Pam and Keith Munford went to Oaxaca, Mexico, with a “Shoes for Orphan Souls” team made up of local listeners to WMBW-FM Radio in Chattanooga last year.
The team delivered donated shoes to several orphanages and impoverished children in the area. At each location, the team also held vacation Bible schools.
The shoes are distributed through local organizations in each country that have partnered with Buckner International. These organizations gather information about the children’s sizes, so Buckner knows what to send to each location.
“All the shoes tpeople give go to children who really need them,” Keith Munford said.
Delivering the shoes also helps show a kinder side of Americans, he added.
“The first day we were there, we went to a church service they had for us in a church that was (basically) a tarp positioned on the side of a hill ... it was a very makeshift building where ... 50 to 75 people came to worship on Sunday,” Pam Munford said.
The church highlighted the poor conditions in which the children were living.
Pam said not being able to give shoes to children who were not a part of these partner programs was hard. However, the “Shoes” drive also collects socks, which the organization allows to be given to nonprogram children.
It was also hard for her to give a child a pair of shoes he or she did not like. The couple commented it was funny how even these children knew which shoes were “cool.”
The couple said the program is very organized and went smoothly.
“(We) always felt safe, even with all the things that are going on in Mexico,” Keith said.
Everywhere the volunteers went, a native working with Buckner International went with them. Since many of the members of the team did not speak Spanish, they relied on translators.
Volunteers also had the opportunity to minister to children in a state-run orphanage for children with disabilities. Christian organizations are rarely allowed to minister to such children.
At first the youngsters were apprehensive about so many strangers coming to visit them, but when the group started some music the children became more at ease and started dancing. There were also many teenagers and young adults in the orphanage.
Keith said they also went to a dump where a lot of children lived.
On the trip, the couple had many opportunities to experience the culture. One of these was through food, including grilled cactus.
“It was fun eating something for the first time,” Keith said.
The couple said it was hard to describe the experience, but said the flat cactus they ate had the texture of a raw asparagus and tasted almost like a snow pea.
The group also had the chance to try another local delicacy— fried grasshoppers. Pam said she ate the most delicious chicken ever during her time in Mexico.
The couple said the food throughout the whole trip was amazing.
Participating in the mission trip last year meant sacrifice for the Munfords. The couple had been planning a trip to Maine to celebrate their 35th wedding anniversary, but knew they could not afford both trips.
“I felt like the Lord said ‘You need to do Oaxaca.’ I had never been on a missions trip before,” Pam said. “So I asked Keith if he would go with me.”
Keith said the couple had been planning the trip for a long time.
“I was disappointed — very disappointed. It took me about six weeks or so to grieve the fact that we weren’t going to Maine,” Keith said.
But, after that he started getting excited about the trip to Oaxaca.
The Munfords said they would do it all again “in a heartbeat.”
Shoes for Orphan Souls is a ministry of Buckner International.
Local collection for this year’s drive has already begun, and will run through the end of August.
Pam stressed the importance of donating quality shoes to the drives. She said flip-flops and similar footwear won’t hold up for these children. Larger sizes are needed for older children as well as the smaller sizes.
The following locations are serving as collection points:
The Cleveland Daily Banner, Cherokee Pharmacy, Dr. James M. Goldman Chiropractic, Gardner's Market, Gray Epperson Mazda, Homestead Lawn & Tractor, Hughes and Associates Insurance Agency, Larry Hill Ford & Imports, Living Word Church, North Cleveland Church of God Shoe Show (Keith Street and in the mall), Southern Heritage Bank (all three locations), Tennessee Valley Federal Credit Union (both locations), Toyota of Cleveland, Way of the Cross Baptist Church, Wesley Memorial United Methodist Church, Westwood Baptist Church, Whirlpool Corporation, White Wing Christian Bookstore and YMCA of Cleveland.