Shoe believers: Churches practice true religion by collecting shoes for the 'least of these'

Editor’s note: Thousands of churches across the United States partner each year to provide support for Buckner Shoes for Orphan Souls®, the largest humanitarian aid project of Buckner International. Church participation is critical to the success of the program. The following churches – South Main Baptist Church in Houston and First Baptist Church in Ralls, Texas – were selected to show that no matter how the size of a church, each one has a big impact.

Faithful friends

By Jenny Pope

Most churches greet the rush of the back-to-school season with special worship services and promotion Sundays, but one Houston church stays grounded with an annual project that has helped protect the feet of more than 100,000 children worldwide.

South Main Baptist Church in Houston completed its 13th annual Shoes for Orphan Souls shoe drive in September 2013. Members collected 10,012 pairs of shoes, which will soon be on the feet of children in the Dominican Republic, Peru and even in the United States.

This year’s collection pushed the total given through South Main to 100,310 pairs of shoes collected since 2001, making it the largest cumulative collection of shoes by any church in the history of Shoes for Orphan Souls.

Albert Reyes, President and CEO of Buckner International, said South Main leads the way in practicing pure religion, referring to James 1:27.

“These shoes will find their way to vulnerable children and families and serve as a tangible expression of God’s love, shining hope into their lives,” he said. “South Main has really taken the ball and scored a touchdown for Shoes for Orphan Souls.”

More than 200 volunteers of all ages joined together in the South Main lobby and prepared the shoes for shipping. Children as young as 4 and 5 years old tossed shoes from the top of the “shoe mountain” as adults sorted and packed them up for shipment to the Buckner Center for Humanitarian Aid in Dallas.

“It’s controlled chaos,” said Henry Hill, church member and longtime shoe drive coordinator. “But I always say, there’s a job for everyone.”

Hill has coordinated the church’s shoe drive since it began in 2001 and has traveled on 15 mission trips with Buckner to serve vulnerable children and deliver shoes. He serves as trustee emeritus on the Buckner Board of Trustees and has a unique perspective on the needs of children he has seen during his travels around the world.

“I catch myself looking at what kids have on their feet and most of the places we go, the kids don’t have shoes like they should,” he said. “So I am continuously reminded that there is a purpose to what we’re doing. So if the church wants to keep supporting it, I want to keep doing it.”

Every August, the church begins collecting shoes and money. Instead of greeting signs and volunteers, South Main welcomes visitors and members with stacks of shoes in the lobby piled more than six feet high, held in place by more than 50 feet of caged fences wrapped in white Shoes for Orphan Souls banners.

Volunteers arrive each Wednesday morning during the drive to remove shoes from boxes, cut off tags and tie the laces together. On the last Sunday of the shoe drive, everyone comes together for a packing party after church to help process and pack the shoes for shipment.

Pastor Steve Wells said the mountains serve as both a practical storage space and visual reminder about the children whose lives they are changing through their gifts.

“There is so much energy that comes from seeing this big display continue to grow week after week,” Wells said. “We are constantly reminding everyone that each pair of shoes is going to be delivered to a child with grace and love; and that this is not a one and done project. Buckner is in it for the long haul. The shoes are a front door, not a back door. Buckner maximizes the impact of the shoes for deeper ministry everywhere they go.”

In addition to the shoe drive, South Main collaborates with Buckner to support a community project in Peru and to build churches and homes for vulnerable families in the poorest counties of the Rio Grande Valley.

Hill points back to the church as the true sustaining force behind the effort.

“I feel very proud and very appreciative of what the members of South Main have contributed over such a long period of time,” he said. “To sustain it for that long is really something. South Main truly has a heart for ministry.”

Hill traveled to Peru with Buckner for the ninth time in December to deliver Christmas gifts and shoes to children.

“Buckner always says the shoes help the kids know they are not forgotten, and that is really the truth,” he said. “You see the kids smile and jump, dancing around in their shoes. It’s pretty special. Especially when you know they don’t ever get anything new. I feel very, very blessed.”
Small West Texas town exceeds shoe goal each year

By Kelsey Buckner

First Baptist Church in Ralls has something stirring in its small West Texas town of fewer than 2,000 people. Since 2009, a vibrant youth ministry has served several people in need by partnering with Shoes for Orphan Souls®.

This church committed to “not be a follower of the world, but followers of Christ and His word.” Youth minister Bruce Harris said four years ago, the congregation studied James 1:27. When they went to Rock the Desert, a 3-day Christian festival in West Texas, the youth saw a way they could minister using God’s word.

Rock the Desert held a contest to see who could raise the most pairs of shoes for Shoes for Orphan Souls. When the youth saw this, they jumped on board and challenged other organizations to try to collect the most shoes.

“Every year we’ve set a goal, and God has always provided more,” Harris said. “We’ve always reached that goal, and we’ve had more, and we keep raising it every year, and we’re excited.”

Harris said every year he’s been unsure if the church will meet its goal, but they continually reach or exceed their target. This year, the congregation set a goal to raise 1,800 pairs of shoes from January-August. They collected 2,012 pairs of shoes.

“We started collecting in January, and in June, we had a little over 1,700 pairs,” Harris said. “For a small town that has less than 2,000 people, I think that’s pretty good to raise that kind of money and shoes to provide the kids.”

Ashley Williamson, manager of Shoes for Orphan Souls, said the church has blessed children in many countries around the world.

“With the help of their church family and community, they have collected more than 5,000 pairs of new shoes, which have blessed the lives of children in countries such as the Dominican Republic, Ethiopia, Guatemala, Honduras, Kenya, Mexico, Peru and the United States,” she said.

Since the church won the Rock the Desert contest and raised the most pairs of shoes last year, Harris will go on his first shoe delivery trip in 2014. He is excited to see the children receive the shoes and he hopes to bring some of his youth group kids along.

“We’re very, very excited,” he said. “I really want to try and get some of my kids involved. I really want to get some of that core group to be able to go and experience it. It will be life-changing for them and for myself. I know it will be.”

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