LEFT: Lopez Lomong shares with students at Bellarmine Preparatory School in Tacoma, Washington. (Photo: Lindsey Minerva/World Vision)
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Steve Haas speaks on behalf of World Vision about the important issues that affect communities and churches, offering ways for his audiences to make a difference in the global arena.
This past summer, Steve had the unique opportunity to work closely with Olympic runner and World Vision partner Lopez Lomong. Today, Steve reflects on how his relationship with the Olympic athlete helped him to see God at work.
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This summer, my family’s sleep cycle was radically altered by two weeks of being up late, resolutely stuck in the “Olympics Zone.” Like many Americans, the celebration of athleticism that comes every four years was so highly anticipated for us that sleep deprivation became a minor concern.
This year, the London Games had us personally engaged, as an inspirational athlete pursuing athletic glory connected with World Vision’s determination to provide fundamental assistance in one of the most difficult development areas on the planet: the new nation of South Sudan.
If you missed the Olympic 5,000-meter final, Lopez Lomong cruised to a 13:48 finish — good for tenth place, but far off the podium and added years under the media spotlight. It’d be easy to conclude that this ebony-skinned American was finding his way through depression, having not medaled in a contest that only honors those draped in gold, silver, or bronze.
With the overwhelming frequency of Visa® ads — in my sleep, I hear Morgan Freeman intoning, “Lopez Lomong started running when he was 6, and he didn’t stop…” — everyone is now thoroughly briefed on the Cliff Notes history of Lopez Lomong: kidnapped from his family at age 6 to forcibly serve as a child soldier; harrowing escape to a Kenyan refugee camp; airlifted to New York 10 years later; living life as an American teen; NCAA champion; and Olympic hero.
Lopez’s life has been one of extreme contrasts. But for what purpose?
The Bible speaks a great deal about life’s meaning. In the fifth chapter of the Gospel of Luke, the writer describes Jesus’ short course on finding one’s “calling.”
Up to the time of Peter’s encounter with Jesus, the burly local fisherman could be found most evenings near the Galilean shoreline with others of his ilk associated with netting the daily subsistence diet of fish.
Metaphorically speaking, Peter drew a boundary for his life. It wasn’t a large or novel circle, but it was respectable, paid the bills, and provided a modicum of meaning.
When Jesus approached Peter, who was engaged in repair from an unsuccessful outing, he laid down a challenge to enlarge his life’s limits and operate in a much larger boundary. Jesus’ call was to fish for the lives of men.
The call itself was not to radically alter Peter’s particular gift mix, but to utilize his individual stamp of personality and passion toward a much more meaningful end — a mission that was nothing short of the reconciliation of the entire world.
Peter drew a circle for his life. Jesus drew a bigger one.
Early on, Lopez Lomong recognized that earthly rescue and success wasn’t meant to be hoarded. Blessing in whatever measure needed a conduit, a purpose so that others could share in its fullness. His short history has made him a recipient of countless thoughtful acts in the midst of great personal hardship, and it’s given him a larger view of life — one in which he feels responsible to assist those whose meager opportunities mirror what were once his own.
God has saved him, and now, with a larger understanding of his world, Lopez realizes that it’s his turn to assist in saving others. A smaller circle of life for Lopez would never do.
In 2011, Lopez created the “4 South Sudan” initiative in partnership with World Vision. By using his very public platform of athletics, Lopez is hoping to exhibit appreciation to his God and home in the United States — while at the same time raising awareness and resources for one of the most disadvantaged points on the planet in the areas of food security, nutrition, education, and clean water.
Lopez has a goal of raising over $500,000 this year and uses whatever platform he is given to trumpet the impact of compassion on a nation that presently struggles under the weight of abject poverty and neglect.
The Olympic motto of Citius, Altius, Fortius — faster, higher, stronger — signaled Pierre de Coubertin’s dream of a global contest that stood as living testament to human achievement. Whether on the awards platform or slogging countless miles in preparation toward winning in 2016, Lopez is well aware that his life is more than the pursuit of physical perfection, a life without limits.
For this amazing human being, meaning is found in the leveraging of human assets toward the reconciliation of all things — honing personal skill and public notoriety for the purpose of providing life in all of its fullness to the people of South Sudan.
Read additional blog posts about Lopez’s life and achievements, including his harrowing childhood experiences, transition to the United States, and competition as an Olympic athlete.
You can also visit 4southsudan.org to become involved with Lopez’s efforts to bring help and hope to the people of his native South Sudan.
Visit World Vision’s Speakers Bureau site to request Steve or another World Vision Speaker to speak at your upcoming event.