Delores Johns of Bluffton is looking forward to a family reunion of sorts Sept. 29 in Fort Wayne.
At 9 a.m., Johns and her 15-year-old grandson, Joey, will run together in the Fort4Fitness 10K race, which ends at Parkview Field. That same morning, Delores' daughter, Angie Kurtz, and Joey's parents, Joe and Stephanie Johns, will run the half marathon as part of the Fort4Fitness event.
The Johns family is part of a larger crowd of walkers and runners, which totaled 537 as of Thursday, who have registered to participate in the 2012 Fort4Fitness. The group, most of whom attend Fellowship Missionary Church in southeast Fort Wayne, is using the race as incentive to raise funds for the congregation's project supporting people in Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) in Africa. The effort also involves about 150 additional volunteers.
Since 2005, the congregation has sent numerous work crews to DRC — formerly Zaire — to assist with construction and church-minded activities. Their motivation was to help with the stark living conditions in the war-stricken country.
“Extreme poverty, violent instability and conflict during the past several decades have torn at the country's infrastructure, leaving many people without homes and the necessities of life,” said Suze Fair, Fellowship's director of expression and communication.
Joe Johns, director of Missional Living at Fellowship, has traveled to Congo on eight occasions for mission work. In 2011, he originated the idea of eight cyclists and crew members traveling in seven days from Bend, Ore., to Baltimore, Md., to raise funds for refugees in Congo, then he helped the group meet its cycling goal.
According to Fair, this year's Fort4Fitness is the first in which race officials have allowed organizations like Fellowship Missionary to raise funds by receiving a portion of an individual's registration fee.
“Any runner may participate as a charity partner, even those who do not attend Fellowship,” said Fair.
At age 69, Delores may be the eldest member of her family to run for Congo at Fort4Fitness, but she is not without experience.
Delores, who attends attends Hope Missionary Church in Bluffton, has run more than 25 races, including Fort Wayne's River City Rat Race and races held in Florida and Oregon.
As members of the Fort Wayne Track Club, Delores and her daughter have set records within the group.
“In 2011, Angie and I earned the most points in our respective age groups, according to miles run and number of races we had participated in,” said Johns.
In April 2012, Delores, Kurtz and Kurtz's two sons participated in Boston Marathon running events. While Delores and her grandsons ran the 5K, Kurtz ran the entire marathon.
Even though the Fort4Fitness event promises to be a memorable day for her family, Johns is excited about the deeper purpose for their participation.
“I love running, which I began as a hobby seven years ago,” she said. “Knowing it can help other people is a great pleasure.”