Local pastor Daan van Niekerk put his running shoes on and produced yet another inspired athletic feat at the weekend.
The ‘Lede in Christus Kerk’ pastor is no stranger to remarkable marathon runs, having completed a number of 100 milers and several Comrades Marathons in the colours of the South Coast Striders.
Van Niekerk makes a strong case for being the fittest pastor in the world and his two greatest passions sparked a prayer run initiative.
At first, this was a solo mission, but Van Niekerk last year opened it up to the community and the inaugural South Coast 100 Prayer Run turned out to be a bit hit.
‘Around the world’ in 30 hours
Not one to sit idly by, especially amid the global coronavirus crisis, Van Niekerk jumped into action once again at the weekend with a lockdown prayer run.
As usual, he carried a skewer with the name of a country with him, which he prayed for and exchanged every kilometre.
Turning a tennis court into a 100m circuit, Van Niekerk set off at 3pm on Friday and ran for an awe-inspiring 29 hours, 42 minutes and 38 seconds. He totalled 162km (1620 laps of 100m) and prayed for 195 countries along the way.
“Through Jesus Christ and by the Holy Spirit, to God all the glory for giving me the strength to push through,” said a spent but satisfied Van Niekerk, who also inspired a number of fellow Striders to embark on their own prayer runs.
“I have never regarded myself anything more than an average athlete. But I do have a passion for running, and I love allowing Him to use that passion for another much more intense passion I have, the Gospel of Jesus Christ as our Saviour, and to spread His hope.
“My wife and children are the true heroes in this whole journey. Staying awake, jumping to my every beck and call, taking care of all my physical as well as emotional needs…and there were plenty,” he laughed.
“When things got tougher than rough, they were the ones who just walked by my side for as many as 15km each, always checking what I will need next, and sometimes just chatting away on any topic, just to keep me awake, so I can stay on track, both literary and figuratively.”
Support system fuelled the fire
Van Niekerk also thanked his sponsors, congregation and fellow Striders for their support.
“Even in these uncertain times of businesses not functioning and having to turn every cent before spending it, Etienne du Plessis of ERD Construction without any hesitation, said to me ‘You’ve got your sponsor,’ when I told him what I was planning to do.
“I want to ask everybody close enough to the South Coast to please remember ERD Construction when you are in need of a building contractor after lockdown.
“Thank you to everyone who contributed financially – your support does mean a lot. With the lockdown, the responsibility of the church to support the poor and needy became just that much more pressing and real.
“The messages of support from my congregation was mind-blowing. I realise that, as it also came out in numerous messages, they dearly would have liked to be next to that circuit to spur me on.
“But I felt their prayers, especially in the most difficult times. Yes, when giving up became an option, it was their and so many other friends’ prayers that carried me on.
“I honestly do belong to the best, friendliest, most supportive and endearing running club ever! It is just amazing how they all came on board and ran and prayed and messaged.
Speaking of the best, I am happy to be part of the two best types of worldwide communities this planet has ever known. They are the runners of this world and the Christians of this world. I have had more friend requests on Facebook this past week, than I probably had the last five years, and 99% of them are part of both of these groups.
“I can honestly say I have made new friends and it means so much to me to know that there were people I have never met, who started praying for me, yes, but most importantly to start praying with me for the people of other countries as if it’s for their own.
The run down
On the gruelling run itself, Van Niekerk said, “The plan was to start at a comfortable but fairly decent pace between six minutes and six-and-a-half minutes per kilometre and keep that going for the first 30km, as I have done on my circuit runs in the past.
“I soon realised that’s not going to happen, since I started off with some really hectic stomach cramps, probably the tension of planning and getting everything ready in time for the start. So, I kept it at a much slower pace, hoping to ride it out.
“Another planned tactic of mine, that failed, was to alternate direction on the loop after every 10km so I could spread the work evenly on both legs. Starting with the left leg on the inside, my ITB, that has been acting out since running the Kosmos 73.3km shortly before lockdown, started to shout at me that it will have none of this nonsense, so for the remainder of the run I ran one direction, with the right leg taking all the inside lane punishment.
“By the time I got to 30km, the tummy started feeling better, but not before the blisters on my heals appeared. This obviously never went away, but only got bigger, to the extent that it became less painful to walk, since there is less of a heal strike than with running.
“The Prayer Run became very much a Prayer Walk. It helped a bit when my wife brought me an older pair of shoes at around 3am. It was as if the blisters had space to breathe from there on forward.
“When the spasms in the back muscles set in, not long after the marathon (42.2km) mark, I couldn’t help but think, ‘You should have known that this was, yet again, going to be much more than a physical run.’
“Indeed, it was a spiritual action as much as anything else. The enemy (devil and demons of hell), was not going to take this lying down, because prayers of the true believers leave them shivering of fear, and would do anything to prevent it. There was a fight going on in the spiritual realm, and I was in the centre of it. But through the grace of God, and all your prayers that went up, we prevailed and concord. Though I was feeling very sorry for myself and questioned myself a lot through this battle, I also felt myself truly blessed and honoured to be chosen for it.
“Since the circuit was only 100m long, I received ten skewer sticks at the start of each km, and threw one in a bucket at the starting point every time I came past. Just to make sure we keep track of the exact mileage. With each bundle of skewers, I also received the name of a country, the country to pray for on the next ten rounds of 100m.
“This was my motivation…my drive! To earnestly pray for that country and its people. There were a number of them that I had to pray like, ‘Lord, I don’t know where this country is found on the world map, but You do…’ Then I would pray for their general needs and challenges, and specifically for the saving of souls, and for the stronghold of the coronavirus to be broken, in Jesus Name.
“We had the names of all 195 countries we could find on Google ready…very optimistically so. When starting with the 161st km to take me to the 100 miles target, I knew time is running out, and the body was no longer as willing as the mind and soul, so I took the remainder of all the countries and prayed for all of them over the next 20 laps, while the rain came pouring down for the last hour.”