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Good News Shoes

RoseAnne Sather

Travel along to Guatemala, where children are making a "soleful" difference
in the lives of other children.

I confess. I bought a new pair of shoes before my trip. Yes, there was a sting of guilt when I thought of the mission ahead, but I ration­alized that the other dozen pairs I had in my closet just wouldn't be suitable. Little did I know how meaningful that purchase would become to me.

I'm grateful now for those shoes, because each time I wear them they serve as a vivid reminder of hundreds of other feet -- little, dirty feet; feet whose toes stick out of their shoes; feet in desperate need, not only for good shoes, but also for good news.

The Incredible Journey

In December 2004, Children's Ministry Magazine pegged me to be Buckner Orphan Care International's guest as we traveled to Guatemala to help put shoes on the feet of approximately 500 orphans in seven different orphanages. The story of the shoes actually began the summer of 2003.

It was then, at Group Publishing's 2003 S.C.U.B.A. vacation Bible school programs across the United States and Canada, that kids from more than 3,500 participating churches collected new socks and shoes for orphans around the world. These donations were part of Group's Operation Kid-to-Kid™ outreach program, and the socks and shoes were then delivered to Buckner's Shoes for Orphan Souls program. Children donated approximately 310,000 pairs of socks, along with more than 200,000 pairs of shoes.

"Over the years, Group's Operation Kid-to-Kid has become one of the largest forces mobilizing children in serving other children around the world," says Tiffany Taylor, director of Shoes for Orphan Souls. "The collection of shoes and socks by Operation Kid-to-Kid was the single largest collection by an organization since Buckner took over Shoes for Orphan Souls in 1999. The partnership was a powerful way to get many more churches involved with our mission. Because of this partnership, many more orphans around the world received new shoes and socks and heard about Jesus."

New Soles for Souls

Two of the orphanages where we delivered shoes were located a day's trip away in the mountains. As we snaked our way up the steep grades and through the colorful countryside, I thought of Isaiah 52:7: "How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of those who bring good news, who proclaim peace, who bring good tidings, who proclaim salvation, who say to Zion, 'Your God reigns!' "

We were there to bring the good news, to proclaim salvation. As vain as I felt with my new shoes, I realized that these feet of mine became lovely on the mountain; they were a catalyst of the hope and love we find in Christ -- thanks to thousands of children who gave at vacation Bible school.

Gifts Received-At each orphanage, the kids greeted us with warm, sweet smiles. Their hugs were generous yet tinged with a bit of desperation. In each facility we did a mini vacation Bible school with a skit, memory verse, and craft. Each child decorated a Christmas stocking. Then while the children were fitted with new pairs of shoes in another room, we filled their Christmas stockings with toys and candy.

It was such a treat to see the children's expressions when they received their new shoes. One little girl received a pair of shoes that light up. She was filled with such delight that she marched around, stomping her feet, jumping up and down, never once taking her eyes off her new shoes. Another little boy responded by running and doing a succession of cartwheels and backflips; it was as if his new shoes gave him superhuman powers. His smile was electric.

Gifts Given-Stuffed deep down in some of the shoes were notes from the children who'd donated them. As warm extensions of love, the children had written, "I'm praying for you," "I bought these shoes especially for you," or "I hope these keep your feet warm." When these cherished messages were translated to the children who received the shoes, their eyes lit up and their faces flooded with gratitude at the recognition that the shoes were given by another child. Each pair of shoes represented the greater gift of God's far-reaching love.

As I witnessed the orphans' overwhelmingly grateful response, I so wished that the kids who'd taken the time to buy a couple pairs of socks and a pair of shoes for someone other than themselves could've witnessed the impact of their giving to another child. We must never underestimate what God can do through even the smallest act of kindness.

"Kids need to feel needed. They need to feel like they can contribute and make a difference," says Jody Brolsma, senior editor for Group Publishing's vacation Bible school. "That's why we've tried to help churches create ways that everyone can give something. Whether adults donate items that kids compile into kits or kids give part of their student book, there's long-lasting impact when kids can say, 'I put something in that kit. I gave.' "

The Great Giver-On several occasions, the nature of our trip lived out the passage in Matthew 25:40 where the Lord, referring to those who've fed or clothed a stranger, says, "I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me."

Not only do our acts of giving touch another's life, the giving ministers to God's heart as well. I began to see the orphans as representatives of the heart of God; they are his heartbeat, his pulse.

The orphans' haunting eyes burned a hole in my soul. I still struggle to comprehend their pain. The children we met have desperate lives filled with deprivation. Their eyes reflect their plight. Although we may be distracted by their dirty clothing, hole-filled shoes, and lice-ridden hair, God sees their pain, their scars, and their heartaches.

All About Love

With every pair of dirty little feet came a heart-wrenching story, but with every pair of new shoes came a treasured opportunity to love these kids and to share Jesus' heart for them. As we traveled from orphanage to orphanage, we heard heartbreaking stories-and some of the miraculous kind. I'm still moved to tears when I think of the circumstances of many of the children, innocent victims of abuse and abandonment.

Desperate Measures-Twelve-year-old Yanira's family is extremely poor -- so poor that her mother forced her to have sex with a man so she'd become pregnant; then they could sell the baby for money. Fortunately, social services stepped in and placed Yanira in an orphanage. She had her baby several months ago, and Yanira was so small that the baby had to be taken by Caesarean section. The child was born with hydrocephalus (fluid on the brain) and had to have surgery. Both mother and child live in the Antigua Girl and Baby Home. I was thrilled to hear that Vera, one of our precious interpreters, does follow-up work there weekly so Yanira will hear of Jesus' restoring grace and love. The Buckner employees are the "hands and feet" of Christ to these children year-round.

Despicable Treatment-One day when Jose was 4, his mother chose to discipline his misbehavior by placing his tender little hand in an open fire. His left hand was burned severely and over time was immobilized with scar tissue. He was placed in an orphanage, where he was often taunted and teased by other children; eventually he moved to yet another facility.

The Buckner organization learned of his story and prayed for him and spent time with him. Jose is now 8 and likes to be called Brian. Maybe his change of name is a reflection of his new life, for miraculously doors have opened that've allowed plastic surgery for his hand. He was in the city for one of his surgeries during the time of our visit, so we were privileged to spend time with him. In his short life, he has endured much pain, but his spirit has remained sweet and impressionable. He was our honored guest at our last dinner together, and he had the joy of a hundred Christmases on his face as we lavished him with gifts and Jesus' love.

Basic Needs-One young man asked our missions coordinator, Leslie Chace, if we'd return again at Christmas. She said no, but there would be another group of people bringing gifts for them. His simple reply revealed a heart longing to be loved and nurtured. He said, "I don't care about the gifts, I just like it when you come." I heard that over and over when I asked what the greatest need was for these kids. The answer was "Just come spend time with them and love on them."

As I spoke to Sandra Temaj, the orphanage director in Huehuetenango, she mentioned how churches have been such a blessing by adopting a specific need, such as paying the orphanage's electric bill or the diaper bill. However, she said the greatest blessing to the kids is when we come and offer tangible love, arms that hug, and words of hope. God knows their needs and ours-maybe that's why he chose to come in person in the form of a child, offering tangible love and words of hope. He came to bring good news and to proclaim salvation.

As my shoes remind me to pray for these precious little ones, I pray that their new shoes remind them of a God who loves them and will always be there for them. The soles of my new shoes got to walk in the same littered gutters, on the same stained concrete, and on the same narrow cobblestone streets and dusty paths that these orphans' souls have occupied. There's an understanding that you can never truly know someone until you've walked in their shoes. I didn't walk in their shoes, but rather alongside them, and that in itself was infectious. In doing so my heart was reawakened. This journey has left an indelible footprint on my heart and life.

RoseAnne Sather is senior art director for Children's Ministry Magazine.

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