HOUSTON – The thermometer read 94 degrees Saturday, Aug. 21 as volunteers at South Main Baptist Church patiently linked together a chain of shoes on the black asphalt parking lot. It took more than three hours to lay the shoes side by side, but in the end they celebrated their accomplishment – more than 10,068 pairs of shoes for orphans and a new Guinness World Record.
The event, aptly named Solechain, marked the church’s tenth year collecting shoes for Buckner International’s Shoes for Orphan Souls.
[caption id="attachment_2914" align="alignleft" width="200" caption="Henry Hill, SMBC member, has been organizing the church's shoe drive for the past 10 years."][/caption]
To honor the anniversary, shoe drive organizer and church member Henry Hill said they set the goal to collect 10,000 pairs of shoes and beat the current record for “Longest Chain of Shoes,” which stood at 19,856 individual shoes – or 9,928 pairs – stretched out more than 18,992 feet.
“We thought it would be a goal and fun for everyone to get involved. We’ve collected over 70,000 pairs of shoes in the last ten years. That’s an amazing feat for a church to accomplish,” Hill said.
Church members of all ages participated in the shoe drive and worked diligently in the Texas heat to place the shoes of all sizes and colors in a chain. They even voted on the message to be written inside the circle: “Send shoes. See smiles. Save souls.”
Rachel Garton, director of Shoes for Orphan Souls, said she was in awe of the sheer number of shoes lined up outside. “It was overwhelming to see them all and to think about all the children who will be receiving them before the end of this year. We are so thankful for South Main’s continued involvement and passion for helping orphans.”
[caption id="attachment_2915" align="alignright" width="200" caption="Volunteers file outside the church doors with baskets of shoes to be placed in the SoleChain."][/caption]
South Main Pastor Steve Wells reminded the group about the reason for their efforts before they began placing the shoes in the chain.
“This isn’t just about bringing publicity to Buckner or to South Main, but every pair of shoes you touch is going to an orphan child,” he said. “These shoes are part of a promise not just to clad their feet today but to bring them the hope of Jesus Christ.”
Many South Main members have taken mission trips with Buckner to deliver shoes to orphans around the world. Gillian Cooke went on the first Buckner mission trip to Russia 10 years ago to deliver shoes to orphans and has been to Peru five times since.
“It clicks in my mind when you see the looks on their faces,” she said, recalling the feeling of putting a pair of new shoes on child’s feet. “I remember their dirty little feet, holes in their shoes, their little faces … and all of a sudden they’re jumping and laughing. It’s sounds of joy.”
[caption id="attachment_2916" align="alignleft" width="200" caption="Rows of shoes line the church parking lot in a circular pattern."][/caption]
Cooke remembers what it was like during World War 2 to be without shoes, wearing rubber boots in the rain and snow, stuffing paper in the sides to keep their feet dry.
“Seeing these shoes, it brings me back,” she said. “Without shoes you can’t go anywhere. You can put on old clothes, drag your body into something, but without shoes – life stops.”
Jimmy Cole was taking pictures at the event, documenting the group’s efforts to build the chain. He and his wife have been involved in the shoe drive since they joined the church eight years ago.
“I lived in an orphanage until I was 6 years old,” he said, “so this brings back a lot of memories. I think it’s awesome that we’re working together to do this for children. Our church is very community oriented.”
To learn more about the ways your church can get involved and host a shoe drive, visit www.ShoesforOrphanSouls.org or call 1-866-774-SHOE. To learn more about the event, visit www.SoleChain.org.
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