A tropical breeze rustled the palm fronts early on a sunny morning in Saipan, as Mat and Victoria Murphy started their journey.
The Johnson County natives — Mat grew up in Nineveh, Victoria in Bargersville — had 15 miles of hiking ahead of them. They planned to walk from one end of their island home in the Pacific Ocean, starting at placid Pak Pak Beach at the south and ending at rugged and scenic Banzai Cliff.
Along the way, they hauled a 45-pound jug of water. Their hope in doing the walk — and creating a video that they posted to YouTube detailing it — was to raise awareness and money for disaster relief.
“We wanted this video to offer the attraction of the beautiful island of Saipan while still briefly addressing the fact: while we are in our paradise, others are experiencing difficult times,” Mat Murphy said.
Since 2019, the Murphys have lived in Saipan, the largest of the Northern Mariana Islands, a U.S. commonwealth in the Western Pacific.
Mat Murphy, a pastor in the General Baptist church, came to the Mariana Islands to be a Bible and physical education teacher at Saipan Community Schools. Five months after he arrived, Victoria Murphy came for a visit and was offered a job at Northern Marianas College teaching English courses.
They plan to be on the island until May, when they’ll return to Johnson County.
In their time on Saipan, the Murphys have fallen in love with the tropical paradise. They spend their free time exploring the island and its numerous hiking trails to discover caves, beaches and cliffs. Once each week, they run up the 1,555-feet-tall Mt. Tapochau at the center of the island.
To connect with friends back in Indiana and around the world, they also enjoy making videos of the island and their adventures, Victoria Murphy said.
That hobby merged seamlessly with their efforts to raise money for clean water projects around the world.
The couple is active with the General Baptist International Ministries, an evangelical agency which sends missionaries and plants churches throughout the world. In 2019, General Baptist put an emphasis on raising money for clean water projects in its mission locations.
The Murphys were inspired to help, forming their own ministry, Running Water Events. Their dog played a central role in their fundraising efforts.
Mat Murphy got the golden-doodle in 2018, naming her Water as a joke. When Water was a puppy, she was attacked by another dog, leaving her with a broken leg.
So Mat Murphy carried the dog like a baby for two months. Water still loves to be held this way.
“Over the summer, we traveled with Water to churches all over the Midwest to raise money for water projects. Water has two tricks, one of which is to let me hold her for as long as I can,” Mat Murphy said. “The results of those trips yielded enough money for two wells in India.”
When the couple returned to Saipan, they wanted to continue their work on water projects, as well as raise money to help victims of hurricanes that struck Honduras in 2020.
“While in Saipan for the year, we wanted to raise money for more projects, but Water isn’t here. Naturally, we chose another type of water that weighs 45 pounds,” Mat Murphy said.
The day of the hike was comfortable, a pleasant surprise during a time of year when temperatures and humidity can make even the smallest activity unpleasant.
“Being a tropical island, Saipan is always hot, but the day of the walk wasn’t extremely humid or uncomfortable. We were very grateful for this,” Victoria Murphy said.
Watching the video, the Murphys pointed out the places and people who are part of their daily routine: their grocery store, the seaside trail that they run along, American Memorial Park, created in honor of those who fought on the Marianas Islands during World War II.
By mile 10, the travel was beginning to take a toll. They were in part of an island without sidewalks, which made the hiking more different. But as they closed in on their goal and Banzai Cliffs, they found a burst of energy.
“This was the most trying part of the walk, but once we got through it, the last four miles were the best, and we were energized and excited to reach the finish line,” Victoria Murphy said.
Their journey, and the corresponding video distributed on their social media, has started to have the impact they had hoped. The video has been shared on platforms throughout Saipan as well as in their worldwide church community.
Supporters have flooded the Murphys’ chosen causes — General Baptist International Ministries and Mission on the Move — with donations. Mat and Victory Murphy also hope their effort inspires other to use their talents to make the world better.
“If you paint, paint. If you want to make bracelets or furniture or cookies, make them. It’s all about knowing who you are and caring for people,” Victoria Murphy said. “Sometimes making a difference where you are may mean simply listening to someone and encouraging them. It’s making yourself and your time available to others.”