WHITLEY COUNTY — Despite the rain, wind and cold weather, volunteers stood under a tent in front of the Whitley County Courthouse reading from the Bible as part of the Kentucky 120 United Bible Reading Marathon.
The marathon was started in 2016 by Mark Harrell, pastor of Victory Christian Fellowship in Somerset. According to its website, the Kentucky 120 United Bible Reading Marathon is a state-wide event inviting Kentuckians to join and read the Bible January 1-4 for 90 hours of consecutive reading in their respective counties.
"We began this as a vision to share the Word of God out loud in its entirety as a declaration that the Bible is the final authority. We were just going to host the marathon with local pastors and their churches but we felt the Lord say expand it to the whole state. We want to see God move in Kentucky. I believe reading the Word of God in unison over our state can help make that happen,” said Harrell in 2016.
Susan Jett of South Union Mt. Zion Association has been a Whitley County coordinator since the start of the county's participation in the marathon.
“He felt led by the Lord for all counties in Kentucky,” Jett said on Harrell. “That’s why it’s called 120 United, to read the word out loud, or claim it in their counties. We just saw that and Diane Jamison, she contacted me that first year, and we started working on it and had it. We just kind of went from there.”
Jett says that the marathon is set up into 30 watches. Each watch is three hours long and is designed to allow for 12 different readers to participate per watch.
“There is a timetable so that everybody is reading the same scripture at the same time throughout the state. They begin at midnight on New Year’s, and go through Saturday, and they end at 6 p.m. It’s designed so that even if you get ahead on say watch 12, then watch 13 is supposed to start with their’s and continue on, and go as far as they can, so that the same scriptures are being read every hour.”
Some years have more community involvement than others, says Jett. Factors like the weather can determine how many people stop to listen.
“We have had people stop and listen, especially the first year. Of course, I’m not down there for all the hours, but the first year we were down there, we were down there quite a bit.”
According to Jett, Whitley County has participated in the marathon every year except for last year. She was forced to cancel last year, she says, due to a lack of volunteers to read. However, this year, Jett says she reached out to numerous local churches and organizations looking for volunteers.
“We had it in the newspapers and on the radio. I wrote letters to several of the different churches in town trying to get them involved.”
One of those volunteers this year was Whitley County Sheriff Todd Shelley. Shelley says in the past he has driven by the courthouse and seen volunteers reading. He has even stopped to provide hot chocolate to readers in previous years.
He said this year he heard Jett and South Union Mt. Zion Association were looking for volunteers, so he decided to join.
“It’s all about the good Lord,” Shelley said on why he chose to volunteer. “I got saved Aug. 4, 1996, best move I’ve ever made in my life. I got married, and I have three daughters. They were all born prematurely and the good Lord healed them. I can’t praise the Lord enough and I always put God first.”
Jett says that South Union Mt. Zion just act as the coordinators and organizers of the event, and that volunteers come from different backgrounds and denominations.
“We’re just the organizers of it. There are people from other denominations also reading. It’s not just a Baptist thing or our association, but a lot of the people that are reading are from the association. It’s just a network for us to start to try to get more readers. We just organize it, set it up and tear it down.”
Volunteers were free to bring their own Bible to read from. Jett and Mt. Zion do provide different versions of the Bible for volunteers to choose from too.
“I have a large print King James version, which is what a lot of people prefer. I take my own Bible. I’ve got different translations down there.”
Each year, the marathon uses a verse from the Bible as its theme. Jett said this year’s theme was Jeremiah 15:16 which reads:
“Your words were found, and I ate them. Your words became a delight to me and the joy of my heart, for I am called by Your name, Yahweh God of Hosts.”
“That’s kind of our theme verse for this year,” said Jett, adding, “because when we read the Bible it delights the Lord. And of course we learn from it, how to live as a Christian. So, the Bible is there so that we can have a relationship with Christ.”
With the increase in volunteers, Jett says this year’s marathon has helped change her perspective and strengthen her faith. Like last year, she was worried about the number of volunteers she had to read. In fact, she says that when the marathon started, half of the marathon’s watches were still open with no volunteers scheduled to read.
“So far I haven’t had to go down and read. I haven’t had the opportunity because so many people have volunteered. It was really at the last minute. It really made me aware that I need to trust the Lord more, that He is going to provide when we do something. I just want to thank the volunteers for giving their time and doing what they’re doing.”