For all his life, the Rev. Craig Burns, pastor at the Vienna Assembly of God, ran for exercise and enjoyment. But last fall, he ran not only for himself but for a prostitute in India bound in sexual slavery.
"I had this ability to run, and I wanted to help somebody out," explained Burns.
The Vienna pastor raised almost $3,000 for a missions project by running 26.2 miles last November in a Richmond marathon. The program he ran for, "Project Rescue," helps women who were sold into prostitution in India, by giving them the opportunity to learn a trade or attend Bible school.
With the funds Burns raised, the program was able to buy one young woman out of sexual slavery. The women Project Rescue serves, Burns said, are lured from their homes in Nepal in hopes of a better life, but are instead coerced and beaten to serve as prostitutes in India.
"We are so accustomed to our daughters being given so many freedoms and opportunities," said Burns, who has two daughters of his own and coaches girls softball. "This is something more men ought to do something against."
His congregation praised him for taking the extra effort to support a cause on his own time.
"I felt the way that most of the congregation did, that we were very proud of him for putting himself in that position for that purpose," said Bill Draper of Vienna. "It wasn't a surprise, because he's a giving person when it comes to serving God."
Over last summer, Burns worked as a children’s camp counselor, and he learned that one method to raise money for missions was through running a marathon. As one of his lifelong goals, Burns, 49, had always wanted to run a marathon before turning 50. Running the marathon while raising money for a project he believed in seemed like the perfect combination.
"It was necessary for me to have something beyond myself. If it was just for me, I probably would have given up," Burns said.
For two months before the Nov. 15 marathon, Burns would run daily along the Washington & Old Dominion Trail next to his home. Burns had also gone through several injuries and pairs of running shoes before deciding to run the marathon with his tried-and-true, older shoes. By the time the marathon neared, he had logged 1,150 miles on the bike path.
When the day of the race came, the knowledge of running for a cause pushed Burns to continue to the finish line. He ran the course in 4 hours, 41 minutes.
"I thought that was wonderful, because he really had to take some severe pretraining," said Virginia Allen of Vienna, commenting on Burns' decision to run the marathon. "The church was behind him 100 percent."
Now that the race has been run, Burns is considering running another marathon in 2004, during his 50th birthday. He would like to continue raising enough money for Project Rescue to buy another young woman out of prostitution.
The congregation is "happy for me, but I haven't motivated them to jog yet," said Burns.