As elite athletes race past iconic skyscrapers and well-known landmarks during the Chicago Marathon next Sunday, October 9, they will also pass another familiar sight: Jehovah’s Witnesses standing next to moving wagons showcasing colorful publications in a variety of languages.
This year’s event, considered one of the best marathons in the world, is expected to attract more than 40,000 runners from all 50 states and more than 100 different countries, as well as around 1.7 million spectators. Participants will meet in Grant Park to start and finish the 26.2-mile course that will take them through 29 Chicago neighborhoods.
“Being able to talk to people all over the world is super exciting,” said Chicago resident Paul Schmidt, who will be among more than 800 volunteers who will be presenting carts across the city this week.
Neal Barth, of Naperville, Illinois, shared similar sentiments. “I’m excited to go every year, especially this time. Not only are people coming out of the pandemic where a lot of things have been interrupted, but an event like this really has an international reach,” he said. declared. “We meet people from all over the world and it’s really exciting to learn about their origins.”
Chicago’s Jehovah’s Witnesses enjoyed sharing this unique work during the 2017, 2018, and 2019 marathons; then, in early 2020, the Christian organization suspended all in-person forms of its ministry out of concern for the health and safety of the community. The in-person marathon itself was also canceled in 2020, with organizers moving to a virtual experience.
Earlier this year, Witnesses around the world resumed their public preaching work.
“We believe the early decision to close all in-person activities for more than two years saved many lives,” said Robert Hendriks, U.S. spokesman for Jehovah’s Witnesses. “We are now ready and eager to reconnect with our neighbors – person-to-person, face-to-face. It’s not the only way to preach, but it’s always been the most effective way to get our message across. comfort and hope.”
Volunteers from all over Chicagoland and northern Indiana, speaking a variety of different languages and ranging in age from late teens to 60s, are eager to participate in more than 40 different locations around the course of the race.
“A lot of work goes on behind the scenes to plan and organize volunteer efforts at an event like this,” Barth said. “People are missing work and readjusting their schedules so they can be there, and it doesn’t feel like work because we enjoy it so much.”
“A free Bible study class is highlighted on signage, which shows you the positive message of the Bible, the kind of hope it holds, and why we can trust the Bible” , Schmidt said. “And it’s totally free.” This interactive Bible study course is also available on the official website of Jehovah’s Witnesses, jw.org.
“I think this message is timely because around the world there has been an increase in social unrest, division, economic challenges, mental and emotional illness,” Barth said. “Whatever challenges they are going through, it is a universal message that can bring hope to people in a hopeless world.”
“We get countless people thanking us for being there, happy to see us, even if they don’t want anything,” Barth’s wife Laura said. “There’s a peace about these carts and our message that draws people in.”
2022 marks the 10th anniversary of Jehovah’s Witnesses using mobile displays of Bible literature on the streets of Chicago, with the local program beginning in 2012. As “cart witnessing” began in major metropolitan areas from the United States in 2011, the practice quickly spread to tens of thousands of communities around the world, becoming a fixture at train and bus stations, airports, ports, and main streets. Those traveling to and from Chicago before and after the marathon will also spot trolleys at O’Hare International Airport, Midway International Airport, and CTA and Metra stations throughout the region.
“We feel good doing this volunteer work, giving back to the community,” Schmidt said. “When we have such a positive message as we do, such a positive hope for the future to share with people, we think it’s an expression of our love for our fellow man.”
“I am grateful that we are back in this work this year,” said Laura Barth. “And grateful to the city of Chicago, too, for allowing us to be there.”
Schmidt invites anyone who might be curious to take a closer look. “Take some time to stop by our carts and see what it’s all about.”
To learn more about Jehovah’s Witnesses, their history, beliefs, and activities, visit jw.org, the organization’s official website, which offers content in more than 1,000 languages.