These Boots Were Made for ...
By Gail Cawley Showalter
Seeing U Through
"No, you’re wrong, Lord. I’ve already scoured Kmart," Stephanie said aloud. "I’ve been to Kmart, Wal-Mart, Target, Academy, Sears, and Dillard’s searching for the boots."
Stephanie Blackstone, the founder of the Treasures of the Heart ministry, had provided aid to six orphanages in Russia in the last two years. But none prepared her for what she saw at Barskoe Gorodische six months ago. She was shocked.
Now it was April and she could not shake the images of the children and their shoes from her mind.
Driving to the orphanage from Moscow had been uneventful. Crops were growing in the wide open fields. It reminded her of Kansas. A turn down a country road that had no road signs led past a few wooden frame cottages. Nestled in the corner as the road turned again stood the 300 year old building, once a Russian Orthodox Church. A wide path next to the church wound down the slope to a picture perfect river.
In spite of the beautiful scenery viewed from the windows, the pear trees blooming in summer, and the river flowing nearby, the facilities inside were horrible. The building had been left in disrepair to a few adults that were committed to care for the abandoned children. Alex, the director, had an agreement with the government that if they would pay his workers he would find a way to feed the children. They came faithfully every day even though they had not been paid for the last eight months.
They were living on the edge of survival when Stephanie arrived. Raw and rugged conditions existed within the thick concrete walls. Live electrical wires dangled from the wall sockets exposing children to one more danger. Hot water was nonexistent. The limited heat in deep winter didn’t even cut the bitter chill. Hand-me-downs were layered on for the only insulation between the Russian winter and their weather-beaten figures.
The kitchen was bare except for a few persistent flies nibbling on a stale piece of bread. The wooden floor had rotted and collapsed into the dirt below. And the 99 youngsters who lived there needed more than walls and food. Their feet had outgrown the already preworn and worn-out shoes.
Stephanie wondered how the children would resist the elements in the coming winter. Bare feet during the brief summer months were acceptable, but the bitter cold of 20 degrees below zero was sure to come.
Growing toes were peeking out of the holes in the well-worn shoes they were wearing. They wore whatever second hand shoes were available. Some were once dress shoes, while others were sandals. Most would not have been appropriate for children even when new, but those shoes were all they had. The deteriorated leather had broken in layers and was matted with manure fragments from the pastures where the children played make-believe among the milk cows. Stephanie knew those shoes wouldn’t make it through a harsh winter.
How would they fare without proper shoes in the filth and raw ice?
Once back in Texas, Stephanie sought funds to buy the children shoes. A number of people were sensitive to the need and donated money. Due to the harsh weather in Russia, Stephanie had decided to purchase boots which would last longer than regular shoes. The money donated, however, allowed only $12 for each child.
Stephanie suffers with severe idiopathic edema which causes swelling. She usually reclines on Mondays to recover after Sunday activities. This particular Monday she shrugged off the still small voice urging her to look for boots at the local Kmart.
No store in our warm climate has boots, certainly not in early spring,
she thought. People seldom, if ever, needed boots in southeast Texas.
Still the spiritual messenger insisted, "Go to Kmart now."
"Okay, okay. I’ll go," she relented.
She entered Kmart and made her way straight to the shoe department, certain that there were no leather boots in this Texas store in the spring.
A well-dressed gentleman approached her.
"May I help you?" he asked her deliberately, as if he knew he was supposed to appear at this moment just for her.
A little surprised, Stephanie chuckled. "Only if you have heavy duty winter boots. I need 99 pairs in children’s sizes!" she said, almost challenging him to respond.
Wondering what this distinguished gentleman was doing here, she asked curiously, "Who are you?"
"I happen to be the buyer for the shoe department at this Kmart," he said with a smile. "What sizes do you need?" he asked.
Still joking Stephanie said flatly, "Every size."
"Funny thing," he said, his voice sounding puzzled but intrigued. "I just received a shipment of boots that weren’t ordered for this store, and I didn’t know why."
Astonished, Stephanie allowed him to show her the "miraculous" merchandize. She then explained the situation to him. As if he were appointed, he went to work, sorting and stacking.
He loaded box after box of boots onto a large roll around shopping cart. Many were already marked as sale merchandise. He marked the others half price. There were boots for boys, girls, and teenagers, a wide selection of sizes for kids 7-17 years of age.
"I don’t know how many pairs there are, but I hope these help," he said after he had the cart piled high with an assortment of boots.
Stephanie, astounded by the surprise shopping spree, said genuinely, "I am amazed by this. Thank you ever so much for your kind generosity."
Her van was brimming with boots. She thanked God, amazed, at how He had provided for the orphans in such a specific way. And sent up a prayer of gratitude that she had responded to the spiritual messenger.
The total bill averaged out to $12 a pair, and there were exactly 99 pairs of boots. Each child would have a pair for the winter.
They were shipped in a cargo container to England in July, caravanned through Belgium, Germany, Poland, and Belarus before they were delivered on what was Russia’s Christmas Day, just before the temperatures dipped 20 degrees below freezing.
Photos on the left are the shoes as we found them wearing in September 2000.
Center and right shows the delivery of the new boots in January 2001.
"All material herein is exclusively the property of the author and is not to be used without written permission from the author."