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Church Buys Shoes for Kids Who Make Good Choices

A few weeks after I began pastoring Messiah Presbyterian Church in Lubbock, Texas, I heard a teacher from a nearby elementary school tell about a boy in his class who was a lookout for a drug dealer. The child was from a poor family, but now he was wearing expensive athletic shoes. The teacher was concerned. "What can I do with this kid?" he asked. "He's only seven years old. He doesn't understand what he's doing. He thinks he's making a good choice when he's making a bad one."

That week, I met with the six elders of my church. I told them about the boy at the school, and that I proposed we help by supplying an incentive for kids to make right choices instead of wrong ones.

My proposal was that Messiah Church offer three kids in each classroom each semester a pair of the best athletic shoes money could buy, if they made right choices by excelling in school. The school had 17 classrooms, so that would come to 51 pairs of shoes a semester, —102 pairs a year. It could cost us as much as $10,000.

They were silent. I knew very well we did not have the money. "We will raise the money," I said. Ten thousand dollars.

I knew what they were thinking. Messiah had a tiny budget, and there were times when the utility bills could hardly be paid.

"We should pray," Bettie struggled to say. After praying, we looked up and saw Bettie's eyes were bright.

"I think the Lord means for us to do this," Don said. The others agreed.

This is not one of those stories in which we immediately went to the mailbox and found a check for $10,000. Still, when I would mention it to various friends and community contacts, they often wrote checks for $100 or $300.

We called FootLocker and Kids FootLocker, and they thought it was such a wonderful idea they promised an initial discount of 15 percent and 25 percent at the respective stores.

We announced the honors during a school assembly at the end of the first semester. "Everybody around here knows you can make a lot of money doing the wrong thing," I said to the children. "But these shoes are for kids choosing to do the right thing. In the end, more good will come to you for making right choices. We are here to show you that is true. When you go into FootLocker or Kids FootLocker, pick out any pair of shoes you want—any pair— because you have done the right thing. Everyone who does the right thing is a winner!"

A week later, one of the sixth-grade teachers told me that after the assembly, the other kids in her classroom said to the winners, "You just wait. When you get into that shoe store, you won't be able to get whatever you want. There'll be some cheap, junky shoe."

That afternoon and evening, 40 of the 50 winners went to the mall to get their shoes. The FootLocker managers told me each child who came in had the same question: "Can I get anything I want? Anything?" The managers replied as we had asked them to reply: "Yes you can, because you are a winner." That next day in school, the principal said her office was nearly overrun with kids who wanted to show her their wonderful new shoes. She said the whole school was in celebration.

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