I remember clearly the first CERI shoe mission which I had the privilege to logistically coordinate. In fact, each of the eight CERI shoe missions I was involved in has its own set of vivid, unforgettable memories of behind-the-scenes planning, emotions and intense gratitude from everyone who has been involved.
A few months after I began working with CERI in Moldova, in May 2006, I was tasked with coordinating the logistics and operations for that year’s shoe mission. I accepted the task with a confident smile, not entirely aware, at that time, what it truly entailed. From clearing 40-foot containers through customs and writing a distribution plan for 11,000 pairs of winter boots, to sitting in government meetings, mapping a 70-stop schedule, hiring truck drivers and coordinating more than 60 excited volunteers, the 2006 shoe mission was a huge endeavor. It reminded me of the preparation people do before running a marathon and completing the stages of training leading up to the main event. After crossing the proverbial finish line, once all the shoes had been delivered, and each member of the shoe mission team returned home safely, the 2006 CERI Shoe Mission was a monumental team achievement; an accomplishment that leaves your soul satisfied and your mind amazed at the power and compassion of the global body of Christ.
Today, as we prepare for yet another “marathon” — the 2017 Shoe Mission — we are as aware as ever that all great achievements come through great sacrifice and effort. Less than two months after the 2016 Shoe Mission to Romania was complete, the preparation for the 2017 mission commenced. Planning began in February 2017 with casting our vision for the operation — to put winter boots on every single child who needs them in the Republic of Moldova! In consultation with Dearing Garner, Missions Director and CERI Ambassador Emeritus, we decided we will extend this year’s distribution to every child in the Moldovan child protection system (the United States’ equivalent is the foster care system), including those children at risk of being abused or neglected.
The decision to distribute shoes to all children in Moldova’s child protection system shaped the size and scope of the 2017 Shoe Mission, and introduced a set of obstacles, different from any we previously had to deal with.
As our vision grew and the planning continued, it became clear that the 2017 Shoe Mission was going to be radically different from all our previous missions. Historically, shoe missions have focused on delivering boots to institutionalized children (children living in orphanages). This year, institutions were not an option, since the Moldovan government closed all its child institutions in an effort to comply with European Union’s mandate to avoid institutionalizing children. For this year’s shoe mission, volunteers will have to travel from community to community to deliver boots to children in foster families, small residential shelters and children living in extremely impoverished communities.
After CERI representatives met with Moldova’s Minister of Labor, Social Protection and Family, in May 2017, CERI received the permission to conduct the mission as we envisioned. The Moldova government presented the data we needed, and with that, an order was placed in June 2017 with Roma Boots for 8,500 pair of winter boots for all Moldova’s orphans and vulnerable children. A second order was placed in August, which raised the total amount of boots to 10,500. Placing the orders and paying the deposit was indeed an act of faith, as we still needed to raise an additional $75,000 to pay the balance on the orders. However, we also know that faith can move mountains, and so we trusted.
Once the boots order was in, logistical preparation began in Moldova. In July and August, CERI staff contacted the Child Protection Departments in all 37 raions (counties) throughout the small country that is slightly larger than the state of Maryland, to arrange for the shoe mission. Details like identifying the point of contact in each region, locating a proper distribution site, up-to-date data to include number of children in the system, the best date and time for the distribution, and the necessary documentation needed for the distribution were worked out. Another major hurdle is preparing the necessary paperwork to clear a 40 foot container through customs — a delicate yet vital part of the process. Paperwork must be submitted in September to clear the container for arrival in November.
While CERI Moldova staff are busy with on-the-ground logistics, CERI staff at headquarters work to fill the 48 volunteer spots to complete the six teams needed to successfully distribute 10,500 pairs of shoes. Solidifying teams and roles (team leader, shoe boss, etc.) takes much of the summer, while fundraising for the shoes takes all of the fall and winter. The fundraising campaign for the boots officially starts in September and will likely continue even after the teams depart for Moldova. Unofficially, however, fundraising for boots never ends!
The final stretch for shoe mission preparation includes solidifying the distribution schedule, booking hotels and purchasing airfare, renting vans and trucks, hiring translators and drivers, and buying socks, Bibles and treats for the children. The day when the volunteers step on the plane, December 1, 2017, marks the beginning of the Shoe Mission, and all our hard work begins to pay off.
CERI volunteers are oftentimes reminded that mission trips are the right moment to stay flexible… or rather, to stay fluid! Things don’t always happen according to the schedule, but, in the end, things always take place at the right time. The weeks of the distribution manifest through Romans 15:13, as team members experience feelings of joy, peace, hope and empowerment as they trust in God and relinquish all control to their local guides, drivers and translators. Children are served. The boots are distributed. The Gospel is lived. And the Kingdom of God experiences growth. In hindsight, all the preparation, money spent and faith put to a test fully pay off through the 10,500 happy smiles we will receive during the mission.
CERI Executive Director