Each year on the second Sunday in January, Houston plays host to more than 25,000 runners, walkers, joggers and spectators from all over the world as they gather for the Chevron Houston Marathon and Aramco Half Marathon. As members of the Downtown Campus of Houston’s First Baptist Church handed out water and encouragement to runners, they cheered eight out-of-town marathoners with a bit more enthusiasm than the rest. Members of the Royal Air Force (RAF) from northern Scotland came to Houston, not just to run, but to serve. And they did — thanks to Facebook and Downtown Campus Pastor Lee Hsia.
Greg “Paddy” Patterson, a Sergeant in the Royal Air Force stationed in Lossiemouth, Scotland, spends most days maintaining RAF Tornado GR4 fighter jets. He is also an avid runner and Lossiemouth Baptist Church member that was recently inspired by a Scot who lived among the homeless for 30 days as a means of raising awareness.
“He has certainly touched a soft spot in my life,” said Patterson. “When gathering a team to run the marathon in Houston, I also wanted us to do something to help out the homeless.”
After taking to the Internet for possibilities, Patterson discovered the Houston’s First Facebook page. In his post he shared about his group’s upcoming trip to run in the Chevron Houston marathon and noted that they were interested in working with the homeless. Houston’s First Communications Director Steven W. Murray saw the post and replied to Patterson on Facebook. After the two connected by email, Murray contacted Pastor Hsia to enlist his help in setting up a place for the marathoners to serve.
The soldiers arrived in Houston several days before the marathon, took a field trip to NASA, and on the Friday before the race, the men and women donned hair nets and dished up meals to men at Open Door Mission, a ministry partner of Houston's First serving homeless men in Houston’s inner city.
“Paddy and his crew from the Royal Air Force were a blessing to our city,” said Pastor Hsia. “And I had a good time hanging out with them and introducing them to Open Door Mission, the neighborhoods of Downtown Houston, MetroRail, Uber, and our church.”
Patterson and his team heard a few of the clients at Open Door Mission talking about their experiences there. “The guys expressed confidence that God was on their side, helping and guiding them through the problems they faced,” he said. “The programme at Open Door Mission is not just a quick fix, but a long-term return to a full and normal life without drugs or alcohol — even assisting with new job skills and placement. The generosity in Houston is incredible with all it must take to keep the mission going.”
On Sunday, every member of the RAF team successfully completed the 26.2-mile marathon — with no injuries or mishaps. Patterson also made it a point to attend the special 5p church service at the Downtown Campus after the marathon. The following day, Open Door Mission Ministries Connector Bill White and his wife took the soldiers out to enjoy some Texas BBQ before the crew departed for home.
“Our team really enjoyed our experience in Houston and we’re humbled by all that is happening at the Open Door Mission,” said Patterson. “We learned much, and no doubt our eyes were opened to the challenges the men face as they break free from the harsh realities in their lives.”
Pastor Hsia was pleased to be the point of connection in Houston for the marathoners. “Paddy has a great heart for the Lord and for serving,” he said. “He took the initiative to connect with our church, find a service opportunity and mobilize the Royal Air Force running team to help out while they were in town. We are thankful for their service. What a friendly and cooperative spirit they have.”
(L to R) Paddy Patterson, Dave Hoey, Daz Emson, Eddie Edwards, Trev McIntosh, Emma McIntosh, Eve Norman, Fiona Hamilton and Lee Hsia, pastor, Downtown Campus of Houston’s First