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Pastor sets out on 'radical' mission to run 7 marathons on 7 continents in 7 consecutive days - and the reason will inspire you

Posted July 6

Pastor Matthew Barnett is preparing for the most "radical" experience of his life.

Barnett, founder of L.A. Dream Center — a church and missions group in California that feeds and houses homeless and vulnerable individuals and families — will run seven marathons on seven continents in seven consecutive days.

It's a feat that will test the 42-year-old preacher's mental and physical endurance — and an impending experience that he admitted has him "very terrified."

Barnett will take part in the World Marathon Challenge in January 2017 to raise awareness and support for the work that he's doing at the Dream Center. It's a quest that will lead him to run consecutive marathons in Antarctica, Chile, the U.S., Spain, Morocco, the United Arab Emirates and Australia — all in the course of a week.

"It's humbling to think about it," Barnett told The Church Boys podcast of the mega-marathon challenge that is just seven months away.

He said that he decided to participate in the effort, which has been successfully completed by a mere 27 people since it began two years ago, after realizing that he needed to do something big to raise awareness for the Dream Center.

"In the last couple of years the Dream Center where I pastor, basically — if the audience can imagine a hospital that's open 24 hours, 7 days a week — it never closes," Barnett said. "Homeless people, families, human trafficking victims, every broken person in humanity comes to our building."

The ministry currently houses 750 residents and feeds 30,000 people every week through the church's feeding program, among other efforts. And last year, Barnett said that the Dream Center increased 30 percent of its housing for the homeless and hurting in Los Angeles — a profoundly expensive endeavor.

"We couldn't afford it and still can't," the pastor said. "We didn't want to have 200 families on a waiting list trying to get housing. And I just said, 'In order to do this I need to do something radical to make this happen.’”

It was that need teamed with a text from a friend who wrote Barnett to jokingly tell him that he should take part in the World Marathon Challenge that led the pastor to consider his options — and take the plunge.

"I laughed about (the text suggestion) and I kept thinking about it, which is dangerous," he said. "And now I'm embarking on it to raise money for the Dream Center."

What makes the bold decision to enter the mega-marathon a bit more courageous — and shocking — is the fact that Barnett was diagnosed with pulmonary embolism in 2012, a condition that involves blood clots that cause lung blockages.

Barnett recalled the doctor telling him that he should have been dead, considering that he had played sports the day that he was diagnosed; the doctor also said something else that day that Barnett refused to accept.

"It looks like you'll never run a marathon again," he told the pastor.

Barnett responded by pushing on, training hard and going on blood thinners. Eventually, he started running marathons again, and today he's training by running two and a half hours every day, totalling 55 miles per week; by the fall, he said he will be running between 99 and 100 miles per week.

"When someone tells me that something can't be done, I believe it can be done," he told The Chuch Boys, though he admitted that he's "very terrified."

After all, he'll be running in -20 degree weather in Antarctica, and will only be getting sleep on airplanes between marathon destinations throughout the week.

While the challenging training experience has already caused minor training injuries, Barnett said that he's already seeing rewards among the people living in and receiving treatment at the Dream Center, as they are inspired by his efforts.

"What's happened is a bunch of people who feel like giving up on their recovery are staying in the program … facing their own challenges," he said.

Barnett said that he's hopeful that his participation in the World Marathon Challenge will allow the Dream Center to be in a place where he and other leaders are "not just trying to survive," giving them the resources to help more children, adults and families in need.

"This could be a once in a lifetime thing," he said. "This is probably the last shot I will have to do something crazy, to do something radical that will kind of set us up long-term to think beyond just that 400,000-square-foot hospital."

Barnett also discussed his early years in ministry, including his initial failures as a pastor. After struggling to adequately lead his own church, he found himself walking through the streets of Los Angeles one day when he said he felt God delivering a message.

"God really began to speak to me," he said, going on to quote the Lord, "'I need you to spend the rest of your life not to be a good pastor, to be a city janitor. Just walk through the cities of L.A., pick up the broken pieces and tell people they can dream again."

And that's exactly the mission that Barnett has set out on over the past two decades. Now, he's simply hoping that the marathon will help him reach additional souls.

Email: bhallowell@deseretnews.com Twitter: billyhallowell Facebook: facebook.com/billyhallowell

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