As athletes raced past iconic skyscrapers and well-known landmarks during the 44th Chicago Marathon, they also ran past another familiar sight: Jehovah’s Witnesses standing next to mobile carts featuring colorful literature in a variety of languages.
More than 800 volunteers participated in this unique work at more than 40 locations throughout Chicago this week, including spots along the marathon route on race day, Sunday, Oct. 9.
Marathoners enjoyed sunshine and autumn temperatures as they ran the 26.2-mile course, which took them through 29 Chicago neighborhoods, culminating at the finish line in Grant Park. An estimated 1.7 million spectators cheered on some 40,000 runners from all 50 states and more than 100 countries.
Homewood, Illinois, resident Julia Macklin observed the excitement firsthand. She and her husband Brandon were two of the hundreds of volunteers standing next to cart displays throughout the city this week. “It’s very high energy,” she said. “There are people from all over the country, all over the world, people that I would never get to meet otherwise. Being able to talk to them at the marathon is really exciting.”
“There’s such a buzz in the city,” said Naperville resident Laura Barth. “Each story is so personal. The things that they’ve gone through, what made them start running, the family that’s there to support them — everyone is so interesting.”
“We are here to help people,” added her husband, Neal. “When we can learn about them and what’s going on in their life, it gives us the ability to give them something that will benefit them in their unique circumstances.”
Jehovah’s Witnesses in Chicago shared in this work during the 2017, 2018 and 2019 marathons; then, in early 2020, the Christian organization suspended all in-person forms of their ministry out of concern for the health and safety of the community. The in-person marathon itself was canceled in 2020, with organizers shifting to a virtual experience.
Earlier this year, Witnesses all over the world recommenced their public preaching work.
“We believe that the early decision to shut down all in-person activities for more than two years has saved many lives,” said Robert Hendriks, U.S. spokesperson for Jehovah’s Witnesses. “We’re now ready and eager to reconnect with our neighbors once again – person-to-person, face-to-face. It’s not the only way we preach, but it has historically been the most effective way to deliver our message of comfort and hope.”
Sfiso and Nthipi Mthethwa of Aurora, Illinois, who have participated in “cart witnessing” during past marathons, enjoy sharing that hope with international visitors in a variety of languages featured on the official website of Jehovah’s Witnesses, jw.org. “It’s exciting to get to show people that they can get information that can help them in the language that they’re comfortable with,” Sfiso said.
The Mthethwa family and other volunteers feel the message they’re sharing — a message of hope, peace and joy — is especially timely. “Over the last two years, we have seen so much turmoil, not only in the world, but personally, people have experienced a lot of trials,” Nthipi Mthethwa said. “As students of the Bible, we’ve seen the joy we can have despite the challenges that we face.”
Volunteer Frank Rivera of Plainfield, Illinois, shared similar thoughts. “It’s possible to be joyous in a joyless world.”
2022 marks the 10-year anniversary of Jehovah’s Witnesses’ use of mobile displays of Bible-based literature on the streets of Chicago, the local program having kicked off in 2012. Those traveling to and from the city this week may have also noticed carts at O’Hare International Airport, Midway International Airport, and at CTA and Metra stations throughout the area.
“We feel good doing this volunteer work, giving back to the community,” Chicago resident Paul Schmidt said. He invites any who might be curious to take a closer look when they see Jehovah’s Witnesses out and about with mobile displays. “Take a little time to stop by our carts and see what it’s all about,” he said.
To learn more about Jehovah’s Witnesses, their history, beliefs and activities, visit jw.org, the organization’s official website, which features content in more than 1,000 languages.