"And if you SPEND YOURSELVES on behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed, then your light will rise in the darkness and your night will become like the noonday."

"The Lord will continually guide you. He will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land and will strengthen your frame. You will be like a well-watered garden, like a spring whose waters never fail."- Isaiah 58:10-11

Sunday, April 3, 2011

A Shoe Miracle

Can Shoes Be A Miracle???

Every year at Christmas time, the children of the Chapel work together gathering their dollars and coins towards a compassion project. Many of the children empty their banks, or give from gifts they have received, or help with odd jobs around the house to earn money towards this project. They are generous beyond belief! Two years ago, they helped raise money for the deep-water well here in Kenya. Last year they helped get bunk beds for Dorm 2 at the Children’s Home.

This year as the TGA leadership team sat down to brainstorm what the children could do and an unusual idea came up. Instead of just getting something for the children at the orphanage, why not include the community as well? Everyone agreed and decided the most tangible and useful thing was shoes - new shoes for everyone at the community school! Cool idea!

Now shoes may not sound very exciting to you. I, myself, an American living in Kenya, have 5 great pairs of shoes - a lime green pair of Keens for hiking, a pair of awesome Spenco flip flops that I wear every day, two pairs of Crocs, and finally a sweet pair of beaded shoes for ceremonies.

Most of the kids at the school sort of have a pair of shoes. A few of those have a pretty decent pair but the majority of the children have a VERY shabby second hand pair of shoes… Several of the children have never owned a pair of shoes – ever. And as a matter of fact, no one at the school has EVER owned a brand new pair of shoes. NO one…EVER…

So when TGA contacted us in October with this idea, we were pumped! We looked around at the only shoe store in Kenya, Bata, and found a great pair of tennis shoes for about $10! This was perfect and the Chapel ran a really cool shoe drive called ‘Ten dollars covers ten toes!”

Then things got even more exciting! A good friend whose children attend a private school felt led to get the school kids together to run a different Christmas compassion project. They decided to raise funds to purchase socks for everyone in the school and not only to purchase them but to decorate them as well!

December came and money was raised for 400 pairs of shoes! WOW! This was enough to not only buy shoes for the kids at the school, but for the teachers and staff at the Children’s home to get a pair as well. Mind you we kept the whole thing top secret so it would be a huge surprise!

In February, a group of children from the Chapel were coming with their parents to visit so February 16th was set as shoe and sock distribution day!

And then the setbacks began…

Setback #1 - Beginning in January, we attempted to start the shoe buying process. The original shoes we were going to get at Bata were 'sold out' over the holidays. The next available shoe cost about $20/shoe so this was not an option.

Setback #2 - We decided to go to the markets and get the shoes second hand. However, the closest towns didn’t have enough shoes for us.

Setback #3 – We decided to send someone to Nairobi to get the shoes at the larger markets. This would cost less and we could get all the shoes at once. However, we realized we would not be able to return incorrect sizes and the markets can have varying sizes of shoes since they come from all over the world.

Setback #4 – We went back to idea of new shoes from Bata and decided to get the younger children a cheaper pair of shoes and the older children a more expensive pair of shoes hoping it would balance out. We approached 5 different Bata shoe stores asking them to help us with the quantities we needed. They were literally so overwhelmed with the idea of that many shoes that every one of them turned us away.

At this point, we were 5 days away from our visitors coming. Time was of the essence. We decided to send someone to Limuru, to the Bata factory. Surely we could get the sizes we needed there. Since our family was going near there to pick up the Oasis team of visitors, we volunteered.

On Monday, three days before distribution day, the Smith fam hopped in the car and as we drove away, Rachel prayed that we would have a shoe miracle and find everything we needed. As we drove in to the Bata factory campus, there was a small store at the front above which hung a sign that read, "80% off clearance center."

We entered the store, asked if they could help with our large quantities, and off-handedly inquired about the clearance center. Not wanting to waste too much time, we reluctantly decided to just check it out to see if they had any of the sizes we needed. We were sent on a wild goose chase and truly almost gave up. Rachel however, got a ‘bee in her bonnet’ about it and was so insistent on continuing, that we persisted. Eventually we found it, ‘the Bata Clearance Center”, on a desolate dirt road, tucked inside a Bata shoe employee neighborhood.

We walked up a short flight of stairs into a huge warehouse. As we stepped inside, the first thing we noticed were huge boxes stacked up along all four walls of the building. As we took another step into the room we saw tables in front of the boxes circling the entire room. And the boxes and the tables were filled with shoes - thousands of pairs of shoes!!! We looked at each other with tears in our eyes and knew we had found our miracle!!! There were shoes of every size and style everywhere. So for the next 5 hours we searched through boxes and across tables and lined up tennis shoes of every shape and size all across the warehouse! We found all but 11 pairs of shoes! It truly was a miracle!

We stuffed all 389 pairs of shoes into our car and as soon as the last shoe was loaded, the heavens opened up and drenched us with a massive deluge of rain. In America, rain is seen as an inconvenience but in Kenya it is a sign of God’s blessing. And what a blessing it was! We drove away with shoes falling down on top of the kids with every bump we took, overwhelmed that God would care so much about kids and shoes!

On Thursday, we had the blessing of personally serving each child by placing a beautifully decorated, clean pair of socks and a brand new pair of shoes on their feet! Joseph compared it to the time when the disciples had their feet washed by Jesus. And truly we felt like that in those moments. To take a filthy, dusty, smelly, calloused foot, and carefully place a clean sock and shoe on it was such a blessing.

There was extreme joy in the community that day. Children were jumping, running, racing, laughing, and giving hugs of thanks. It was lavish extravagance on the part of the American children who so generously gave and heartfelt gratitude on the part of the children here.

Every day, we see children in their new shoes and socks. In many ways, it brings more joy to us than to them…

Thank you to all of you who made this possible! We loved being ambassadors of your generosity! May God richly bless you!