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Ministry provides more than 1000 pairs of shoes

After the devastating earthquake in 
Port-au-Prince, Haiti, survivors rest in a makeshift shelter in the 
parking lot of the general hospital.
Thrift Store manager Lorena Lynch tries to keep her shoe department stocked
with the gently used boots and athletic shoes donated by United Methodist
churches from across the country. Photo courtesy of the Rev. Rodney Aist.

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 sneaker wearers.

“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 children.

“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 business full-time.”
Glenna Brayton to the rescue.

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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 on foot.”

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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