Little did my husband, Kelly, know what God was up to when he left for Cerre Azul, Mexico with our church youth group. More than 50 kids went to erect buildings for a drug rehabilitation center there. Kelly led one group - 30 kids plus several adults, and Stuart led the other half. Of course it turned into a competition to see who could finish their building first.
As all mission trips are, it was an amazing experience – they made new friends, completed the structures, saw people give their lives to Christ. Twenty-one teens celebrated baptism in the cool waters at San Diego South beach. This not only impacted our people, but onlookers as well. One family approached and asked where they went. “We’re new to town and looking for a church. Any group that would do this in a public place as boldly as you have is where we want to be!” It was disappointing to tell them our church is more than a day’s drive north.
The trip had its difficulties as well. One of the buses broke down in Ashland, and half the group waited while a man from Eugene drove there with a replacement. They worked in the heat and were devoured by mosquitoes. They even survived a 6 foot rattlesnake hiding near the bathroom all week. They didn’t know about him until they left! On the way home met a power hungry guard at the border, Kelly’s tire went flat, and the trailer tire blew. Getting them fixed was a race against the clock. The GPS directions led to a retirement home (instead of Les Schwab). Twice, they tried to ask directions, first from a non-English speaking man, then a deaf mute. They finally made it to a Les Schwab with four minutes to spare and the shop took care of them in no time.
Kelly met Richard the first day at the Rehab Center during their lunch break. He noticed some guys digging a well and started joking around with them. Since Richard spoke English, he interpreted for Kelly and the others. From then on, every time they arrived at the work site, the first thing Kelly heard was Richard’s voice, “Kelleee!” It boosted Kelly’s popularity that he got to take the team’s leftovers to the men every day.
Richard eagerly waited to move into the Rehab center. He had lived a life of drugs, alcohol, and prison. He had come to the Rehab Center five months earlier and found Christ. He and the other men had moved out of the dorms so the team could stay there. Three were sleeping on the children’s playground with tarps around their quarters for privacy and “mosquito protection.” Four or five others camped in a truck bed on the ground, and others pulled together makeshift shelters.
Every day Richard brought Kelly gifts – a live rattlesnake in a bucket to show him and the others, which he cooked for them to eat. Kelly prizes the two snake skins and the rattle of a 10 year old snake Richard generously gave him. As he bestowed each gift, Richard said, “You’re my friend, Kelly, and I don’t want you to forget me.”
Kelly kept racking his brain to think what he could give Richard. There were no stores nearby where he could buy something. All his clothes were dirty, and the power tools wouldn’t do Richard any good. There was no electricity. Then God spoke to him, “Give him your shoes.”
“But, Lord, I just bought those; they’re brand new Nikes. Besides, what will I wear to our church services here and the Padre game on the way home?”
“You can wear your sandals or your work shoes. You have others,” God persisted.
Kelly argued again, “I’m sure they won’t fit him, Lord. He’s a small man and my shoes will be too big. Anyway, he’d be insulted to get my used shoes.”
The next day, everyone loaded up to go to the job site. Kelly put the bag of candy he had bought for Richard in his truck. Suddenly he found himself walking back to his room. What am I here for? he wondered. God said, “You’re here for your shoes.” So Kelly grabbed the shoes and threw them behind his seat.
Sure enough, as soon as they arrived Richard was there to greet them. After their hellos, Kelly pulled out the bag of candy and handed it to Richard, saying, “I have something for you so you won’t forget me. Don’t give it away to everyone else.” Richard grinned and nodded. Then Kelly looked down at Richard’s feet. His tennis shoes were ripped down both sides held together only by the laces. He put his foot next to Richard’s and asked, “What size shoe do you wear?”
“Eight and a half.”
“Could you wear a nine?” Kelly asked.
Kelly brought out the brand new Nikes and said, “I have something else for you,” as he handed them to Richard.
Richard stood with an odd look on his face. Kelly asked, “Are you alright? Have I offended you?”
“No!” Richard assured him. “This is an answer to my prayer this morning. Two days ago a man came to camp and he didn’t have any shoes. I had two pair, these,” he said looking at the shreds tenaciously clinging to his feet, “and my good shoes. So I gave him my good shoes.
Kelly listened, humbled by Richard’s generosity. It reminded him of the widow Jesus praised. She gave all she had in the offering, while the rich man gave out of his wealth. Kelly knew which one he represented in the story.
Richard continued, “This morning I prayed, ‘Lord, you know I gave away my other shoes and I have no job to buy new ones. These aren’t going to last much longer. You’re going to have to provide.” Then he looked up at Kelly, “and He’s already answered my prayer!”
Kelly told me this story over the phone and he told the kids and adults in his group. He came home and told our children and friends at home. And, even though he was terrified, he agreed to tell his story at the men’s prayer breakfast, and our church. Over and over we marvel at the way God works. He was there when Kelly bought the shoes that would be perfect for Richard’s needs. He prompted Kelly to pack them because “they breathed better than his leather shoes.” And God brought these two men together in friendship and a mutual love for Christ.
Kelly says, “You can’t tell me there isn’t a God! He had it all figured out before I left home. He blessed Richard for giving when he has so little himself. And I got to see how God’s answered Richard’s prayer. We serve an amazing God.”