“Don’t you realize that in a race, everyone runs, but only one person gets the prize? So run to win! All athletes are disciplined in their training. They do it to win a prize that will fade away, but we do it for an eternal prize. So I run with purpose in every step.” – 1 Corinthians 9:24-27

Eighteen months ago, in a hospital outside of Columbia, I made a promise to a young girl. She had survived a hit-and-run accident that killed her best friend.

She’s a runner, and she discovered per our conversations that I had run for Appalachian State. She was curious as to why I stopped.

It was difficult to give all my lousy excuses as she lay there with a broken body. Therefore, in mid-May of 2016, I promised her I would saddle up and try to turn back the clock and run again.

That summer, my 48-year-old body began to run with the Bluffton High School Cross Country team. I started strictly as a volunteer, which eventually turned into a coaching position.

The clock has not been turned back but, to my great surprise, a promise kept has been one of the most rewarding years of my adult life.

It has become so much bigger than just logging miles with teenagers. They have taught me far more than I could have ever imagined.

Much is made of the millennial generation, but the young people I have come to know tell me there is a bright future ahead. I have been greatly inspired by their perseverance.

Even though some attend different churches and others attend no church at all, because I made myself available when there is a crisis they contact me. I have become more than their coach; I have become their pastor.

I suppose the lesson learned is, one small decision made 18 months ago has had lasting consequences. In Paul’s words, “I run with purpose in every step,” and what a difference it has made.

Jonathan Riddle is a pastor at Church of the Cross in Bluffton.