Seven Third Baptist Church, St. Louis, members saw firsthand the value of cooperation efforts during a trip to Peru. The team joined with more than 20 others from across the U.S. to deliver shoes and care for orphans in the developing country.
The trip was coordinated by Buckner International, a global Christian ministry that seeks justice for ‘the least of these’ by providing care and resources for orphans and at-risk children around the world.
The church became involved after hosting a Lenten season Shoes for Orphan Souls drive, said Vicki Swyers, Buckner director of community missions at Third Baptist. They posted a notice in the church newsletter to gauge interest in participating in one of Buckner’s mission trips to deliver shoes.
When seven people responded, the church decided to move forward with plans.
The team visited eight different orphanages in Peru, where they led Vacation Bible School, fitted children for new shoes and gave out bags of school supplies.
“There were a couple founders of children’s homes who we met who didn’t have access to great monetary means,” said Shannon Crary, one of the team members. “But with exceptional hearts and seeing a need, answered a call and could not stop with helping one child, but in turn saw other children in need and gave all they had to help these children and reached out to others to join their passion to help them.”
One such man began Sagrada Familia Home, which currently houses 730 children. The Home was set up like a camp, Swyers said. “It lacked a lot of things we would think such an establishment would need,” she said, indicating the facility had no washer and dryer or centralized kitchen facilities. “But these children were really loved and cared for.”
Donna McDill, receptionist at Third Baptist, pointed out the care that the children have for each other. The VBS “getting to know you” segment, included a question on hating or disliking someone. “The response from this particular group of children — ‘we don’t dislike or not get along with anyone. We are family,’” McDill said.
The team proceeded to fit all 730 of the children with a new pair of shoes. Kate Nikodym, Swyer’s daughter, acted as a floater and saw every child who walked in and out of the door. “Seven hundred and thirty is a gigantic number,” she said.
Nikodym enjoyed seeing the new-found confidence the children gained when they received their new shoes.
Adam Banks worked to make each child feel special. With each box of shoes he opened, he tried to show enthusiasm and energy. “I wanted them to feel their shoes were the best,” he said. “Hopefully they fit, or I had to do it all again.”
This was Banks’ first international mission trip. “I have the bug,” he said. “I was touched deeply every day.”
His mother, Ella, the church receptionist, shared his opinion. “The kids would hug you and kiss you and would not let you go,” she said. “I wasn’t ready to come home…. It wasn’t quite enough. This has had an effect on me. I feel things I never thought I could feel — never imagined it.”
In addition to Sagrada Familia, the team visited Hogar Reyna de La Paz, a place for young, abused women to live before and after the birth of their children. Crary said it was easy for the team to connect with the women, even with the language barrier.
“We shared a couple hours doing crafts, playing games and admiring their children. It was relatively such a short time, but their influence on me persists, and I continue to think and pray for them.”
Another home was for boys from the street, most of whom had drug problems. Swyers described how even 4- and 5-year-olds would be addicted to sniffing glue or other street drugs. She connected with one teenage boy who was sitting alone. She joined him and attempted to communicate.
After a few sentences, they had exhausted her Spanish and his English. So the two sat in silence. As she was leaving, she gave him a hug — something she is usually cautious about, she said. “I didn’t know how he would respond,” she said, but felt God’s leading. He received the hug and hugged her back.
“He is someone I’m really intentional about praying for,” she said. “It’s a calling. I don’t know what will happen, but, for whatever reason, that’s important.”
She said this trip showed her the importance of presence. “The ministry of presence is something I felt like I could offer,” she said. “In some mysterious way, God’s letting (the children) know someone cares.”
And this trip is evidence that a lot of people care, Crary pointed out. From folks who donated shoes — many tucking notes or photos inside — to church members offering supplies, encouragement and prayer, to volunteers in Texas who sort and ship shoes, Buckner staff in Texas and Peru who organize the program, those who volunteer to participate in trips to “the many staff and benefactors who have devoted their lives to the children in Peru.”
This collaborative effort illustrates how we are all connected to each other,” Crary said. “The experiences on this trip brought people normally separated by great distances together to exchange kindness and understanding.”
Through their shared experiences, deep bonds developed. “I made 1,237 new friends this trip,” Nikodym said.
Swyers said this trip will “change and color how I see the world.” This was a first trip abroad for her. She said was particularly touched by recognizing God’s presence in Peru. “We weren’t bringing them anything they didn’t already have,” she said. “God cares so deeply and is so present with the vulnerable.”
Jennifer Harris is the news writer for Word&Way.