As a young boy, Matthew Barnett had a dream for 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 him to start an inner-city ministry in Los Angeles, California. In September 1994, with the help of a handful of people, 19-year-old Matthew started 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 worth of food to more than 50,000 people with trucks dropping off food at 21 locations. Barnett’s Dream Center started an international movement that has resulted in more than 100 dream centers across America and around the world.

In 2013, Barnett had chest pains while playing in a church softball game and was diagnosed with a pulmonary embolism. The doctor informed 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.

Barnett began by walking around the block, then running a lap around a track. A year after the blood clots in his lung, Barnett completed the L.A. Marathon. He raised several hundred thousand dollars, but he never wanted to try that again. At least not until Dream Center employees suggested he run the marathon every year to raise much-needed funds.

By 2016, Barnett had completed four marathons when a church member mentioned the World Marathon Challenge to him. The challenge consists of running seven 26.2-mile marathons on seven continents in seven days and Barnett thought it was the most insane thing he had ever heard of. However, his perspective changed when the member offered to donate $100,000 to the Dream Center if he would do it. Barnett’s competitive spirit caught the thrill of trying to do what seems impossible.

Barnett arrived at Union Glacier in Antarctica, January 23, 2017, along with 32 other competitors. He was a novice in a field of seasoned marathoners, but he survived brutal 50 mile-per-hour winds with a minus 35-degree wind chill, and completed the marathon in just under five hours. After treatment for frostbite on his toes and a quick meal, the group took a five-hour flight to Punta Arenas, Chile. Relishing 50-degree temperatures, Barnett completed the race in about four hours. Three hours later, they were off on a 12-hour flight to Miami, Florida. Barnett’s family and church members were there to cheer him through the race and he finished marathon number three in just over four hours.

Day four found the runners in Madrid, Spain, following an eight-hour flight. Midway through the marathon, Barnett partially tore the patella tendon in his left knee and figured he was done. Discouraged and disappointed, he wrestled with the idea of quitting the race and returning to Los Angeles. But he thought of the men in Alcoholics Anonymous who promised to complete the program if he would complete the challenge and the 30-year old single mom who agreed to finish her GED program if he would finish. Hating to fail, Barnett decided to try to complete the marathon before dropping out of the competition. Locking his left knee he hobbled across the finish line in in a little more than six hours.

Despite fatigue and the searing pain from his injury, on the plane to Marrakesh, Morocco, Barnett decided he would attempt one more race. The race there was run on a repetitive two-mile loop, which was lined with lampposts. Although he doubted he could make the eight-hour time limit, Barnett knew he could hobble from lamppost to lamppost and surprised himself by finishing in a little over six hours.

Barnett arrived in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, with little hope of finishing the race there in the fierce desert heat. In the early miles, he was joined by a man who had never run a marathon but who said that God had instructed him to help Barnett through the marathon. Strengthened by the man’s company and encouragement, Barnett finished the race 20 minutes under the cutoff time.

During the flight to Sydney, Australia, Barnett, who became disoriented and complained of chest pains, collapsed on the plane. Upon landing, he was taken to a hospital where doctors determined he was okay, but dehydrated and exhausted. After two bags of fluids he was given the green light to race. Barnett arrived at the track after the marathon had started. The pastor of Hillsong Church, who had never run a marathon, and several church members met him and ran the marathon with him.

After sleeping only 14 hours in a week, 42-year-old Matthew Barnett completed the seventh and final marathon of the World Marathon Challenge in 6 hours and 47 minutes raising $1.4 million for the Dream Center. Barnett’s next challenge? He is considering running the North Pole Marathon, but laughs, “There were no polar bears in Antarctica, but there are in the Artic, so I am going to have to think about it.”

“Don’t limit your challenges; challenge your limits.”      Jerry Dunn