Four-day Bible marathon
Religion: A ministry aims to read the entire Bible aloud at federal and state capitols
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At the bottom of the state capitol steps in Harrisburg on a sunny day in May, a team set up a simple podium with a microphone and a livestream camera on a tripod. They arranged white folding chairs around the podium and set up a table displaying stacks of tracts and dozens of Bibles in multiple languages. Table signs read: “Politics Free Zone.”
The team was part of Bible Reading Marathon (BRM), a branch of Seedline International, a Bible translation and distribution ministry. Once every year for 33 years in Washington, D.C., the organization has gathered volunteers to read the Bible aloud—nonstop, cover to cover, rain or shine—in front of the U.S. Capitol. The feat takes about 90 hours to complete. Now the team has begun a mission to take the same challenge to every state capital, starting with Nashville, Tenn.; Indianapolis, Ind.; and Harrisburg.
At the reading marathon in Harrisburg on May 24, the podium was always occupied by either a BRM volunteer, family members who took a field trip to read, seminary students, local lawmakers, or random pedestrians who spontaneously signed up.
Organizer Joe Bavar, 49, works most of the year as an architectural draftsman from Plainfield, Ind. But he uses his vacation days to volunteer as the BRM state director. A couple of years ago, he went to Seedline’s director with a vision: If people can’t make it to the yearly Washington event, why not take the marathon to them? In 2021, he started with his home state, coordinating with Indianapolis Capitol Police, contacting local pastors and legislative chaplains, and filling sign-up sheets.
“Our goal is just to get the Bible out of the four walls of the church, out of the four walls of home, and in front of the people again,” Bavar said in Harrisburg. “God can do amazing things with His Word, and He’s pleased to hear His Word read.”
Bavar estimated roughly 200 of the 360 reading slots were filled at the Harrisburg marathon, a good rate for the first year in the state. He and his team of roughly 30 volunteers took the remaining slots, taking quick breaks at a nearby hotel for the four days. At dusk, they moved the setup across the street, in accordance with police instructions. At night police occasionally drove by to ensure operations ran smoothly.
Pastor Jon Gross of Puzzletown Road Bible Church in Duncansville, Pa., brought a vanload of congregants to read passages on May 24. He said he was excited to get the Word of God onto the steps of the state Capitol. Todd Imler brought his wife and youngest daughter. He saw the marathon as an opportunity to remember the country’s Founders and their inclusion of religious liberty in the foundations of U.S. government.
“This is a great social studies lesson!” added Dawn Allen, a homeschooling mom who brought four of her children to help read, run the sound board, and supply snacks and water.
Throughout the day, visitors walked by the BRM table to tour the historic building. Staffers wandered in and out, and a group of Muslim visitors took photos. At the top of the steps, a rally for equitable housing took place. All the while, Christians read from the Bible at the bottom of the steps.
Most government staffers and lawmakers who walked by did not take a tract or engage with the group. But Gary Dull, a pastor of Faith Baptist Church of Altoona, Pa., who helped bring the event to Harrisburg, said reading the Bible out loud in a conspicuous location is important regardless of how many people engage.
“Romans 13 tells us that those in government are ministers of God, to stand against that which is evil and to support that which is good,” Dull said. “If they’re going to do this, they need to hear the Word of God.”
Bavar said results of these marathons have popped up in unlikely places. He said one inmate at an Indianapolis jail who heard about the ministry organized a shorter New Testament reading marathon with her fellow inmates.
By 10 a.m. on May 25, roughly 3½ days after starting, the marathon concluded with the last verse of Revelation and a closing prayer. Bavar said the 12-hour days and late nights are hard, but he plans on adding more marathons each year until all 50 states have their own Bible read-through.
“We’d like to get the younger generation more involved,” he said. “They can take the torch so this doesn’t fade.”
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