Last week HH and I were sitting in a meeting with volunteers and staff from a ministry weâ€™ve been partnering with here in the Western Cape called Living Hope. A friend of ours is helping us evaluate our ministry’s effectiveness, and we were asking about the volunteers’ and staff’s experiences of the Shoes of Hope distributions weâ€™d hosted together. Where could we stand to improve? What success stories were there? Have any kids been put in danger because they received shoes? We want to take the time to reflect on our work to make sure unintended consequences are avoided whenever possible, and to look at ways we can potentially improve our work.
At our Shoes of Hope distributions, there is a special one-on-one moment, when a volunteer washes a child (or adultâ€™s) feet and fits them with a new pair of shoes. We see that moment as an opportunity to connect with the person personally, and we usually ask two simple questions:
1. Whatâ€™s the worst thing that has ever happened to you?
2. What is your greatest dream?
During our meeting, a volunteer shared that one little boy was impacted in that moment in a significant way. Usually the most disruptive of the kids in their after-school club, after heâ€™d had his one-on-one moment with a volunteer who washed his feet, at least for a day, he was a completely different little boy.
When he was askedÂ Whatâ€™s the worst thing that has ever happened to you? he decided to open up and share, with a complete stranger whoâ€™d only been volunteering at Living Hope for a week. He shared the worst thing that had ever happened to him:Â heâ€™d been raped.
I can scarcely imagine the horrible, soul-destroying, terrifying experience of being raped as an adult, and it brings me to tears and breaks my heart to know that it is a common part of the story of children in poverty. Itâ€™s estimated that the average young girl growing up in a township in South Africa has a better chance of being raped than of learning to read. Substance abuse, child abuse, and poverty seem to walk hand in hand.
But for a brief and shining moment, this boy was heard. He shared his pain, and it impacted him. The volunteers at Living Hope will follow up with him, in hopes of helping him work through the pain of his experience. They now have a better understanding of why he has been the most disruptive of the clubâ€™s participants all along.
As we train volunteers in preparation for a Shoes of Hope distribution, we try to make it a point of sayingÂ Itâ€™s not about the shoes. The truth is, these Shoes of Hope are shoes of opportunity. They create a moment for someone who is in need, who may be hurting, who might be crying out just to beÂ heard, to be prayed for, to be honoured as a fellow human being, worthy of love and dignity.
Every person has a story. We just need to take the time to ask, and to listen.
*I’ve also shared this story today on the blog at Samaritan’s Feet South Africa. Many thanks to those of you who through prayer, giving, sharing and encouragement are helping make our work possible.