2013 – Los Angeles, California: In 2013, Matthew Barnett had chest pains while playing in a church softball game and was diagnosed with a pulmonary embolism. The doctor told him, “You’re going to live, but you will never run a marathon.” This was fine with Barnett who had never considered the crazy idea – at least not until a few months later when an employee challenged him to run the Los Angeles Marathon to raise money for the Dream Center.
As a young boy, Matthew dreamed of a church that would remain open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. His father, Tommy Barnett, the pastor of one of the three largest churches in America, inspired Matthew to start an inner-city ministry in Los Angeles. In September 1994, with the help of a handful of people, the 19 year old started the Dream Center.
A year after his pulmonary embolism, Matthew completed the Los Angeles Marathon. Although, his effort raised several hundred thousand dollars, Matthew never wanted to run 26.2 miles again. At least not until Dream Center employees suggested that he run the marathon every year to raise much-needed funds.
By 2016, Matthew had completed four marathons when a church member mentioned the World Marathon Challenge to him. The challenge involved running seven marathons on seven continents in seven days. Matthew thought it was the craziest thing he ever heard of. But when a member offered to donate $100,000 to the Dream Center, he changed his mind.
Matthew arrived in Antarctica on January 23, 2017, along with 32 other competitors. He survived 50 mile-per-hour winds and a minus 35-degree wind chill and completed the marathon in five hours.
Next stop, Punta Arenas, Chile. With great weather, Matthew completed the race in four hours. Then they were off on a 12-hour flight to Miami, Florida. Matthew’s family and several church members were there to cheer him through the race and he completed marathon number three in just over four hours.
Day four found the runners in Madrid, Spain. Midway through the race, Matthew partially tore the patella tendon in his left knee. Discouraged and disappointed, he thought about quitting the race and going home. But then he remembered the men in Alcoholics Anonymous who promised to complete the program if he completed the challenge. And he thought about the 30-year old single mom who agreed to finish her GED program if he finished. Matthew hobbled across the finish line in six hours.
Despite the searing pain in his knee, Matthew decided to attempt one more marathon. The race in Marrakesh, Morocco was held on a two-mile loop lined with lampposts. Matthew ran from lamppost to lamppost and surprised himself by finishing in a little over six hours.
Next stop, Dubai. Struggling in the desert heat in the early miles, Matthew was joined in the race by a man who had never run a marathon. He told Matthew that God had instructed him to help the preacher finish the race. Strengthened by the support and the encouragement, Matthew finished the race 20 minutes under the 8-hour cutoff time.
During the flight to the final marathon in Sydney, Australia, Matthew collapsed on the plane. Doctors determined he was okay, but dehydrated and exhausted. After two bags of fluids, Matthew was given the green light to run. The pastor of Hillsong Church, who had never run a marathon, and several of his church members showed up and ran the marathon with Matthew.
After sleeping only 14 hours in a week, 42-year-old Matthew Barnett completed the final marathon of the World Marathon Challenge in 6 hours and 47 minutes. He raised $1.4 million for the Dream Center.
Today, the Dream Center occupies all six floors of the former Queen of Angels Hospital and houses more than 800 homeless veterans, addicts, alcoholics and those down on their luck. Each month the ministry disburses $2 million dollars of food to more than 50,000 people. Barnett’s Dream Center started an international movement that has resulted in more than 100 dream centers across America and around the world.
“Don’t limit your challenges; challenge your limits.” Jerry Dunn