By Lauren Hollon Sturdy
Sherry Schrage had a feeling that bringing her 15-year-old daughter, Abby, on a mission trip to Honduras was a mistake.
A week before they were scheduled to leave, Sherry heard a story about an acquaintance of a friend who had been kidnapped there. Her “mama bear” instincts revved up as their September 2013 trip with Buckner Shoes for Orphan Souls® drew closer.
Abby, on the other hand, was too excited to be nervous. The entire family loves missions and serving others, and she had already gotten permission to miss the first week of school. They boarded their plane from New York to Tegucigalpa, but Sherry continued to question her decision to let her daughter go.
The mission team’s first day of ministry took them to an impoverished area near Tegucigalpa where they made their way to an orphanage called October 21. The team was warned: this would be the toughest orphanage they’d see throughout their whole trip.
October 21 is an all-boys orphanage with older kids up to age 18. Many of them aren’t orphans in the most literal sense – their parents are alive, but can’t afford to take care of them. A lot of children there have special needs, and some of the boys came to the orphanage from life on the streets. Though the orphanage staff cares deeply about the children, they have limited resources. It showed in the tattered clothes and worn shoes.
“It was just dirty and depressing,” Abby said. “There are no windows, because the kids are always trying to escape. There’s probably a 6-inch crack near the ceiling to let some light in, and there are bars up there to make sure kids can’t get out. Maybe if that orphanage had been at the end of the trip it wouldn’t have been so bad, but it was the very first one, so it was kind of intimidating to me.
“Plus, most of the boys were my age,” she added.
The team divided into teams to form stations: shoes, memory verse, crafts and sports.
Abby and her mom went outside to help with sports, where Abby played goalie until she got the wind knocked out of her with a soccer ball to the stomach. She watched from the safety of the sidelines until she felt a tap on her arm. She turned to see a boy about her age wearing his new shoes and holding out a photo.
“At first I thought he was just showing me that he got a photo with his shoes, because not all shoes have photos inside them,” Abby said. “And then I look and I see that it’s me. I point at myself and he just nods.”
On average, Shoes for Orphan Souls distributes more than 150,000 pairs of new shoes each year.
“To our knowledge, this has never happened before,” said Ashley Williamson, manager of Shoes for Orphan Souls. “We sent shoes to 32 countries last year – that pair could have easily gone to Peru, Zimbabwe, Cambodia or Haiti, but it didn’t. It went to Honduras, at exactly the same time the Schrages did.”
Abby was shocked; her family had purchased and shipped the shoes he was wearing almost a year earlier. She learned his name – Aaron – and asked him to come with her to show her mother.
“We kept thinking, ‘What are the odds that we’d be there at that moment?’” Sherry said. “One of the amazing things was that it was an older picture, from two or three years ago, so Abby didn’t even look the same, but he still recognized her.
“I wasn’t in the picture. Just five of our kids. So after that, we knew it was meant to be that Abby was there on the trip. If she hadn’t been there, he would have had no way to connect me to that picture, and we never would have known.”
Sherry said she and Abby continue to be amazed by the miraculous meeting every time they think about it.
“We told Aaron we were going to pray for him, and we do,” she said. “We pray for his safety and we pray that he’ll come to know Jesus. We pray that he’ll realize that God did this for some reason … that he’ll see this as God being in his life and know that God cares about him so much.”
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