- Associated Press - Friday, March 6, 2015

JOPLIN, Mo. (AP) - Tom and Valerie Rogers never faced Pharaoh’s army advancing toward them on the Red Sea, but the flood of people who showed up at the first meeting of their Christ-centered running program still must have felt a bit intimidating.

The Joplin couple had counted on about 20 people turning out at that initial meeting in September of 2013. However, more than 145 came to the College Heights Christian Church Chapel to learn how to run a 5K race.

Today, the average attendance at the 6 p.m. Monday meetings is somewhere between 150 and 175 people, with two other days set aside every week by participants for workouts.

The program began under the umbrella of Run for God, a nationwide organization with a Christian focus. Run for God began in Carthage, The Joplin Globe (https://bit.ly/1wDXS4S ) reports.

Tom Rogers said he connected with Kent Ogle, the Carthage organizer, and after being walked through the program, he decided to get it going in Joplin. Although the Joplin program holds meetings out of College Heights, it is not connected with the church or any other denomination.

The program takes people who are not runners or who have been away from running for a while and helps them prepare throughout a 12-week period to be able to run a 5K race. It also allows walkers to participate with no demands put on running. The fee for the 12 weeks is $25.

In its brief existence, the ministry has seen nearly 500 family team members complete their first 5K run, with some even competing in a 10K, half marathon or marathon.

With the graduation day approaching for the first 12-week session, Rogers said the group had red T-shirts printed and made a deal with the Joplin Family Y to run in its annual New Year’s Day 5K.

“While many people were pondering their 2014 resolutions at home, the team began to swell in numbers at the starting line,” said Rogers. “The other runners began to look curiously at our team of red. One person shouted to another, ‘Wow, looks like the Red Sea is here.’

That is when the Joplin Run for God program was changed to the Red Sea Fitness Team Ministry, as it is today.

Rogers said the group needed to think about a bigger picture - to teach a complete fitness message with spiritual, financial, physical, mental, relational and emotional training components that could reach every participant.

“The Red Sea Fitness Team was born out of the teachings of Exodus and all that God teaches us in difficult times and challenges,” Rogers said.

He added that the team could be labeled many things but not a running group. Even though much time is spent on physical wellness, the primary focus is spiritual well-being.

“We teach people the importance of nutrition, rest, communication, prayer, journaling, budgeting, time management and many other things that can either cause our lives to be full or simply flat but most of all how to do relationships the right way,” Rogers said.

He added that the ministry is constantly developing new service opportunities in the community. For example, Red Sea participants ran 24 hours continuously as a team on treadmills to raise nearly $7,000 for Wounded Warrior Project, an organization that supports wounded military veterans.

The ministry’s second annual Amazing Grace 5K/10K running/walking event will be held April 4. Last year’s inaugural race, with more than 525 participants, became the second largest running and walking event in the city of Joplin. A goal of 1,000 participants has been set for this year, according to Rogers.

The nonprofit ministry is funded by class fees, merchandise sales and donations, with all proceeds after expenses going to proper athletic shoes for those in need and scholarships for the class.

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Information from: The Joplin (Mo.) Globe, https://www.joplinglobe.com

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