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Why I volunteer: The day God's call changed everything

[caption id="attachment_5891" align="alignright" width="500" caption="Ed Wales (back left) and fellow volunteers pose at the Buckner Center for Humanitarian Aid, where they sort and package shoes to be distributed to children all over the world via Shoes for Orphan Souls®."][/caption]

By Ed Wales

What started as an ordinary day became one that changed the rest of my life. Isn’t that just like God, to take the ordinary and use it in an extraordinary way?

My morning routine began with a three-mile run, a shower, a cup of coffee and a morning commute to my job. As always, I listened to KCBI for their uplifting Christian music. All was well until they did an interview with Ron Harris, who was in Russia at the time. He was describing the living conditions of Russian orphans.

My ears perked up and I turned the volume up so as to not miss a word. My mind was racing, imagining those children who had so little and were facing a very cold winter with shoes that were literally falling off their feet.

Ron then told about an orphanage that had plumbing issues and had no water. The children had to walk and carry water from several blocks away so dishes could be washed, toilets flushed and thirsts satisfied. I lost control and started weeping to the point I had to pull the car into a parking lot to regain my composure.

Sitting in the car, I remembered the miracles of adopting our son in Omaha, Neb., and the birth of our daughter two years later. What a bright future they had because we would do anything to make sure they had the basic necessities and an opportunity for a great future. How could I sit idly by and not do something for those precious orphans in Russia? I knew then that God was calling me to be involved and make it a priority.

So when KCBI and Children’s Hope Chest started the Shoes for Russian Souls project, I knew what I had to do. I asked our minister if we could get our church involved and he agreed. I remember painting refrigerator boxes that had been cut in half and placing them in the narthex for the shoe collection. I also remember my first trip to buy shoes at a local department store in the Valley View mall. When I got to the cashier with 30 pairs of shoes, she asked me how many children I had. I replied “over 100 million.” When the people in line heard about the shoe drive, several bought shoes and gave them to me on the spot.

In 1998, we asked George Steiner with Children’s Hope Chest to visit our church and give us an update on the Russian orphans. Along with the update, he also talked about how they needed people to travel to Russia and put the shoes on the children’s feet. I was excited and said I would go.

In February 1999, I, along with a bunch of dedicated volunteers and staff from KCBI and Buckner, began “The Journey of the Heart” to Russia. We visited six orphanages in the Kostroma region and had the privilege of putting shoes and socks on the feet of children, passing out small gifts, watching the children put on special performances, and just getting a chance to hug and love those kids.

Each time we loaded into our bus, we would laugh and wave as we left but once we were out of sight, there was much weeping and sorrow because there was so much more that needed to be done.

During the trip I was asked to do a morning devotional. I talked about the Apostle Paul and how he talked about running the race. This race (caring for orphans) was not going to be a sprint but more like a marathon. In fact, it became a life-long race for me.

When I retired in 2007, it was a no brainer that I would be sorting and packing shoes in the Buckner warehouse on a weekly basis (Buckner acquired Shoes for Russian Souls in 1999 and it became Shoes for Orphan Souls. It is the largest humanitarian aid project of Buckner International).

Our church will hold its 20th annual shoe drive this year in conjunction with our Vacation Bible School, and will continue to send youth and adults to sort and package shoes. What a joy it is to imagine the happiness and hope each pair of shoes Buckner will bring to the recipient children all over the world.

Ed Wales has volunteered with Shoes for Orphan Souls for the past six years. He lives in Plano, Texas.

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