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27 October 2017

Gifted: how volunteers are giving their time

Gifted: how volunteers are giving their time

The gift of your time is one of the most valuable things you can give. This year, the National Council for Voluntary Organisations (NVCO) revealed around 14.2 million people in the UK volunteered once a month in 2015/16*. We hear from volunteers working with our Alliance family; going the extra mile (literally) and giving their time to incredible causes. Amaris Cole, previous idea editor gives her final instalment in the story of the Muskathlon she ran for Compassion, and we hear how Tearfund and Keswick Conference volunteers give their time.

Running isn't easy. Sometimes it hurts. Sometimes you want to give up. Sometimes you don't even want to start. But sometimes, despite all this, it makes you feel better than you've ever felt before. Sometimes, running can not only be the best gift you can give yourself, but also the communities you're running through. This isn't the first time I've written about taking part in a Muskathlon to raise money for Compassion. You might have read in the July/ August edition of idea about my amazing adventure in April, when I travelled to Rwanda to meet my sponsored child, Shema Prince. I wrote then that the experience gave me more than I could ever have imaged.

But a trip like that doesn't come without sacrifices. There's far more to it than a few bumpy minibus rides to the home of your sponsored child and unusual breakfasts – we had spaghetti every morning on our trip and no one could really explain to us why... Participants sign up to run a half marathon, full marathon, or – if you're crazy – an ultra-marathon. Others opt for a 60km trek or a 120km cycle. In the African heat of a country known as the "land of a thousand hills", this takes a considerable amount of training. It means giving up those Saturday lie-ins to hit the canal path and cutting the evening glass of wine for a trip to the gym.

Climbing into the minibus, bleary eyed at silly-o'clock, the nerves set in. What on earth were we about to face? Were we fit enough? Were we crazy? Sat among people who had quickly become friends on the trip, I realised just how much each of them had given. One had sacrificed his family holiday to afford the trip. A woman, who could barely climb the stairs the year before, committed to losing 120lbs so that she could take part – and finish the race. Another had overcome their fear of going out running alone to train. All had given hours of their time – and now a week of annual leave. Injuries, financial worries and fears had all been conquered to do something amazing for people they hadn't yet met.

Crossing the start line was daunting. By mile one, I'd found a rhythm and some lovely Dutch runners to talk to. We shared stories of why we were running. We wished each other well. Then the second mile. It was still fairly flat, maybe this was going to be easier than expected? Mile three told me that this was not the case. The incline began, but the route here followed a road, and as the cars passed, people waved and bibbed their horns. I've never felt more encouraged. Mile four saw the first real hill. Deep breaths and shorter strides – and a father and son running team who spend the next three miles overtaking, being overtaken and overtaking again. The half way point was marked by a small village and another water stop. Children ran alongside me here and I had to step up a gear to keep up with them in their flip flops.

After the rush of the village, us runners began to spread as the elites picked up their pace and the slower runners set in for the final push. I found myself quite alone through the eighth mile. I was suddenly struck by the presence of God. His creation was outstanding. I was now high up after facing another killer hill and looking down at the green lands. Fields with the specks of people working the land. Trees. Birds flying overhead and insects crawling along the dirt underneath my trainers.

There were emotional and physical ups and downs through the next few miles. But then came the last mile. I could hear the drums far before I saw them. Through the trees, I could see a group of people. As I got closer, the cheers got louder, the drumbeat quickened and children started to dance.
I had done it. 13 long miles and hundreds of pounds raised to help mothers and babies who thanks to Compassion, now had the chance to start life well. We'd visited the Child Survival Programme days before, and I couldn't get their faces out of my mind as I crossed the finish line. I had given it my all, and I could not have been prouder to wear that medal.

Keswick Convention run a yearly Bible teaching conference for evangelical Christians. More than 600 volunteers help set up and set down the site and assist over 15,000 delegates. As well as raising thousands of pounds on a sponsored cycle event from Land's End to John O'Groats, James Adams also volunteers his time to the Keswick conference. "James is 74 years old, and has volunteered at the event for 12 years, says Jutta Devenish from Keswick Convention. "James gives five full weeks of his time every summer supporting the event as a steward and helping with set up to set down. His smile is contagious. He hangs out with volunteers who go the extra mile, encourage one another and know how to light up someone's day with a friendly word."

Jeff Clarke and his family from North Yorkshire volunteered their time in South Africa recently working with communities who are living with the effects of HIV, AIDS and TB. Local organisation Ethembeni provide practical support and distribute food where it is most needed. Instead of a summer holiday, the family helped with a range of activities with them. Says Jeff of giving his time: "Everything that we have is only ours because God has provided it for us. That includes our time, our money and our abilities." "The opportunity that Tearfund has provided for myself, my wife and our three teenage daughters to use all those things to serve God and the people here in Mpophomeni is, we hope, a blessing to those who we met. It is certainly an experience that we will never forget." 

*Ref: UK Civil Society Almanac 2017 / Volunteering Overview, NVCO, May 2017

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