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The Great Undoing:
"From 'fat kid' to running club"

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By Joe*
From the October 2013 Beacon

It’s 6:00 a.m. and it’s raining and dark. People are huddled under the awnings of buildings trying desperately to stay dry and warm. A few have found their way into an open shopping mall that was gracious enough to allow us to use their restrooms as we waited. My stomach is swimming. I don’t know what to expect and feel like I have no business being here. Little do I know that I’m not the only one feeling that way.

I am listening to my trainer’s last-second advice. He is drilling it all into my head. Run at a lower heart rate. Walk through every water stop. DO NOT step in puddles; they are blisters waiting to happen. He tells me, “Pride is taken off on a stretcher in a marathon. When little old ladies start to pass you at mile 20 you just say ‘good job, ’and let them pass.” He hands me a little wooden box and tells me not to open it until I am completely at wits end; when I can’t go on anymore. I slide it into my pocket. He tells me that the marathon is broken into two halves. The first half is 20 miles and the second half is 6.2. The marathon is a race of attrition; it will wear you down. Many runners hit the wall at mile twenty. Push to twenty and then push through. I tuck his advice away in my memory because this is my first marathon. I am scared to death. I suffered a foot injury during training so I couldn’t complete it. Will I make it? Can it be done? My wife and my mom and dad are here for moral support. It’s been a long road to get here. A road I thought I would never travel.

I am listening to my trainer’s last-second advice. He is drilling it all into my head. Run at a lower heart rate. Walk through every water stop. DO NOT step in puddles; they are blisters waiting to happen. He tells me, “Pride is taken off on a stretcher in a marathon. When little old ladies start to pass you at mile 20 you just say ‘good job, ’and let them pass.” He hands me a little wooden box and tells me not to open it until I am completely at wits end; when I can’t go on anymore. I slide it into my pocket. He tells me that the marathon is broken into two halves. The first half is 20 miles and the second half is 6.2. The marathon is a race of attrition; it will wear you down. Many runners hit the wall at mile twenty. Push to twenty and then push through. I tuck his advice away in my memory because this is my first marathon. I am scared to death. I suffered a foot injury during training so I couldn’t complete it. Will I make it? Can it be done? My wife and my mom and dad are here for moral support. It’s been a long road to get here. A road I thought I would never travel.


“Some people say they would love to go back and re-live their happy and carefree elementary and middle school years. It was not that way for me.”

As I scan back over all my pictures growing up, it is quite obvious that I have always been “the fat kid.” Each year I just got progressively heavier and heavier. It wasn’t an easy time in my life. Some people say they would love to go back and re-live their happy and carefree elementary and middle school years. It was not that way for me. All I remember is getting bullied for being fat just about every day. I was teased relentlessly. I would love to share an example with you but even now I would rather not talk specifics. As a thirty-eight year old man, I could still walk you to specific places in the school where some traumatic confrontations took place. Bullying isn’t something that should be dismissed. It scars the soul.

Throughout my life no one ever really called me out on my weight. No one ever said, “Hey maybe you should find a trainer or doctor.” I do know that I eat emotionally. Growing up, after every bad day at school I would come home and raid the fridge because it would make me feel better. This habit carried over into adulthood. I got married at the age of twenty-nine, and by my first anniversary I was in 4x-5x shirts busting out at around four-hundred pounds. I never noticed. Honestly. I always felt good and wasn’t experiencing any of the typical health problems that accompany obesity. I even had myself convinced that my clothes were shrinking. But I had a wake up call in the middle of the night. Lynn, my wife, was crying in bed one night and I asked her what was wrong. She confessed she was worried that I was going to die early and that my health was going to adversely affect my life. It never dawned on me that the cycle I was trapped in was not only affecting my life but my family as well. So we made a plan.

I consulted a doctor and got help from him. My mother-in-law introduced me to a trainer who saved my life. I don’t think that is an exaggeration. He truly saved my life. We got to work and eventually I got my weight down to 230 pounds which is about where I am now. That sentence breezed over a couple of years of hard work and many tears and failures and weight fluctuations but this is where I am now. In the meantime, I have found a deep love and appreciation of running. Running became not just a physical activity but a spiritual one as well. At first I enjoyed running for the health benefits. I was able to run four marathons while living in Ohio. When I moved to Bangkok as an RMM worker in 2011, I found the spiritual side of running.

People who know I used to be a pastor ask me if I pray while I am running. The answer is usually “no,” at least not in the traditional sense, but I do connect with God. He tends to be waiting for me on the path. Running is my space to connect with God, myself, my environment, and others. It is my little bit of shalom. But connecting with others didn’t happen right away. We were in Bangkok for about six months before I started running again. I was reading about the Bangkok Marathon and I stumbled across a guy who said he was starting a running club. I had never considered joining one before because what I loved about running was the solitude and the lack of pressure from others. As the “the fat kid,” I hated team sports. I was always picked last and held people up. It wasn’t fun. But I decided I would give it a chance. The worst thing that would happen is that I would show up one time and be done with it.

At that time there were about four of us that met together. I showed up at Lumpini Park, scared to death. All I could see in my head was gym class and getting picked last. But it was quite the opposite. The founder of the club made me feel right at home. We spent the morning running through the park and chatting. It was so refreshing. I felt no pressure whatsoever, so I kept coming back. Then it dawned on me, “Maybe God has a purpose for me here.” I mean why not, right?

The club began to grow rapidly and many new members jumped on board. They are from all over the world. They are Thai, European, Japanese, American, Australian, and many others. Now just after our one year anniversary, we are a club that numbers over 400 people! I have been asked to be in charge of greeting new members. That might be the best job ever. It was an honor to be asked to do it. At one point it dawned on me that the “Bangkok Runners” is much like church.

From my running journal, July 2, 2012

So I had a wonderfully bizarre experience yesterday. I joined my running group for our Sunday morning run. We ran for 17.9km (11 miles) in Lumpini Park. Some ran faster and some ran slower but we all made it.

The running club reminds me of what church should be. Not the building we file into on Sundays, but the body that church is meant to be. Church is a word that represents a people, not a building. On our run, sure we had a goal. We wanted to go seven laps around the park. We accomplished that goal, but what was amazing was how it got accomplished.

Two of us are pretty slow so we brought up the back of the pack and finished as much as 30 – 40 minutes behind everyone else. But for the first five laps, one of the fastest guys stayed back with us. He offered conversation, advice, and thoughts; we just spent time getting to know each other. We felt bad for holding him up but he actually came back for us and wanted to do it. As others lapped us, they would tell us ‘good job’ and we would mutually encourage each other. When he lapped us, a Japanese friend hung back with us and we spent time with him and listened to his story and were inspired by his passionate life. Afterwards many of us stuck around and chatted and ate together (those who could hold down food).

Man, that is what this journey of faith is for me. It gave me a picture of what church should look like. People from all different nationalities and backgrounds with a common vision and journey heading in the same direction, sharing life and encouraging others to join us no matter who they are. Instead of looking out for ourselves we encouraged each other, and some even sacrificed their ability to leave others in the dust for the sake of community. This is the new way I envision church.

This is my calling

When we came to Thailand we had a family mission. We came here to do life among Thai people and as we go we hope to make disciples. And we are seeing that start to happen! We have amazing Thai friends who have blessed our lives and also have shown great interest in Jesus. We are incredibly excited about that! We don’t want people to ever be a project or something to check off a list. We want to engage people with no agenda other than to show the love of Jesus to them. As soon as Jesus becomes a product to sell and people become the customer, we are nothing more than a “used car salesman.” We don’t offer our product and if they aren’t interested, just move on to the next customer. That isn’t how it works.

I didn’t know how my running club would fit into this mission to do life among Thai people. Here we are—a group of internationals and locals who created a third culture around running. It is neither an international community nor a Thai community. It is a running community. Finally I gave into it and decided that I would not say no to the people God wanted to bring into my life. Since I’ve embraced this idea, I see God beginning to move. It is a slow process but it is happening.


“We don’t want people to ever be a project or something to check off a list. We want to engage people with no agenda other than to show the love of Jesus to them.”

This has created a shift in my thinking. I went from someone who thought a lot about how to share Jesus with Buddhists, to someone who had to think about this new community I am a part of and how Jesus is at work in their midst. I had to think now about the Western world view and how people have been burned or hurt by the church in the past. There is no longer a clean slate when talking about Jesus. My work has now become an attempt to help others have a more accurate understanding of Jesus and what a “Christian” looks like. As my pastor David Windham said to me on the phone, there needs to be an “undoing.” Whether we like to hear this or not, Jesus’ name has been dragged through the mud over the last number of years. The impression of many people is that Christianity is “anti” just about everything. They have not seen much life coming out of the church. They see dogmatism, theocracy, arrogance and the imposing of our beliefs on others. We are working out of a negative. I feel the calling that God put on my life is to “undo” some of these perceptions of Christianity. As a matter of fact I don’t really use the word “Christian” or “Christianity” in Thailand. Sadly, these words have too much baggage attached to them. I am a Jesus follower.

In my relationships, I’ve experimented and tried to figure out effective ways to share my faith. Asking questions is a great tool. Many of my friends are used to people of faith doing much of the talking and not listening. My heart is to listen. Listen and never offer unsolicited advice. In addition, I have what I call the “no freaking out” rule. Maybe it is because I am an easy going guy but when people share what they believe with me, they are being vulnerable. I’m nervous to share and I try to remember that they are too. Whatever they share with me, I accept. Like in any friendship, as depth is built, we share more with each other.

Another tool, that took me a while to warm up to, is to tell people I am praying for them. I have no study to back this up, but I would bet nine out of ten people love the idea that you are praying for them whether they believe the same as you or not. As a matter of fact I have yet to have a friend offended, feel awkward, or turn down an offer for prayer. Prayer is good and powerful. My next goal is to pray with them right there on the spot. I’m getting there.

Now, I do have opportunities to talk about Jesus. Many conversations after a run—or even during one—circulate around deep things including Jesus. As a matter of fact, I am getting ready to start a regular coffee get-together to talk about anything but running; a place to talk about life and faith. The subject of Jesus will come up often. Most of the other runners know I used to be a pastor. I decided to not hide that, because it is a big part of who I was and still am. The big reason I get a chance to talk about Jesus is because I give them a chance to talk about their faith too. It is mutual. We as friends engage each other and we naturally talk about life and faith. It is the natural give-and-take of any friendship. There is a quote by Billy Graham that I live by: “It is the Holy Spirit’s job to convict, God’s job to judge, and it’s my job to love.” My calling in Thailand is to be part of the Great Undoing. My calling is to love people in the name of Jesus and as God and hearts move, to help bring people from a negative view of Jesus to a neutral and then positive view. People need to be reintroduced to Jesus, because the Jesus they met is wrapped in condemnation, bigotry, hatred, and politics and is, for some, just make-believe. It is an uphill mission but I am not concerned. My job is to do my best to love people in word and deed. I pray for my friends to meet Jesus. They are all in different places in their journey so I don’t know if I will get to see them come to Jesus, but at least I can be one more person that hopefully points them towards him.

It is funny how God uses “the fat kid” to be his representative in a running club. God is full of miracles and humor.

*Last name omitted for security purposes.



Joe, along with his wife Lynn and six-year-old son Brennan, have lived in Bangkok Thailand since late 2011. During their initial two-year term they have focused on language learning and on building relationships. Brennan is currently in first grade in a local Thai school and Lynn does English tutoring. Joe and Lynn are also exploring small business opportunities and are making plans for a longer-term assignment in Thailand.