|Ministry provides more than 1000 pairs of shoes|
Thrift Store manager Lorena Lynch tries to keep her
shoe department stocked
with the gently used boots and athletic shoes donated by
churches from across the country. Photo courtesy of the Rev.
Lorena Lynch turned to the mother of a young basketball player who
was shopping for shoes and playfully asked, “Are you sure your son is
Navajo?” It wasn’t the young man’s appearance that made the thrift store
manager skeptical. It was the size of his feet –a whopping size 15.
According to Lynch, Navajo elders traditionally have small feet, but
length and width seems to have increased with each new generation of
“Our younger folks today have some big feet,” she laughed. “We don’t
get many size 15 shoes donated, so it was probably the first good pair
of basketball shoes that boy has ever had.”
Lynch runs the Methodist Thrift Shop located on the Navajo Indian
Reservation in Shiprock, New Mexico.
Over 250,000 native people live on the 27,000 square mile reservation
that includes areas of Arizona, New Mexico, and Utah. Most are poor.
Alcoholism and domestic abuse are two symptoms of the extraordinarily
high unemployment on the reservation. In addition to low self-esteem,
many who live there lack hope.
While the store may sell everything from jackets to jeans and
curtains to comforters, what if offers free of charge is dignity.
Rodney Aist, director of the Four Corners Native American Ministry (a
United Methodist ministry of the New Mexico Conference), said the
thrift store seeks to empower rather than enable people.
“Self-esteem is an issue here on the reservation,” Aist said. “It’s
important to us that the goods we sell are quality because it affects
the dignity of the person who receives or buys them.”
While the thrift shop is a lifeline for clothing and household goods,
the one thing it can’t keep in stock is enough shoes. Not only are the
supersized athletic shoes a hot item, so are any shoes for women and
“We have a lot of shoes come in, but they don’t last long,” Lynch
said. “In fact, I always tell people that I could be in the shoe
Glenna Brayton to the rescue.
A long-time Native American advocate who is active on the Native
American Ministries committee in the Rocky Mountain Conference, Brayton
“just happened” to stop by the thrift store on a family trip between
Katy, Texas and Grand Junction, CO. When she asked Lynch what she could
do to help the ministry, Lynch didn’t hesitate. “We have plenty of
everything, but we still need sturdy shoes for our elders who herd sheep
Brayton took the need to Houston with her and inspired a small
congregation in the Texas Conference known as the Third Sunday Native
American Fellowship to round up 50 pair of shoes. Later they sent 200,
and passed along the challenge to other Texas churches, and
congregations in Western Colorado and Utah, as well. One thousand pairs
(and counting) later, the little project has grown into a full-fledged
ministry called, “Shoes for Shepherds.” Recently, Brayton expanded the
shoe business to include “Shoes for Little Shepherds.”
Brayton, who taught school on the reservation for almost 13 years,
said she’s “just always had a heart for mission with the Navajo.”
“I used to live out there with those people,” said Brayton, who is an
Oklahoma Choctaw. “I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen these
people nearly go without food in order to get shoes for their kids.”
“The great thing about Lorena is that she’s not just a salesclerk,
she’s servant,” Brayton said. “Customers may show up at the store to
shop for shoes, but leave with something they can’t buy…hope.”
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