Last September, Faithful Servant Missions (FSM) encouraged its supporters to put their feet to the pavement in support of their efforts to bring food and education abroad to impoverished communities. This year, they’ve made the call again for a Run with a Mission to be held April 30 in Nocatee.
The 5K, 10K and one-mile “fun run” through the Nocatee Greenway Trails will support the work of the nonprofit faith-based organization, whose work includes aiding a community in Costa Rica where the 80 percent poverty rate is augmented by numerous displaced Nicaraguan refugees.
“We opened an education support program in that first year hoping that if we started with even 25 kids we would someday be able to end the cycle of poverty,” Faithful Servant Missions secretary and founding member Cheryl Bradford said. “That’s what we felt we were called to do through education.”
By the end of that first week, more than 100 kids were in attendance. In a community where most adults don’t complete the sixth grade, those numbers were a promising glimpse of what FSM hopes to achieve in the future. The mission has continued to grow, now staffed with three full-time teachers, a recreational instructor, a pastor, an administrator and a social worker. In partnership with local schools and churches, FSM provides programs for reading comprehension, mathematics and basic subjects that they hope will give students the skills to advance and eventually graduate.
Bradford said they’re now seeing more high school graduates, and have even sent four students to college.
“We want to empower them to be self-sufficient and learn to navigate what’s available – to act as a resource,” Bradford said. “All of our programs are geared to that end, structured to reward that empowerment. We really want to teach them to be independent and show them that they can have a different life.”
The Reciprocity of Giving
For the board members of FSM, the impact of their work is immeasurable. Bradford recalled one mission team comprised only of women whose program was such a success that they plan to run it again in April, August and October. The team of 22 from Beach Church in Jacksonville partnered with First Coast Women’s Services to bring programs and counseling specifically for pregnant women, young mothers and young girls. Though the program was meant to serve the women and girls who had been a part of the Bajo Tejares that FSM served, Bradford said roughly two-thirds of the women who’d attended the programs had never been to the ministry before.
“It showed me that our work served more than just the people who were involved in our ministry,” she said. “I realized then that we could operate and serve as a great outreach to the community, and that we could even help people who we hadn’t really had ongoing contact with.”
A college-aged mission group, meanwhile, delivered portable water treatment systems to families in isolated villages in Panama, while another team provided vision screenings and more than 300 pairs of glasses to FSM’s Costa Rica headquarters.
Equally immeasurable is the impact the work has had on Bradford, who took the reins alongside other founders after her husband, who she calls the “driving force” behind her participation, died in 2011.
“When we were looking at a young retirement, we looked at the typical travel and golf thing – certainly we hadn’t intended to start running an international mission program,” she said. “But when he passed away, my life changed.”
For Bradford, the closure motivated her to take on a more active role in the mission, and to foster a legacy that will continue to give to those in need.
“The mission gave me purpose and a goal,” she said. “It’s just been a very major and rewarding part of my life. When I go to our mission sites, I see the legacy that he left and I see how he planted a seed that others have continued to grow and foster. And it’s very rewarding and comforting to see it and to be a part of it.”
To register for the Nocatee run, visit runsignup.com/runwithamission.