Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Shoes: Blessing or Necessity

Shoes are one of those things that can get a female in America excited in a heartbeat!  There is a style to suit every type of person, varying comfort levels, and designs for every activity.  We can spend hundreds of dollars on a single pair of shoes, if the occasion calls for it.  In America, we would not think twice about calling shoes a necessity. 

After living in Haiti, we have seen that shoes can be considered a necessity although the average Haitian may look at them more as just a blessing.  The majority of people in the village of Chambrun are seen walking around barefoot.  We have witnessed many children playing soccer barefoot on our campus.  Children run around on the rocks, playing tag - barefoot.  What we would consider painful, as well as unsanitary, is simply commonplace here.

So, why all the fuss about shoes?  I have seen shoes move from a blessing to a burden for many in Haiti.  In order to come to church, it is expected that you are dressed in your best.  Parents have told me they cannot bring their children to church because they do not have the proper clothing, or the right shoes.  I have watched women walk into church in shoes that are obviously too small - but they had shoes on.  That was enough to make them proud to be there - no matter how comfortable the shoes were.  Schools require the right type of shoes in good condition, and reserve the right to send a child home without those shoes.

Last week I was able to facilitate a child sponsorship visit.  One of our incredible child sponsors had come on a mission trip to NVM and had brought new school shoes for the child.  At the visit, the sponsor told the child about their family and how much they pray for and love this child.  Then they showed them the new shoes.  They brought three pair, just in case they got the wrong size.  It turns out, the largest pair was needed.  The child beamed as we put the new shoes on her and told her they were a gift.  She was given the old shoes so she could show her mom and tell her all about it.  The family also gave her a photo so that she could remember them.

The extra two pairs of shoes were given to the school to give to whomever needed them.  Mdme. Carline, the preschool administrator/principal, chose two children.  She found me later that morning so that I could come see the children who had received new shoes.  She showed me their old shoes so that I would see why she chose them.  One little girl had been wearing shoes that you could tell had been cleaned and "touched up" to try to keep them looking nice enough for school.  You see, if a child's black shoes get all messed up, they are at risk of being sent home from school.  Each child tries to keep their shoes clean and nice looking so that they do not have to worry about getting sent home.  As Mdme. Carline flipped the shoes over, the sole was completely gone at the toes.  I do not mean there were holes - it was gone...completely worn away.  This child had been walking to school and wearing her school shoes, keeping them as clean as possible, with only half a sole still attached.  It absolutely broke my heart.

The second child was then brought in.  Her shoes were high-top sneakers that were obviously made for boys.  They were about two sizes too small and very worn.  She showed me how small they were compared to the new shoes, then showed me how well the new shoes fit this little one.  Again, heart shattered...

You see, these little ones are wearing their only pair of shoes and trying their best to take care of them.  Their shoes can mean the difference in whether or not they receive an education.  These shoes give them pride because it means they are important enough to have new black shoes.  These two precious little girls are still in preschool!  Yet they understand the pain and shame of not having the right shoes. 

What does this mean?  It makes me hate shoes that I used to love and hoard!  It makes me angry because no child should have to deal with this!  It makes me realize how selfish I can be.  It makes me want to buy 320 new pair of shoes each school year to ensure each child in this school has the right size shoes.  It reminds me that the little things - like a pair of shoes - truly matter.  It humbles me, and breaks me.

Pastor Pierre receives a donation of shoes with joy!
Yet, after all this, it gives me hope.  I see a sponsor who thought to bring extra pairs of shoes in order to ensure they got the right size - then give those to the school too.  I see a child's face light up as they can finally fit their toes into their shoes without being squished.  I see the heart of a Christ-follower being molded as they watch the child try shoes on.  I see the pride of a child wearing new shoes, just as I would see anywhere in the world.  I am reminded that in this desolate place, nobody is forgotten, people are the same, and God cares about the little things. So do I.