Soles for Souls: A Spiritual Experience at the Border
Christ is everywhere, in Him, every kind of life has a meaning and influence over every other kind of life.
A Rocking Horse Catholic, Carroll Houselander
We arrived there on the third day and were already worn down from the days of work. Not just physical labor but emotional and spiritual work. Our normal world-view was slowly being shattered, piece-by-piece, the paradigm shifts happening with brut force. With every project, a little line cracked across my privileged soul. As we casually walked in to the Catholic Charities building, a place that somehow clothed and fed these Texas refugees right out of detention, we saw telling signs of great use. In the poorest city in America, Brownsville was a town that had long been in crisis, and charities like this one did the hard work of trying to help a population which wants to remain unseen.
As the hustle and bustle of the busy volunteers swirled around us, our guide gave our group a run down of the place. We were each assigned to different volunteer duties within the charity. I was assigned to shoe duty. The volunteer guide lead us into a small room that was filled to the brim with all types of mismatched shoes, piled one over the other, in clumped hills of rubber and cloth. As we began to sort the shoes into piles, we saw that what we thought were new and shiny shoes, were instead cheaply made shoes, and that they were already falling apart. So my job quickly became trying to find the best possible shoes and moving them to the front of the piles.
My privilege was already showing. I wanted them to have the best of the best because that is what they deserved, but the pickings were slim. Before I could get a system in place, there was a line. Families began to appear outside the door: anxious, nervous, not what sure to think about this weird white lady trying to help them in broken Spanish.
The first boy that came in off the bus was about five years old. His mother, not far behind, watched over him with worried anticipation. He looked into the bin of children’s shoes and smiled excitedly about the prospects. What I saw as a dirty pile of shoes, he saw as a treasure trove filled with diamonds. I asked him, “número de zapato?” When he heard the word “number,” his eyes lit up. “Seis!” He shouted as he hopped and up down. He looked at me expectantly. I told his mother it was OK to try them on first, to see if they fit. I realized that he didn’t usually have options when it came to footwear. He began to clumsily shove his feet into the shoe and tie the laces. I told him to walk around, make sure they felt ok. He looked at me like maybe I was an insane person.
I asked, “Bueno? Grande or pequeña?
Hand gestures had become a necessity when trying to communicate quickly in a foreign language.
“Bueno! Bueno!” He jumped up and down with glee. Whipping out my trusty Google Translate app, I asked him in Spanish, “Let’s try on another to make sure.”
He looked at his Mom for permission.
“Si, Si.” She nodded.
With wide eyes, he tried on a couple more and left with two pairs. You’d think I had given him the best toy on earth. He held those shoes with the pride of an Olympic champion.
A few minutes later a girl walked in with her mother and aunt. As the adults tried on shoes, I showed her some shoes that might be in her size. When she saw children’s Keds, pink with colored flowers, her eyes lit up. She outstretched her arms and cooed, “Bonita,” with a look of adoration in her face. She gently brushed the shoe, with the same attention a 9 year old girl might give to her own Barbie’s hair. She rushed to show them to her mother with childish delight.
Her mother looked at me and held up her own pair of shoes. A pair of plain white Keds and nodded to me, as if to ask if it was OK to take them. When I said, “Si, bueno!” She looked up at me, with a face so full of thanks and smiled the biggest smile—she held the shoes to her body and hugged them.
It was the face of humility.
In abject poverty, just let out of a detention facility where they had taken her belt and shoelaces, she was not full of anger or impatience; she was full of grace and thanks. In that moment, I saw the face of Christ revealed in her eyes. I still knew it was her, this normal human, just the same as I, but her humility and grace made me see the Christ within her.
Who would have believed me then if I told them that I would have a transformative moment in a room full of shoe buckets, yet there it happened and there I was changed. Not only did I get a glimpse of Christ’s face, I saw the Christ within me also. I saw it reflected back at me in her eyes. The mystic Carroll Houselander’s words filled my thoughts and I wondered if I might be having a similar experience.
I was in an underground train. A crowded train in which all sorts of people jostled together, workers of every description going home at the end of the day. Quite suddenly, I saw with my mind, but as vividly as a wonderful picture, Christ in them all. I come out in the street, everywhere, Christ. Indeed, through the years to come, I would have to seek Him, and usually I would find him in others, and still more in myself.
A Rocking Horse Catholic
In The Universal Christ, Richard Rohr says that seeing and recognizing are not the same thing. For once, in this moment I truly understood that lesson. This time, Christ was revealed to me, even though he had been before me all along.
As the line grew smaller, it was time to head out onto the next mission project, yet the layers of gratitude that came off of these travelers stayed with me as I walked forward. They were so thankful for their new start, even if it was with the worst possible shoe salesman in the world. We did not just give them shoes, we made them feel human again. They wanted to feel like normal people after this long and arduous journey they were still on. Most of them had not reached their final destination, their family. We were a stop on their way to bigger and better things. This was the beginning of their new life. As a widow, I understand that need to feel normalcy when you are going through something traumatic. What these people were doing, fleeing their home for a safe haven, was brave. Yet they, like I did, yearned to be set free from that suffering.
This work, with people just the same as you and I, is where you find Christ. Many of us think that if you just believe hard enough, that if you study the bible, if you pray enough, you will become more spiritual or Christ- like. But there is reason James wrote, “What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food.” ( James 2:14-15) When we listen to the oppressed, when we help the sick and dying, when we clothe those who have none, and when we feed the hungry and break bread with those scared by a powerful empire, you quickly see God’s face in their face. God’s eyes in their eyes, God’s smile in their smile. To be honest, I don’t know if I had ever seen Christ’s face before. But now I have, and I can’t go back.
So here is my question: What would happen to our hearts if we humbled ourselves like that gentle woman? If we lived in that state of gratitude towards others? What would happen to our hearts if we finally decided to serve Christ and tell God that we are ready for the Spirit to work in us?
My answer: I am ready to be transformed into who I need to be. I am ready to see you in this world.
I feel called now to do whatever I can to go back, with supplies, and show Christ’s face to them. As much as possible. What better welcome to receive than the care of Christ. Yet we are the one’s that do this work if we are to be called followers of Christ.
I need your help. I want to provide quality shoes to these refugees. I want to give them shoes that they can start their journey in, their walk towards liberation. If our God is a God of liberation, who sets the captives free, we aren’t just giving them shoes. We are helping them on their journey towards freedom from oppression!
We will go back to the border on May 13th, and I want to go there with buckets of shoes to fill that room. If you want to join me down there on May 13-17, I invite you to come with me! However you decide to join me on this journey, even if you can’t physically go to the border, you can make a difference. You can also help by bringing new or like-new shoes to First United Methodist Church at Mosaic Worship, Open Worship or inside the church at the Mission corner. A donation of $25 will provide a refugee with new socks and quality shoes to start their life in America. (and you get a really cool magnet!) We will gather donations until May 12 and be taking it down to the border to give to refugee families. Please mark any checks with “Shoes” or give online at https://onrealm.org/fumcdenton/give (designated as "Mosaic”, memo line, “shoes”) All sizes of children shoes, women's size 5 and 6, and men's size 7-8 are needed the most!
A journey to freedom from safety and oppression starts with one step. Won’t you help them with theirs?
Photo by Ani Kolleshi