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story.lead_photo.caption Gracie Cooper, 11, reads from the Bible. Although she was nervous before the reading, she admitted after, “It was fun to read.” - Photo by NWA Democrat-Gazette / ANTHONY REYES • @NWATONYR

Four children from the Cooper family of Green Forest sat in a row at a table on the Great Passion Play grounds in Eureka Springs. They were protected from the rain of April 29 by a portico of the Great Hall, and jackets kept them warm. Three protective adults, self-proclaimed "adopted grandparents," huddled over them.

Photo by ANTHONY REYES • @NWATONYR / NWA Democrat-Gazette
Bonnie Roediger (from left) helps Gracie Cooper, 11, read from the Bible. Her siblings, Hope Cooper, 10, Joshua Cooper, 11, and Aslyn Cooper, 8, look on April 29 during the Carroll County Bible Reading Marathon at the Great Hall at the Great Passion Play in Eureka Springs. The readings go on for a week, with participants taking turns reading for 15 minutes from the Bible from beginning to end.

But the children seemed unfazed -- even by the microphone in front of their faces. They swung their feet high above the floor they couldn't reach, clad in kid-size black athletic shoes with bright pink laces (excluding 11-year-old Joshua's). They came to read from the Bible.

On the net

Bible Reading Marathon International

biblereadingmarathon.org

The Carroll County Bible Reading Marathon -- currently in its seventh year -- ended Thursday after roughly 90 hours of volunteers reading aloud. The journey began with an opening ceremony April 28.

Gracie Cooper, the oldest at 11 and Joshua's twin, read first from Genesis 42:1-3:

When Jacob learned that there was grain in Egypt, he said to his sons, "Why do you just keep looking at each other?" He continued, "I have heard that there is grain in Egypt. Go down there and buy some for us, so that we may live and not die."

Then 10 of Joseph's brothers went down to buy grain from Egypt.

Bonnie Roediger, also of Green Forest, founder of the marathon, helped the fifth-grader pronounce words like Israel, famine and Canna.

Cooper read the entire chapter and moved on to Genesis 43, passing it off to her sister Hope, 10, who read the last half. Then Joshua and Aslyn, 8, took their turns.

Later, Gracie shared more of the story she read: "I told the story of Joseph and his four brothers. He had all of these dreams, and his parents gave him a 'coat of many colors.' One day, Joseph was weak, but his brothers were strong.

"I liked it," she said. "It was really fun to read. When I was reading, I saw Joseph in front of me."

HEARD THE WORD

Roediger dreamed of starting a Bible reading marathon, but the inspiration came from God, she said.

"In 2010, God gave me a word," she said. "He said, 'Stop resting, and start serving.'"

The first Bible reading marathon began on the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem in 1990, sponsored by Bible Pathway Ministries. Roediger said she heard about it in 1992, and she and a friend initiated another marathon in 1993 in Douglas, Wyo., where she lived at the time.

"I knew we all needed to read the Bible on a daily basis," Roediger said.

When Roediger moved to Carroll County in 2006, "I saw and felt the disharmony in the eastern and western sides of the county," she said. "It broke my heart."

Her solution was "to break down barriers," she said. "One thing we all have in common is the Bible. Everybody can read the Bible."

Roediger said she started the regional movement -- at Towering Oaks Church in Berryville -- and her family's ministry -- Bible Reading Marathon International -- in 2010.

The local event has grown to include as many as 243 readers and a facilitating team of three, Roediger reported. Each person is asked to read for 15 minutes. The marathon starts with Genesis 1:1 and continues through Revelation 22:21. This year, people read the Bible aloud in English, Spanish and Cherokee, she said.

During the first six years of the event, volunteers read from the Bible 24 hours a day. This year, the recitations ran only during daylight hours, but the number of days involved was stretched to a week, ending on the National Day of Prayer.

"We've never not finished [the Bible]," Roediger said.

The annual event also includes a youth rally and opening and closing ceremonies. And area congregations take the opportunity for an outreach mission for their churches. When people see the public reading and ask, the churches get a chance to share their messages, Roediger said.

The ministry has grown, with the Roedigers traveling in recent years to help build marathons in Minnesota, Nepal, Kenya, Uganda and Burundi.

"God is doing amazing things across the culture, not just across denominations," Roediger said. "God's hand is never short."

'I WAS HOOKED'

Volunteers came to read with their own reasons.

"I love the word of God," said Donna Pharis of Oak Grove, and then she sat in silence to illustrate the simplicity of the thought.

Sitting at another table, Judy Scoggins of Holiday Island said the same words: "I love the word of God.

"I think it's important for our country to hear the word of God," she continued. "More important than hearing it, though ... we need to heed the word of God."

Gracie Cooper admitted she felt nervous before her first reading, and so did Pharis.

"I was worried about getting all the 'begats' and the towns' names right. We're not Hebrew scholars," she said.

"I am nervous to get up and sing in worship," said Christine Renfro of Golden, Mo. But when she reads, "I feel the presence of God -- I really do. His spirit is just right there to guide you through the words you don't know. I ask God to guide me, and if it's not right, I know it's OK with him."

Pharis noted that the first year she read during the marathon, her place came in the book of Joshua -- one of her favorite parts of the Bible. "I was hooked," she said.

"And after two years, I forgot all about being nervous and pronounced the names right."

She said she also practices saying the words aloud at home, as did Scoggins.

"I was prayerful as I drove up," Scoggins said. "Thinking about the promise in the word of God, spoken or read.

"The word of God is inerrant and infallible and eternal," she continued. "It should be the rule and basis of our lives."

"When I'm reading, it feels like I'm doing God's work," Renfro said. "Not enough people do God's work. If God asks, and you don't say, 'Yes,' then God is disappointed. You should do whatever you can for God.

"I feel fantastic," Renfro said after a reading. "I did my part."

"And there's something about reading the Bible out of doors," Pharis said.

"The word goes out over the whole area," responded Jesse Roediger, Bonnie's husband.

"As each one reads through the Bible, it's God's word going forth out into the open," Bonnie added.

"Our motto is Isaiah 55:11:"

So is my word that goes out from my mouth:

It will not return to me empty,

but will accomplish what I desire

and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.

Laurinda Joenks can be reached by email at ljoenks@nwadg.com or on Twitter @NWALaurinda.

NAN Religion on 05/07/2016

Print Headline: Marathon

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