ignore our neighbor in need, and, in today's world, everyone is our neighbor," he said.
For more about Neil Craigan, visit his blogs at www.therunningrev.com and www.neilcraigan.com.
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