One November, I was privileged to be part of a team on a missions trip to Namibia. The primary reasons for the trip were to minister to the staff and children at an orphanage run by an exceptional loving family, and do some work in local schools. There were a number of occasions when we went out into adjacent areas to take food, clothing, shoes, and other supplies.
Where there is severe poverty, footwear is received like gold. A simple pair of flip-flops or tennis shoes can help prevent the introduction of disease and parasites into the body through the feet. I had seen poverty in southern Mexico, but here in the hot dry desert of south-western Africa it appeared more severe. The terrain may have played a significant part. Seemingly unending hot dry dirt with broken rock. And thorns.
Lots and lots of thorns. Trees that were just thorns. And bushes. And thickets. As a child growing up in Orange County, California, the only plant in regular view that would induce pondering on the crown of thorns was Bougainvillea. In Namibia, thorns were everywhere you looked. Most were completely free of leaves. And they made Bougainvillea look like they weren’t even tough enough for preschool.
The literal shanty towns were overwhelming to our cushy suburban sensibilities. In southern Mexico there is severe poverty, but gorgeous green lushness affords it more of an opportunity to hide. In this desert with no greenery, and no natural building materials utilized, shanties were pieced together of scraps of metal and zinc roofing surrounded by barbed wire fences. And, they were all so stark. And blisteringly hot inside.
Worse, they were on soil littered with shards of metal, broken bits of barbed wire, human and animal waste, and loads of brown and green broken beer glass everywhere causing the soil to sparkle when the sun hit it just right. We were told that since the European market was paying so much for beef, many local people could not afford to buy meat any longer. It was cheaper for them to fill their empty bellies with a forty ounce beer which unfortunately only contributed to alcoholism and abuse in the area.
Into this picture we would go with our local hosts to do what we could with what we had. And this is where it got good. On more than one occasion we would take and inventory of soccer balls or shoes and sandals and take the amount we thought we needed for a particular excursion.
And on more than one occasion we were awed that everyone who needed something and showed up got it, even though there were more recipients than inventory. Unfortunately, we did not video every inventory and outing, nor did we write down counts. I have shared experiences with other friends and acquaintances who have done work in similar places and have had “loaves and fishes” experiences too, including with shoes.
Of all the situations that happened, my favorite was the afternoon we went to a more out of the way place. We were giving out shoes and were disappointed to find we had lost the mate to one of the shoes. How could half a pair do any good? How could we have wasted a pair in a place where shoes are so precious? As we were getting ready to pack up and go, a well dressed lady showed up. She had a prosthesis with a good shoe on it. Her own foot, however, was sorely in need of a new shoe.
You know what happened next, don’t you? She wanted a red shoe – which we happened to have just one of. When she tried it on, it fit her perfectly. She could not have been happier. And, neither could we! They say the devil is in the details. Maybe, but only here and there. God is the One who is really in the details. From the creation of all that is, to getting a woman one red shoe. He is still in the business of miracles and minutia.