PRATT — Running has become a passion for Mike Neifert, pastor of Pratt Friends Church, since the morning he laced up his new running shoes 10 years ago and discovered the freedom he felt as daily cares slipped away and his spirit became one with God’s creation.

"I love the freedom I feel when I run, so it was natural for me to support ‘Running for Missions’ fundraising activities to benefit our missionaries in India and Nepal," said Neifert, whose personal fundraising goal for 2020 was $1,000.

Earlier this month, he raised more than $1,100 for his mission’s cause, with the Mid-American Region that he was part of surpassing a goal of $10,000 for missionaries.

"For a long time I’ve had a lot of love for missions and so when I have an opportunity to use ability I have, I find joy in that," Neifert said.

It was in the pitch-black early morning hours of Friday, Nov. 6, that Neifert accepted the 2020 fluorescent relay baton from David Frazier of Miami, Okla., and ran the third leg of the 2020 fundraising relay, which originated at Barclay College in Haviland, passed through Pratt and wound through country roads to the finish line at Evangelical Friends Church-Mid America field office in west Wichita. Ten runners took 16 hours and 22 minutes hours to complete the relay.

Outfitted in running gear with a lighted headband, Niefert ran the third leg of the relay, carrying the lighted baton from the western outskirts of Pratt at the corner of West River Road and First Street, running east through Pratt, proceeding to the corner of N.E. 10th Street and N.E. 70th Avenue where he passed off the baton to Allen and Grace Kirkpatrick from Friendswood, Texas, the fourth set of 10 runners.

Neifert said he received the baton at 5:45 a.m. and handed the baton off to the Kirkpatricks after 10 miles, 1 hour, 13 minutes and nine seconds later.

Neifert said he has merged his passion for running with his passion for missions into fundraising events in support of Friends missionaries serving in India and Nepal since 2010.

"We help with educational expenses," Niefert said. "We feel connected to our missionaries as we pray for them."

Neifert said that each year "Running for Missions" relay participants are escorted by a van and a cadre of team supporters, including pacers who run alongside to entrants to keep them on pace and ensure they are hydrated.

"Pacers also provide help in case of emergencies," said Neifert, who later in the day paced two other runners in the relay.

Alongside his pastoral responsibilities, Neifert is also head cross-country track coach at Skyline High School, where he has been part of the coaching team for seven years.