MILWAUKEE -- Lebanese American Elie Hasbani never dreamed he'd live in Milwaukee, and he never imagined he'd be running a marathon.
"My main inspiration is Jesus," he told CBN News. "That's why I'm doing this and, of course, He changed my life."
Hasbani's life journey began half a world away in Lebanon.
"It's a beautiful country and it's written in the Bible. It's mentioned in the Bible many times. The cedars of Lebanon are gorgeous and this country is really in my heart," he said.
Raised in a Christian culture, he grew up peacefully with his Muslim neighbors.
"These people, their children were my best friends. We just loved to be together and have fun," he recalled.
Some were Palestinian.
"Palestinians came to our country as refugees. We hosted them, we liked them, we sympathized with them, and now they turn against us and they want to kill us," Hasbani explained.
Civil war broke out in 1975 when the Palestinian Liberation Organization and its Muslim backers attacked Israeli and Christian villages in Lebanon. Hasbani joined the Israeli-supported South Lebanon Army.
"I wanted to protect my family," he said. "I wanted to protect my identity as a Lebanese or as a Christian at that time and the people of my country."
The Lebanese civil war took its toll, surrounding him with death and destruction.
"You don't know if you will die today or tomorrow. I started hating myself, not only hating my enemy. So, I start drinking to forget. I didn't care about life. I didn't care if I would die or live," he said.
Hasbani's thinking changed quickly after his commander ordered him to disarm enemy rockets.
That's when a land mine exploded beneath his feet.
"I start thinking, 'I'm going to die, but how can I face God right now? God is going to judge me,'" he recalled. "I was so afraid. I said, 'Jesus if You are alive, save me. I don't want to go to hell.'"
Hasbani's life was spared. He lost his left leg, but gained salvation. Called to ministry, he eventually joined Youth With A Mission and later attended the Arab Baptist Seminary.
It was in Beirut, where Hasbani studied and first preached, that he learned it was no longer safe for him to remain there. So, he packed up his family, left the land that he loved, and headed to America.
Hasbani now serves as nation's pastor at Milwaukee's Eastbrook Church, home to Christians from 60 countries.
"I'm trying to equip the church, help the church understand more how to work cross culturally, how to love people from different countries around," he said.
He added that God gave him a vision to do something bigger, to share his heart for the nations, not only with the people of his church but with the entire Milwaukee community.
Each year, Hasbani sponsors and participates in a charitable marathon race called, Running for Hope. The idea came as he played soccer with his sons.
He said he wanted to do it as a fundraiser to "ship a container of wheelchairs, crutches [and] walkers" to those in need.
Life's Spiritual Race
CBN News talked with some of this year's attendees.
"I run with Elie because he's so inspirational. He runs with one leg, and if I have two, I feel like I can help him out with his cause," race participant Lisa Kojais said. "It's called Running for Hope, and I feel we give hope to a lot of people."
Hasbani tells his story in the book, The Good Soldier. He said he hopes to return to Lebanon someday to personally deliver wheelchairs and other supplies. But that is unlikely to happen as long as the militant Islamic group Hezbollah dominates the country.
"I want to share my story because these people need God more than any because we had war," he said.
"These people are broken, suffering," he said. "They are still suffering and there is a lot of hate, enmity, and people revenge, and we need God."
In the meantime, Hasbani said he'll continue the annual marathon. He also wants to encourage others to win life's spiritual race.
"You have to have this endurance and this relationship with Christ in order to win the race," he said.
"He was there for me when I was dying on the ground," Hasbani continued. "It is written in the Bible, He will give us a new body."
"Not only eternal life, but I will have a new body, and I can run and I can fly, and I can enjoy this body," he said. "That's my hope."
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