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size 2 shoes

it has been an intense week in honduras, every day filled with hundreds of kids, vacation bible school, shoes and more activity.

there is so much need that i find myself pulling back a little because i’m so emotionally drained as each kid comes into my room and there’s another with a story that is so desperate.

as a team, we’re the hands and feet of christ in these neighborhoods and it’s tough.  all this week, we’ve seen the most at-risk populations of San Pedro Sula.  We’ve seen the teen girls and their babies, the 34 babies in the state-run orphanage with 1 adult caring for them, the HIV children who are shunned, and a huge range of children who are in a facility because their parents aren’t able to or are no longer alive.

my son is the age of some of these kids.  my heart breaks to see them and only touch them briefly in our time at their facility.  we’ve been going at such a breakneck pace that there has been little time to process anything, let alone really feel it.  in my head, i have a job to do, and i’m going to do it.

today,  we visted the las brisas community project.  many of the kids who were there are from the river communities.  there is a proper name for them, but essentially, it’s a slum community living at the rivers’ edge. the houses there are scavenged from old metal, cardboard and what ever other materials they can find to create a shelter.

there is no running water in any of these homes, and the power they do have is pirated off the main lines.  the children often do not attend school.  many are covered with lice, lesions, suffer from severe foot fungus, and suffer from other health issues. without help, these kids are likely to repeat the cycle that has them living in these harsh circumstances.

according to frances azzad, buckner international’s adviser to honduras, her church decided to step in and help break that cycle.  with their financial and manpower assistance, they’ve created a community project and school specifically for these river children.

it was at this school that our team met the kids in person.  dozens of children, younger siblings in tow, came eagerly for the festivities.  while one team did a bible lesson, another did a craft, or played a game or took them to our room for shoes.

our room  was a green tiled room, not much bigger than a 10 x10, if that.  we had shoes for roughly 80 children in rows, alphabetized by first name, and socks on a bookshelf ready to be paired with the shoes.  three tubs of soapy water were ready to wash feet.  the first of the children came in, and within minutes, one of our team members turned to our trip director and indicated a case of athlete’s foot so severe, that if she were in the united states, she would be taking this child to the hospital for treatment.

at least 6 children had already had their feet in the same water, and our concern was spreading the problem.  we decided to  stop washing feet, and concentrate on matching the kids with their shoes.

the system had been to trace a child’s foot, write his name on the cutout and match it to a shoe. all that had been done before we arrived, so we thought it was a simple matter to find the shoes and give them to the kids.

not so.  many shoes were simply far too big for  the child.  in one case, a mistake had been made and boys were assigned girls’ shoes.  we told everyone to come back later after everyone got their shoes and we would try to swap shoes that were too big with ones that were too small and see if we couldn’t fit the kids better.

key point: we thought.  there is no way to describe the excitement of a child receiving  his first pair of shoes ever, or getting a new pair for the first time in several years.  many of the kids had gotten so used to wearing shoes that were too small, that shoes that fit properly were deemed ‘muy grande’ (too big).   even if they were actually a couple sizes too big, the kids didn’t want to let go of them and promised to grow into them.

then came a  little guy whose eyes sparkled as he came through the door.  he was barefoot, and by the width of his feet, we guessed he had never worn a pair of shoes before.  he was roughly 7 years old, and his smile was peppered with the empty spaces that comes with that age.

he sat down at a desk and we tried to fit him with his shoes.   they were several sizes too small.  he tried to convince us that they fit, but we told him that we would get him some shoes that fit better.  he did not want to take them off, and he didn’t want to leave.  after much persuasion, and promise, he finally did go, and he carried is misfitted shoes with him.  (we told all the kids to keep their shoes that didn’t fit and we would try to put things right after all the kids got their assigned pair)

all he needed was a size 2.  of all the shoes we were piling, we did not have any size 2 shoes in a boy’s style.  i began to worry that we would not be able to keep our promise to him.  he did come back a couple of times to see if we had anything ready to exchange, and each time we turned him away, his face got longer and longer.

at the end, i admitted defeat.  i knew that frances would be back later with more shoes to fit the kids, but i felt like this kid really needed it this time…our door was open now. i asked God to provide–just so that this boy would know that something as simple as shoes was in His power.

a couple of kids came back with their not-quite-right shoes, and we did some swapping out back and forth and the next time i turned around,  there was a single pair of boys sneakers in a size 2 in the box.    and there he was.

we cleaned off his muddy feet, put new socks on them and got the shoes on.  he got up and walked around, then went outside to test them a little more…it was obvious he had not worn shoes before because he was placing his feet very carefully one in front of the other.  the next thing i knew, he had taken off his shoes and was walking arouund in his bare feet again.

i thought ‘shoot. i thought those would work.’  One of our translators told me he took them off to keep them clean because it had been raining, and he wanted to keep them nice a little while longer.   off he went.  i thought that was the last i would see of him, and i wondered what the seed planted would look like in a few years.

as our team prepared to leave, we were surrounded by a swarm of kids, hugs, shouts, waves and general chaos.  i felt a kid at my side, looked down, and there he was, hugging the stuffing out of me.  he said ‘may God bless you for what you’ve done.  thank you for my shoes.  no one has ever done this for me before.’

i knew then, that, with the help of the local believers who have invested themselves in children like these, there will be a different community by the rivers’ edge in the not-too-distant future.  it has God’s fingerprint all over it.

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