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Running the race


WORLD Radio - Running the race

How a chaplain and his team bring the gospel to the horse handlers behind the Kentucky Derby

Chaplain Joseph Del Rosario at Churchill Downs in Louisville, Kentucky. Photo credit to Travis Kircher

REICHARD, HOST: Today is Thursday, May 4th. Thank you for turning to WORLD Radio to help start your day. Good morning. I’m Mary Reichard.

MYRNA BROWN, HOST: And I’m Myrna Brown. Coming next onThe World and Everything in It: running the race.

With the Kentucky Derby just days away, a chaplain and his staff are serving on a unique mission field: the kind with horses, jockeys and finish lines. WORLD Associate Correspondent Travis Kircher has our story.

JOSEPH DEL ROSARIO: Good morning, horsemen. This is Chaplain Joseph, and may the peace of The Lord be with you this morning.

TRAVIS KIRCHER, REPORTER: It’s 8:45 a.m. at Churchill Downs in Louisville, Kentucky, and Chaplain Joseph Del Rosario is sharing his morning devotion over the racetrack intercom.

DEL ROSARIO: But take heart. Have courage. I have overcome the world.

After finishing his address in English, he repeats it in Spanish.

AUDIO: [Spanish version of devotional]

Six mornings a week, his voice echoes from loudspeakers across the racetrack for all to hear. And as Churchill Downs gets busier ahead of the Kentucky Derby, his audience is growing.

SOUND: [water running and chatter]

The sun has risen and grooms are busy washing the horses, as exercise riders put the Thoroughbreds through their paces—racing them around the track.

SOUND: [Horse coming around the track]

Del Rosario is busy too. Soon he’s back at his morning rounds, greeting the barn staff – the grooms, jockeys, and hot walkers. During his walk, he runs into an exercise rider he recognizes.

JOSE: How are you?
WORKER: Long time, no see, man!
JOSE: Good to see you!
WORKER: Everything going good and, you know, God is with us!
JOSE: Amen! Hallelujah!

For Del Rosario, this isn’t aimless socializing. He’s on a mission – planting seeds. He calls it, “the ministry of presence.”

DEL ROSARIO: Getting to know them, building trust, and letting them know that there’s someone here that, if they need to talk, will listen and will care for them.

If mornings are when he plants seeds, you might say Monday nights are when the Holy Spirit helps those seeds to take root.

SOUND: [Crowd talking English and Spanish at dinner]

That’s when barn staff and volunteers pile into Christ Chapel—a church located at the back of Churchill Downs. Every week, there’s a dinner at the chapel, as well as two services: one in English and one in Spanish.

Del Rosario says behind the smiles are a lot of hurting people. Many are poor and work difficult jobs seven days a week. All of them are in need of an authentic relationship with Jesus Christ.

DEL ROSARIO: One of the common things that we face is loneliness because a lot of them do come from other countries. And that becomes a root issue towards many bad symptoms: Alcoholism, drug use and a number of other destructive behaviors.

Del Rosario isn’t the only one who ministers to them. Jemima Davila is the women’s ministry director. She’s heard some of the tragic stories from congregants firsthand. She tears up as she recalls a barn worker she found weeping over a child she left behind in Mexico.

JEMIMA DAVILA: And she said, ‘Well, he’s dying, and I just need to confess that I have other three kids that I abandon back home.’ That was just really big for me because, in my head it’s like, ‘Well, why you don’t come back with your family then?’ And they’re like, ‘It’s nothing I can do if I come back. All of us are gonna die with hungry because I just don’t have job over there.’ So it’s difficult.

The children who live on or near Churchill Downs also have needs.

SOUND: [Children eating]

Here’s children’s ministry director Erica Williamson.

ERICA WILLIAMSON: I’ve had kids come in and they’ll be like, ‘Why are there books everywhere?’ And I’ll say, ‘Have you heard of a Bible? A Biblia?’ And they’ll say, ‘No, I never have heard of that!’ And so a lot of them just come with zero knowledge of God.

AUDIO: [Service in Spanish]

As Del Rosario preaches from the Gospel of John, many in his congregation are learning the truth about Jesus for the first time. Retired Hall of Fame jockey Pat Day is a Christian leader at the track. He says pointing people to Jesus is what the chaplaincy program is all about.

PAT DAY: The chaplain is there to meet some of their physical – some of their material – needs, but ultimately we want to see them come to the knowledge of the saving grace of Jesus Christ. The Word of God is pretty clear: ‘What does it profit a man to gain the whole world and lose your own soul?'

Elizandro Perez works as a groom at the racetrack. He says he is seeking Christ for change in his life. Del Rosario interprets for Perez.

AUDIO: [Spanish speaking]

DEL ROSARIO: From the depth of my heart, I want to follow God’s Word. Get rid of the vices – the addiction – and follow God, be all-in for God, and I pray that God would take all of that gross stuff – sin – out of me. I ask God for that.

MUSIC: [‘How Great is our God’ in Spanish]

And the Lord is moving. Remember those kids who’d never seen a Bible? Erica Williamson says they’ve spent the past two years going through God’s Word book-by-book. They’re in Daniel now. And Jemima Davila has started a daily Bible study for the women.

DAVILA: And that is just so interesting because I can see in their eyes how they became alive because they are reading the Bible. And it’s so impressive! I never in my whole life have seen that!

And Del Rosario? He’s reminding his congregation that life is a race that must be run with endurance. He’s not just talking about the racetrack outside.

DEL ROSARIO: If your horse jumps over the railing and starts running elsewhere, that horse is done in the race. And it’s the same for us in life: If we don’t look to Jesus and run to Him, we’re not winning anything.

So on May 6th – Derby Day – when many are singing “My Old Kentucky Home,” some of the workers at Churchill Downs will have another song in their hearts: Cuán grande es Dios. How great is our God.

DEL ROSARIO: These people care for the horses and God loves them. They’re made in his image. They’re worthy of dignity and respect.

Reporting for WORLD, I’m Travis Kircher, at Churchill Downs, in Louisville, Kentucky.

MUSIC: [‘How Great is our God’ in Spanish]

WORLD Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of WORLD Radio programming is the audio record.


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