The Call Cover Story October 8th, 2009

Hillsville pastor runs Thanksgiving marathon in support of Sudan

By Annette Spence

Ronnie Collins: "To truly bear the<br>image of Christ, you have to put<br>your feet to work.
Ronnie Collins: “To truly bear the
image of Christ, you have to put
your feet to work.”

Twenty-six miles is a long way to run. Ronnie Collins has done it seven times.

On Thanksgiving day, the 44-year-old pastor will run his eighth marathon, but this time he will run for the children of Sudan. Two weeks after he announced his fundraising campaign, the associate pastor at First Hillsville United Methodist Church has already received $600.

“My first donation was from one of my youth,” says the Rev. Collins, who is also chair of Holston’s Witness Ministry Team.

A marathon is a 26.2 mile run, and on Nov. 26 Collins will run the Atlanta Marathon. He typically runs three to five miles a day — three to five days a week — so training will be challenging but not impossible. He’s been running since 1999, when he realized that a walk up a flight of stairs left him breathless.

“I was 50 pounds overweight and had just read a book called, ‘What the Bible Says About Healthy Living,'” he says. “I started walking and running. I never intended to run competitively.”

After a 5K race won him a third-place trophy, however, Collins was hooked: “That silly little trophy caused me to go run in every race I could run.” He went from a weight high of 235 pounds at 6′ 1″ to 199 today, although he knows he will drop some weight during training. At his leanest he weighs 175.

As Collins contemplated his eighth marathon, he also finished reading the book, “Take Your Best Shot: Do Something Bigger Than Yourself,” by Austin Gutwein.

The book’s message for Collins: “Whatever your passion is, you can change the world with that.”

“My passions are number one, God, and number two, family,” he says. “But aside from that is running.”

He doesn’t think it was coincidence that the next book he read was, “They Poured Fire on Us From the Sky,” about the Lost Boys of Sudan. In support of Holston Conference’s covenant with the East Africa Conference and the ongoing mission work in Yei, the pastor decided to use his marathon to raise money for the children of Sudan.

“God hasn’t given me a goal yet,” he says, when asked about how much he hopes to raise. His blog suggests a dollar amount for each mile. He’s also inviting people to run with him in Atlanta. After the marathon, the Wytheville District pastor wants to start a Christian running group.

To give, write a check to “Hope for the Children of Sudan,” and mail to: Ronnie G. Collins, P.O. Box 356, Hillsville, VA 24343. To follow his progress, visit his blog at Collins is also on Facebook. His e-mail address is and the First Hillsville UMC phone number is (276) 728-2434.

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