Faith columnist describes why Barefoot Sunday had to return
Jennifer Lee Preyss
March 23, 2012 at midnight
Updated March 23, 2012 at 10:24 p.m.
As I watched Palmer Chinchen's Barefoot Sunday video that day, edited to Switchfoot's "Dare You to Move," I was moved - to tears.
The smiling faces of children in the video, and celebratory dancing after receiving the shoes, reminded me of the people I'd met and fell in love with in Malawi, when I traveled to Africa in 2009.
It reminded me of the smiling children I spent time with a few years earlier. The children I danced and jumped rope with; the orphaned infants I held in my arms.
The footage also brought back memories of the extreme, life-threatening poverty I witnessed when I was there - barefoot, unbathed children, covered from head to toe in ring worm, crusted mucus beneath their nostrils, distended bellies from malnutrition, HIV-infected children, families living in 8-by-8-feet mud huts with no electricity, furniture, or plumbing.
As I watched the video and listened to the song, I was reminded of a promise I made to myself when I left Africa - that one day I'd do what I could to make some kind of small difference for the people living there.
I didn't know what it was, but I knew I had to move.
Something about that video emboldened me with a thought, "What if we did a citywide Barefoot Sunday here in Victoria?"
The following Saturday, I drove to Starbucks, got settled in at a table by the window, and connected my computer. Then I typed out a letter introducing myself, explaining that I wanted to borrow his Barefoot Sunday concept, and invited him to join me. I pressed send.
The email aftermath
I can only imagine Chinchen's immediate reaction after reading my letter was uncomfortable laughter and confusion.
But he wrote back a few days later, encouraging me in my quest, and told me he would love to be a part of the event. I started talking about the event with everyone I met. In a short amount of time, churches, schools, individuals and families seemed to come out of nowhere asking how they could assist with Barefoot Sunday.
Somehow, I knew God was carrying the project. I knew God wasn't going to let it fail.
A team of key organizers came together, and multiple collection sites were stacking up.
A goal was established: to collect 1,000 pairs of shoes for children and adults in Africa. The remaining shoes would be donated to Kidz Connection in Victoria.
"It was such a renegade idea, and to my knowledge something like Barefoot Sunday had never been done before on that scale," the Rev. Bard Letsinger said. "For us, it was a no-brainer to be a part of it. And it's a no-brainer for us to be a part of it this year."
Letsinger was one of the first people to step forward last year and volunteer his church building to host the event - no calendars, no politics, just a heart to serve God and his people. I'm not even sure I actually asked him to host Barefoot Sunday at Renegade. I think I said in passing that I was looking for a venue, and his response was, "We have a building."
We didn't collect 1,000, or 2,000, or 4,000 pairs. We ended up with about 5,300 pairs of shoes, that are right now on the feet of smiling children in Africa.
And Chinchen ended up flying to Victoria to see the event come together. He also served as our keynote speaker.
A few days later, after all the shoes were counted, Renegade church member Ricky King volunteered to drive the shoes to Arizona - in a truck donated by U-Haul - and deliver them to Light Feet Project for distribution in Malawi last summer.
Light Feet Project was launched by Dan Angermiller, a member of Chinchen's church, who also became inspired to collect shoes for Africa after returning from a mission trip to Malawi.
When I interviewed Angermiller last year, after the shoes were delivered to the same villages I worked in when I was in Africa, he told me something I'll never forget.
He said it was amazing to see how quickly word spread that free shoes were being doled out, especially considering the lack of Internet, telephones and other technology. Word spread so far, in fact, that people walked barefoot for two and three days, just to pick up a pair of shoes donated from Victoria's Barefoot Sunday. Two and three days - barefoot.
Barefoot Sunday 2012
When one of last year's key organizers, Advocate Reporter Erica Rodriguez, moved away to join the Orlando Sentinel in Florida, I wasn't sure I could plan another Barefoot Sunday.
She was an integral part of the organization process last year, and she kept me going when I was too tired to make any more decisions. And while there were so many wonderful people who helped pull Barefoot Sunday together, without Erica, I honestly didn't think I could do it.
A few months ago, however, I realized it wasn't my decision to organize a second annual Barefoot Sunday because the event didn't belong to me - it will forever belong to the community.
I realized there were people in the community depending on Barefoot Sunday to stick around. Which, I have to admit, is a pretty awesome testimony to God's hand in the planning process last year.
I also realized there were a number of churches and business and families, who were eager to donate shoes last year, but weren't able to, or missed the deadline, or didn't hear about it until it was over.
So whether you participated last year, or not, I need you to pay attention to the following information: Barefoot Sunday is back, and it's going to be bigger and better than it was last year.
But we need your help. We have a new goal: 5,000 pairs of shoes.
For the next month, we're asking that you go through your closets, clean out your attics, and garages, and gather as many shoes (with practical heel heights) as you can. All ages, men and women, and tennis shoes and flats are perfect.
You can drop off your shoes at various locations around town, or call me and I will come pick them up.
Also, if you have a business, or a church, or a school that wants to collect shoes on your own, or if you want to be an official collection site, please let me know, and we will promote you on our Barefoot Sunday Facebook Page. Which brings me to another point - go to Facebook and "like" our Barefoot Sunday page.
For the next month, we will be collecting shoes, hoping to reach 5,000. The event will culminate with a Barefoot Sunday rally on Saturday, April 28, at Renegade Church's new location, 3706 N. Navarro St., also known as the old Incredible Pizza building.
Barefoot Sunday lineup includes The Revival, One Nation and Two Guns for Hire playing from 6:30 to 8 p.m. while we count and sort shoes. Attendees of the event will be asked to sign a pledge to go barefoot on Sunday, April 29.
Because shipping expenses can be expensive, we're asking if you have the means, to please donate $1 with the shoes, which will help pay for back-end shipping expenses to Malawi.
Please join your community for the next month in serving the Lord, and the poorest of the world's poor. Those old shoes hiding in your closet and under your bed can in reality save lives, prevent the spread of diseases like HIV, and bring pride to people who own nothing.
People often ask me why I care so much about Africa. If I have the passion to mobilize a city and find resources for the poor, why not do something for the American poor, they ask me?
My reaction is always the same.
First, I personally feel God calls each and every person to service, but I don't think he calls one person to serve everybody. I also don't think that because I'm an American, I should only want to end the suffering of other Americans.
If there is suffering and hunger, poverty and sickness, we should aim to meet those needs wherever they are.
Some will be called to serve here, and others will be called to serve abroad. Ultimately, we'll go and serve where God calls us to serve.
I personally feel burdened by and responsible for Africa.
But your mission field may be somewhere in the United States. It may be in Texas, or right here in Victoria. And I encourage you all, if you do feel burdened to serve a people, or community - take the reins and go serve. And I will do my best to help you in any way you need.
Second, you will never hear me say the poverty and hunger in the United States is less important than the poverty abroad.
But after traveling to Malawi, I have an entirely new understanding of poverty. The average life expectancy there is 48 years old, compared with the United States' average of 78 years old. Sixty-five percent of the Malawian population lives in Third-World poverty, and the people are dying every day from AIDS, famine and treatable illnesses.
Of the world's 191 countries, Malawi is No. 183 for having the lowest life expectancy - in the world.
The poverty there, and in many areas throughout the entire continent of Africa, doesn't exist in the United States.
It's poverty you can't even fathom until you're standing in a Malawian village, staring at hundreds of starving children surviving on corn flour and water, washing their clothes in mud puddles - while you're covering yourself in Deet and praying mosquitos don't infect you with malaria.
Many of the Malawian children I encountered during my trip will likely not survive to their elderly years. Many will never have the opportunity to earn a real education, or have access to basic medical care. Many will spend their lives struggling to find clothing, food and clean water for their families.
So, for the next month, I ask you to join the Barefoot Sunday cause, and help us reach our collection goal of 5,000 pairs of shoes. Whether you can give one pair, or 100 pairs, I implore you to clean out your closet and give us your shoes. Together, we can shoe a nation, and change the lives of God's beloved African children. C'mon, Crossroads residents - I dare you to move.