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Learning to Love

By Brittney Harmon
Alpha, Illinois

All morning my team was having difficulties finding shoes for every child; it didn’t seem as if there were enough sizes for everyone. By the time the last group of children came in, our team was very tense due to the shoe shortage. The final child to get a pair of shoes was a young girl. I sized her feet for a size thirteen shoes, and went to find a pair that fit her. It was the very last pair in that size.

I remember thinking, “Thank you, God, for placing a pair of shoes on every child.” The children’s smiles were so beautiful, so perfect. Nothing in the world compares to the joy their faces bring. I gave this little girl a hug and told her, “Jesus loves you” in Swahili, and she ran off in her brand new pair of shoes. I was so thankful that every child received a pair of shoes because the threat of running out had loomed over the team all day. I was on cloud nine and so incredibly thankful that I hadn’t realized another child quietly walk into the room. This little boy didn’t speak English, so we weren’t sure where he had come from, but it didn’t matter. I was determined to give him a pair of shoes. You could tell, without even having to ask, that he had never worn a pair of shoes in his entire life. His feet were swollen, covered in red clay dirt and had tiny cuts all over them. I knelt down before him to wash his feet and I remember his strong odor, his tattered clothing and how badly my heart ached for him.

I had been asked the question many times, “Why do you need to go to Africa to help children? There are so many diseases; it’s so dirty; people will not accept you, and we have children here who need our help.” I had doubted so many times whether or not going to Kenya was the right decision. Those were all fears in my mind. But as soon as I arrived, I knew I was meant to be there. When I saw the children’s faces for the first time, I remember thinking, “I don’t care how dirty they are or how bad they smell. I just want to make sure they feel loved.” We come from such a privileged life that seeing the conditions that people had to live in broke my heart and changed my outlook on life forever.

Neither his odor nor the state of his clothing mattered; the only important thing was finding him shoes and sharing as much love with him as possible. After wiping all of the dirt off of his feet, I sized them and to my disbelief and utter disappointment his shoe size was a thirteen. I knew I had already used the last size thirteen; I was worried. I had already been through the shoes, so I decided to ask someone else to search through them in hopes that a fresh pair of eyes might be just the thing. While I was waiting, I tried to communicate with this little boy. Eventually, I learned his name. It was Peter. He was so naturally shy that I couldn’t even get him to look up at me. The only thing I could think to do was tickle the bottom of his foot and say “Mimi na koprenda,” or “I love you,” and he glanced up and gave me a tiny smile that made my heart flutter.

At that time, the team member I was working with pulled me aside and told me that she couldn’t find any shoes in the right size. I felt my heart skip a beat and my palms began to sweat. There was no way I was letting Peter leave without a pair of shoes on his feet even if they were a little too big for him. So, in a frantic attempt to give him something, I found a pair of size two sandals. They were a little large lengthwise, but they didn’t even come close to fitting the width of his foot because it wasn’t used to having a shoe on it. I even tried to force it on, but nothing worked. My heart was racing; I could not turn this child away, even if it required me taking off my shoes and putting them on his feet. I know it’s irrational, but I thought that if I could just give him something as small as a pair of shoes, it would automatically fix his whole life. I was frantic, and in a final act of desperation, I fell to my knees in prayer. I pleaded with the Lord for a pair of shoes for this little boy. I opened my eyes and turned around to look for the final time and much to my amazement there was a pair of sandals, with an adjustable strap nonetheless, just off to the side of one of the boxes that was in the process of being packed. When I took a closer look at them, I saw that the size on the shoe read thirteen. My heart leapt with joy; I was so excited. My hands were shaking so much that I could barely adjust the strap. I’ve never seen a pair of shoes look so beautiful in my entire life. Even better, almost close to the point of perfection, was the look on Peter’s face. It’s unbelievable how something so simple, so common as a pair of shoes, can have such a great impact on someone’s life.

Just before he got up to walk away, I said, “Jesus na koprenda.” Jesus loves you. I didn’t think there would be anything more valuable to this beautiful child than those shoes, but by the look of shock and amazement on his face, I realized I had been wrong. I gave him a hug and started to feel his tough exterior melt and give way to love in his heart. He was excited to go show off his new shoes to some of his friends. So away he went, but it wasn’t simply walking away. As he moved towards the door he carefully picked up each foot, almost like a horse prancing. He didn’t want to get his shoes dirty; but there was more to it than that. He wasn’t used to something being on his feet. His exploration of this foreign object on his feet brought a smile to my face.

My heart had taken all it possibly could. When that little boy walked out the door my heart went with him and it will always stay in Kenya. When you see a child starving not only for basic needs, but for love and attention you realize why you are put in that place. Why do I need to go to Africa? As quoted from Fields of the Fatherless by C. Thomas Davis “We should put flesh to His words and make Him alive to those who are desperate to know He is real.”

Have you been on a Buckner mission trip? Volunteered with one of our ministries? Are you an adoptive or foster family? We want to hear from you!
Buckner is now accepting story submissions for Buckner eNews Now and the Buckner Web site from people who have participated on mission trips or local volunteering.

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