Arroyo Grande Hotshot Firefighters ran Highway 1 from Half Moon bay to Morro Bay last weekend – some running fifty miles in a day, others running their first full marathon. And still others biking the entire route of over 200 miles. They ran for someone else, they biked for their friend, and they made the trek for children in Africa that they have never met.
And they ran because some things can’t be beaten with a wallet alone, some things demand much more of us, some demand our time.
Because we can’t get more of it, and we can’t save it – it’s our most valuable commodity and the most powerful gift. Money facilitates a change of situation, but time changes the innermost parts of a person.
To give it to another is to whisper something that echoes for years – “You’re worth my time” – this is what alters lives, this is what restores hope, and shines a light into the darkest places.
So they ran, and at the end they didn’t get a little blue box from Tiffany’s, they didn’t get a free t-shirt or a medal to hang on the wall. It wasn’t used as an opportunity to post a selfie on a social network, but an opportunity to be selfless in a real way.
By mile 17, by mile 30, by mile 120, they would have liked nothing more than to hand over their wallet for a cause, cut a check and be done. But by giving of their time, by pushing their bodies they were proving to be men and women of action, a running testament that these things pierce so much deeper into the heart of it all.
This collective fire was sparked by a man named Shaun Sullivan.
Shaun Sullivan “Sully” a Hotshot fireman himself first went to Rwanda in 2008, where he saw the overwhelming number of children living on the streets. After two months he came away with a changed heart and an earnest desire to pay them back for the gift they gave him. He had planned to change their lives, but instead they changed his. “I couldn’t go back to the not knowing, I saw and I had to care.”
He came back to the states and made a plan to raise money to feed the kids. What started as a run for porridge grew into a run for a home, a run for food, for rehabilitation, for education and for a future. Every year Sully returns to Rwanda, to these boys that he has promised to see through it all.
Sully’s sacrifice is not the returning to Rwanda each year, but the leaving again. His desire is to remain there but he’s convinced he can better serve them by leaving and telling their stories. And in doing so he breathes life into photos on the fridge; compelling us to see them as more than a sad story from a third world country, but to see them for who they truly are – kids with scraped knees and big dreams amidst the streets of Kigali, Rwanda.
I sit across the table from this man who can’t sit still as he tells me this story, because once you learn to live open handed, you can’t go back to hands folded complacently in your lap. His passion for these children is unmistakable as the words pour out of him, explaining how he’s partnered with Evode and Rebecca Usabyamahoro, a husband and wife who raise these thirty plus boys in their home. How this family environment is an essential part of the rehabilitation process, which operates in an effort to stem the tide that has been sweeping the street children under the rug, and under the bridge.
“There’s no quick fix,” He says quietly, as much to himself as to me. There’s nothing quick about introducing a child to safe environment, introducing discipline, and morality and community to a person whose familiar is riddled with violence, starvation and above all abandonment.
We live in a world selling the “quick fix” to everything, and it becomes more irreparably broken by the day. We put band aids on gaping wounds, a new shirt on a body wracked by disease. Cover it up, tuck it away, close the door, but we fail to address the heart of the problem, the cancer consuming us from the inside out.
Each year the number of people supporting Run The 1 grows, with more and more local businesses lending a hand. A town doesn’t come together to support a man like Sully because he brow beats you with stories of oppression and grief, but because he keeps going. His actions say so much more than his words ever could and his consistency might be the greatest gift of all. He’s ended their legacy of abandonment, simply by returning to live with them for a few months each year. In doing so he changes their lives, and changes ours simply by living his.
Reminding us that not all sad stories are told with Sara McLaughlin singing in the background and not all heroes wear capes. Sometimes they’re just the guys running along Highway 1 on a misty morning.
And these are the stories worth sharing, of real struggle, and real heartbreak , and people willing to climb in the middle of it all, to get dirty, and tired and heavy hearted on someone else’s behalf. And it’s a burden to bear, and it’s a restlessness that’s never satiated, this fighting the messiness, this battle to bring peace out of the chaos.
We watch a generation of leaders age and pass away, and we can’t help but wonder who will stand up and take their place? Men such as these. Men of action. Men who go to Rwanda every year, to contradict the lies that have been told to a group of children. To prove to them that they matter, that there is hope amidst the darkest nights on the streets of Rwanda.
For more information and to find out how you can help, please visit www.runthe1.org