Soles helping souls
On August 8, members of St. Luke United Methodist Church in Savannah arrived at church wearing shoes, but left barefoot.
They weren’t the victims of a Sunday morning shoe-snatching spree, but willingly went barefoot after leaving their shoes at the altar during the church’s Barefoot Sunday service.
The special day of worship was part of St. Luke UMC’s effort to support Soles4Souls, a Nashville, Tenn.-based charity that collects and distributes shoes to people in need. Since 2005, Soles4Souls has given away nearly 12 million pairs of new and gently worn shoes to people in more than 125 countries, including Kenya, Thailand, Nepal and the United States.
St. Luke UMC pastor Rev. Marci Bourland heard about the ministry and thought it was a great idea and something the church would support, but wanted their efforts to be more than just a shoe drive.
“It caught my attention and I thought, ‘Wow, that would be a neat ministry,’” she said. “But it was very important that we make sure it wasn’t just a church activity, but that we could also somehow impact the community.”
And impact the community – both their local community and the world community – they did.
The small-membership church, whose average Sunday worship attendance is about 55 people, collected 600 pairs of shoes.
But just as important, the neighborhood church reached out to the surrounding community and showed that they are a friendly, caring church with a heart for others.
“I feel like any ministry of our church should have an outreach component,” Rev. Bourland said. “Like when we have vacation Bible school, we want to reach not just our children, but we want to figure out how we can invite others.”
In an effort to spread the word about the church and their shoe drive, volunteers canvassed the surrounding neighborhood, knocking on doors, meeting neighbors and making friends.
“When we talk about knocking on doors as Christians, people get really afraid,” Rev. Bourland said. “People talk about door-to-door evangelism and it’s a scary thought. What better way to get used to that than a ministry that people will want to naturally help us with?”
When meeting residents, church volunteers were pleasantly surprised to hear that many had already heard about the shoe drive. A large, brightly colored “mailbox,” strategically placed in a prominent location on the church grounds, was visible from the street and made shoe drop-off convenient.
“It was really neat to go through the neighborhood and hear, “Oh, yeah, you’re the church that’s doing that … you’re the shoe church,” said Tiffany Jones, St. Luke UMC’s outreach coordinator.
In addition to collecting 600 shoes, the church welcomed several new faces to their Sunday morning service.
“I think they saw that we are an outward-focused and inviting church,” Jones said. “When you come to our church, we have a welcoming spirit and a lot of people with good hearts.”
The mission-minded churches on the Broxton Circuit hosted their own Barefoot Sunday service in April.
Church members of all ages – from 5 to 95 – donated 273 pairs of shoes to the cause.
Their Soles4Souls campaign got everyone in the church involved, said Rev. Sandra Conley, pastor of Broxton United Methodist Church, Mary’s Chapel United Methodist Church and Oak Grove United Methodist Church.
“We all have so many shoes,” she said. “I looked in my closet and have so many shoes that I don’t even wear. It gave everyone a tangible way to help.”
Lois Cliett and her husband Billy, both members of Broxton United Methodist Church, drove a truck loaded with shoes from Broxton to Soles4Souls’ Roanoke, Ala. warehouse. Shoes of all kinds - baby shoes, sandals, dress shoes and work boots – were donated.
“People just kept bringing them in,” the retired teacher said. “After disasters, some people who have only one pair of shoes now have none, and then you look at your closet and you have 10 pairs, 50 pairs, and realize how blessed we are. Most people were just very thankful to be able to help fill a need somewhere. We have so much to be thankful for, and we are blessed, almost beyond belief. Anytime there’s something so simple as a pair of shoes that can make a difference in a person’s life, how could you not do that?”
In total, almost 1,000 lives have been impacted because of the work of a few churches in South Georgia. Soles helping souls.
“You don’t have to be a big ministry to make a big impact,” said Rev. Bourland.
--By Kara Witherow, South Georgia Advocate editor
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