An interview with the Muskathlon Athletes

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By Beth Ross | 27 April 2017

This May, a team of six everyday Australians will be running, cycling and walking a marathon to raise funds for persecuted Christians. But the Muskathlon isn't your average marathon–it will take place in Lebanon.

Sharing a border with Syria, Lebanon has seen it's far share of refugees fleeing from civil war. The Muskathlon team will also get to meet and pray with these persecuted Christians and Syrian refugees, and all funds they raise will provide them with food packs and emergency relief. We got to know the team and find out why they chose to run a marathon for people fleeing one of the most dangerous places in the world.




Name: Carlos Aguilera

Age: 35

Are you running, walking or cycling? Running - 42km

I live in Sydney with my gorgeous wife Merran and my one-year-old son Ari.

How did you hear about Open Doors? In 2014 I was at a conference and Open Doors shared a video about a woman called Helen Berhane, who was locked up in a shipping container for her faith. This video asked me a massive question: "If you were to wake up tomorrow with only the things you gave thanks to God for today, what would you have?" I looked across at my wife and quickly realised that I would not even have her. With this huge burden on my heart – I investigated the organisation that had asked this question. A simple Google search of Open Doors quite literally opened the door to the persecuted church.

What do you do for work? I now work for Open Doors. I look after the passionate supporters of Open Doors and I am the leader of the Australian team going to Lebanon

How can we pray for you? The current conditions in Syria mean that our trip can be affected. We are going to an unstable area–our safety is important. Pray that we’d be used to glorify the name of Jesus and that through us, God can pour out the love, care and hope Syrian refugees really need. We’re also seeking to raise as much financial support for them, so prayer for people to generously give toward our effort is actually directly helping them. 




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Name: Joyce Choucair 

Are you running, walking or cycling? Walking - 62km

What do you do for work? I live in Sydney and I'm currently a Careers Adviser in a High School.

Why did you decide to run a marathon for Open Doors with Muskathlon in Lebanon? I saw an opportunity to train for a purpose and the money raised was going to support a current humanitarian crisis close to my heart. 

You’ll be meeting Syrian refugees in camps. How are you feeling about that? Not sure how I will cope to be honest. Meeting with people who have lost so much will not be emotionally easy for me. The whole situation in Syria is so sad, I'm already in tears just reading and watching the news and now to be meeting with the victims in person will be at another level for me. 




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Name: Lynda Utting

Age: 55

Are you running, walking or cycling? Cycling - 120km

Where do you live? Beerwah, Glasshouse Mountains (Sunshine Coast hinterland). I live with my husband and two of our four children (aged 23 and 20 years).

Why did you decide to cycle 120km for Open Doors with the Muskathlon in Lebanon? I was invited along to hear the Ripkens on their "Insanity of God" tour - I made a donation, bought the Insanity of God book and then picked up a Frontline Faith magazine - that was when my eye glanced the page: Open Doors mission trips. I saw a picture of a man running and the words 'Muskathlon'.  But this was not the attraction for me–it was the opportunity to "transform the lives of many as I rise to the challenge of raising awareness of the persecuted church" and to "visit and encourage Syrian believers in refugee camps throughout the country." When I saw this, I immediately wanted to go! My passion has always been for the displaced, the refugees–so this was exactly the opportunity I had been looking for.

You’re leaving in a few short weeks. Are you feeling nervous ahead of the trip? I know I'm feeling something but I wouldn't say it's nervousness exactly - I don't really know what it is. Until recently, I've just been head down, tail up, cycling, cycling, cycling and focused on fundraising. But as a result of a few recent talks with Carlos, this has got me thinking further into the trip along the lines of how will I cope with the chaotic nature of the tour, about being out of my comfort zone, and meeting the refugees and what impact this will all have on my faith.




Name: Peter Chapman       

Age: 26

Are you running, walking or cycling? Walking - 62km

Where do you live? In Perth, Western Australia. With my parents and three of my siblings.

You’re leaving in a few short weeks. Are you feeling nervous about the trip? There is some trepidation about the trip, especially with the recent gas attacks in Syria and the US military response. Time will tell what else will happen in retaliation. I’m pretty oblivious to danger sometimes, so I guess I’ll just have to trust others when something goes wrong on the trip.    

What are some expectations you have for your time in Lebanon? Do you think it will change you? I’m going to be challenged on a lot of my presuppositions of the Middle East. This trip will change me as much as I let it. By God’s grace I’ll grow in love and maturity and all godliness. Maybe I will even have a whole change of direction in what I do the rest of my life.

You’ll be meeting Syrian refugees in camps. How are you feeling about that? People are people, even if they are refugees. I hope to empathise and engage with them and perhaps share the Gospel to reach the lost and encourage the found.  



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Name: Justine Shapiro

Age: 27

Are you running, walking or cycling? Running - 21km

Where do you live? At home with mum, dad, sister (and two cats and a dog)

What do you do for work? Nanny two beautiful little kids, run a crochet toy business called Knot Forgotten & study Bachelor of Primary Education at Macquarie University.

Why did you decide to run a marathon for Open Doors with Muskathlon in Lebanon? Initially I had no intention of actually committing to the trip. I kind of feigned interest when randomly talking to Carlos at church, just trying to be polite–I never thought he’d actually follow me up, I wasn’t even a Christian at that point in time. 

After Carlos followed me up a couple of days after our initial meeting at church last September, I somehow found myself volunteering for Open Doors. My life was stable–I was happily in a relationship, I had just got back into uni to do a second degree, I was nannying kids I adore, I had overcome my eating disorder amongst other things. Things were going well. And as I sat in the Open Doors office, thanking people for their generous donation I began to realise that although everything was stable–I was deeply unhappy, I was so empty, and I feel like that was when God began to call me back home. After a crazy amount of praying, rejoining a church, breaking up with my non-christian boyfriend and essentially toppling my steady life upside down–it just became so clear to me that the Muskathlon was where I needed to be, where God wanted me to go. I’ve always wanted to spend my life working for and with others, I just didn’t know how, and God has pointed me in the right direction.

Because of my own personal battles I have developed a large sense of empathy, and from this a yearning to help others. Watching the news and seeing what has been going on in Syria especially has just broken my heart. I want to go and be there with these people who are suffering so much. I don’t want to be their charity–I want to be a friend & a sister in Christ. I want to support the persecuted church because I live in a country that I can worship and don’t have to die for it.




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Name: Jamin Bennett

Age: 20

Are you running, walking or cycling? Running - 42km

What do you do for work? I live on the Northern Beaches, with my dad and sisters and I'm a Maths and Music tutor and Coffee Roaster

Why did you decide to run a marathon for Open Doors with Muskathlon in Lebanon? I thought it was an incredible opportunity to encourage and meet the local church in the Middle East, and to grow my own faith through such an experience. Especially at a time like now, will all the recent tensions in the Middle East, and Syria in particular, it’ll be insane just to meet them and hear how they see what is happening in their country.

What are some expectations you have for your time in Lebanon? Do you think it will change you? Yes, the trip will change me massively, and I am expectant for that to happen. It’ll be exhausting physically, emotionally, and many other ways, but I couldn’t be more excited.

How can we pray for you? Pray for courage, strength, and continued peace for this trip.


Your help makes a difference!

 Open Doors is partnering with Muskathlon to raise funds for persecuted Christians and Syrian refugees in Lebanon. Find out more about these athletes donate to the Lebanon Muskathlon.


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