Twenty-five years ago I was adopted by my parents. Little did I know that from that moment on the Lord was molding and teaching me for my first ‘real’ job. I use the term job very loosely because it really has become my heart and life mission helping at-risk children and orphans who aren’t as blessed to have the gift of a loving family like I am.
Growing up, I was in a great little Christian bubble where I knew right from wrong and was blessed not to stray from the truth on many occasions. I was a spoiled little girl who had my daddy wrapped around my finger. Looking back I took so many things for granted in my life, but now I can see why the Lord provided all those blessings. My Heavenly Father wanted me to grow up walking in His ways so that I would have an understanding of His love, provision, grace, and character to share with others.
Three years ago my life changed from being that spoiled little girl to a woman who is seeking the Lord and wanting to help others who are not as privileged as I. This change happened when part of my job with Buckner and Shoes for Orphan Souls was to travel to an orphanage in Latvia. You might be asking where in the world is Latvia? It’s ok. I did the same thing when I was told that I was leading 35 individuals from all over the United States to this very small country on the Baltic Sea in Eastern Europe. This small country now has a large piece of my heart.
It is so funny how the Lord works because he knew that my Type A personality would be concerned with trying to be the responsible trip leader and making sure that everything was going great. But He also knew I was there for a different reason and my ‘job’ soon changed after seeing the kids in Jurmala Spriditis orphanage. As I walked in, a group of about 40 children were all sitting quietly in chairs waiting on our group. They just stared at us while we brought in boxes of shoes, crafts, and games. Not the reaction that I was looking for or hoping to receive. It really made me question ‘why am I here when the kids don’t really seem to care?’ I asked the director of the orphanage the last time the kids had a group here to visit and play with them. “Last year” she replied. “Most of the children have a parent or relative that comes once a year to check on them and then they leave them behind for the government to take care of.”
I just stood there looking at the children thinking no one deserves to have a quick visit from a loved one and then be tossed to the side. I couldn’t believe that I had just questioned being there. I felt so broken, so helpless. Who would want their child to grow up like this? It made me think of my own life, being adopted and growing up with loving parents all the time. I couldn’t imagine not seeing family, friends or even strangers for that matter, only once a year. I quickly dropped the bags in my hands and went to fill my arms with children, giving each kid a hug or a high five. The room became filled with laughter. Games started to be played, Bible story skits were being acted out, friendships were being made, and children were receiving shoes, all in this little building in a farming community that I didn’t think anyone even knew about.
There were two little boys in the corner, Tomas and Richards (top photo), who quickly caught my eye and we were together the whole time. They even looked like they could have been related to me. That is something that I wasn’t emotionally ready for when I came to Latvia. I was thinking the whole time that I could have been a child like them. If my birth mother hadn’t given me up for adoption and if God hadn’t picked out the Stark family for me to be a part of, then Tomas’ and Richards’ life could have been mine.
I was able to share the love of Christ by playing cars, teaching them about Jesus and fitting them with a new pair of shoes. It was so awesome to see them so happy and so excited about all of these new things, but especially the new shoes. I have always loved shoes and now shoes are my life. I love to shop for shoes, and I get really excited when I get a new pair, but now I really love to distribute them to children like Tomas and Richards because I get to see that excitement on their faces. These shoes were the first new pair that they had ever received that was their own. Clean. Right size. Ones where Superman light ups when you run. And no sharing! What a great combination.
I have the privilege of working with people all over the United States in collecting new shoes for children like Tomas and Richards. In 2008 when Shoes for Orphan Souls traveled back to Latvia, I was able to lead that trip again. It was amazing. I walked into Jurmala Spriditis and things were different. There weren’t two little boys quietly in the corner, but now three boys who ran to me so excited that someone they spent time with before had come back to visit. Even though I don’t get to see Tomas and Richards, I pray for them and other children around the world that we can provide a pair of shoes to warm their feet and the gospel of Christ to warm their hearts.
Julia Stark is the program manager for Shoes for Orphan Souls, a ministry of Buckner International. To learn more about Shoes for Orphan Souls or how you can host a shoe drive, collect shoes, or go on a trip, visit www.shoesfororphansouls.org.
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