From the Field: The San Diego Rescue Mission Distribution
By Marketing and PR Intern Seth Crawford
Herb Johnson first met Samaritan’s Feet Founder Manny Ohonme when Ohonme served as a student-intern for the professional association that Johnson was an officer for 20 years ago.
“I’ve been able to follow and track (Samaritan’s Feet’s) growth over the past few years.” Johnson said.
After serving on the first advisory board for Samaritan’s Feet, Johnson, president of the San Diego Rescue Mission, participated in his first Samaritan’s Feet event this June.
Samaritan’s Feet partnered with the SD Rescue Mission to serve and provide shoes for 400 homeless men, women and children. The SD Rescue Mission is a unique homeless shelter in that 85% of its clients are involved in long-term rehabilitation programs. Due to the nature of the shelter, Johnson and his staff have very close relationships with their clients.
On the day of the distribution, some of the men about to be served expressed that they did not want to be touched and have their feet washed. Johnson didn’t want them to lose sight of what was really about to happen.
“We knew the shoes were just the icing on the cake,” Johnson said. “The real deal was having someone pray for you and wash your feet and give you some personal comfort.”
Wanting to ensure that the 200 homeless men before him did not miss out on the opportunity that Samaritan’s Feet was offering them, Johnson, on a whim, decided that he would be the first to have his feet washed. He took off his shoes and socks and told the men that if anyone had ‘uglier’ feet than himself, they could still receive shoes without having their feet washed. A volunteer who knew Johnson called him over and began washing his feet.
“It was a pretty powerful experience for me,” Johnson said. “I was pretty much a mess after he prayed and washed my feet. I was moved by what happened.”
After the men saw Johnson’s reaction to the experience, the walls of mistrust were shattered and all of the men got their feet washed. According to Johnson, more than half of the men ended up breaking down during either the washing or the prayer.
As the day went on, hard exteriors began to melt away as those being served were struck by the love and tenderness being shown to them by complete strangers.
Upon washing the feet of a hard ex-serviceman, a volunteer asked him about the last time he had gotten a new pair of shoes. The man’s gruff features softened as he responded, “Never,” and received his first pair of new shoes at the age of 55.
Another woman was embarrassed of her feet and did not feel comfortable having them washed. Eventually a female volunteer took off her shoes, revealing scarred feet plagued with arthritis. The embarrassed woman was touched by the gesture and allowed the volunteer to wash her feet. The volunteer took great care with the woman’s feet, massaging them, applying lotion and tenderly drying them off.
After the washing process was over, the woman said, “Nobody’s ever washed my feet before. I wonder if I could give you a hug?”
The most amazing story of the day took place as the distribution was winding down. An older couple arrived and the wife explained that she did not need anything, but her husband had terrible feet and his shoes were literally falling apart. They could not afford a new pair of shoes, but the husband desperately needed a new pair.
The volunteers along with Samaritan’s Feet representative Phil Campbell, hopeful from the overall success of the day, were excited at the chance to help the eager couple. However, the woman’s next words threatened to leave a dark smudge on what had been an otherwise blemish-free day.
“He needs a size 16.”
Campbell’s face fell as he told her that he would love to give them size 16 shoes, but Samaritan’s Feet did not regularly carry size 16s. A volunteer who was watching the depressing scene unfold remembered there were five boxes that had not been opened yet and offered to go check just in case. Campbell, who had helped package the shoes, was certain the search would come up empty.
Each box, as suspected, confirmed the fear that the couple would go home empty-handed. Finally, in the last box, the volunteer found a pair of size 16 shoes!
There was absolutely no reason that those shoes should have been in San Diego, but somehow, through God’s grace, a mini miracle injected hope into the lives of a struggling couple and came as a fitting end to an amazing day.
Since that African student-intern showed up in Johnson’s office, Johnson has had the privilege of watching from a distance as that student’s vision has grown into an organization impacting the lives of the hurting and impoverished all over the world.
(All photos by Greg Schneider.)