August 10, 2005
On the second to last day that we were in Malawi, one of our guards knocked on our door early in the morning. He told Dan that he heard that we would be leaving. (Our guards were hired by the Synod and did rotations at our home and other Synod buildings. This man and another had been stationed at our home for about a month.) Pointing to his bare feet he asked Dan if we had any shoes that we could give him. As I have stated before, shoes are very expensive and valuable in Malawi. Much of the population walks around all year in bare feet. If people have shoes, they only wear them when they have to. As it happened, several people had left shoes for us to distribute, so Dan handed the guard two pairs of runners (sneakers) and told him, “One pair is for you and the other is for the other guard.” The man was thrilled and grinned from ear to ear.
About an hour later, there was another knock at the door. Both guards were there. The second guard indicated that he wanted a pair of sneakers. Dan explained that one of the pairs that he had handed to the first guard was his. Dan looked at the first guard and said, “You have to share. You each get a pair of shoes.” They both nodded, smiled, and left.
On our last night in Malawi, we were invited to the Longwe’s (General Treasurer of Blantyre Synod) home for a sumptuous dinner. It was a wonderful way to end our time in Malawi. However, as we returned home and pulled inside our gate, we saw four guards (usually there are only two). They were holding a man who was bleeding copiously from wounds on his face. It was obvious that the guards had beat him up. We thought he must have been a robber who they caught trying to scale our fence. The next day we found out differently.
The bloody, beat up man was our guard. He was the one that Dan gave the shoes to. It turns out that, even after Dan told him twice that only one pair of the shoes was his, he refused to share the second pair with the other guard. The other guard called in other security personnel and they beat up the guard that refused to relinquish the second pair of sneakers. We don’t know if he ever did share the shoes, but we were saddened by the thought that a used pair of sneakers was so valuable that it was worth getting beat up over. It was a rather sad note to leave Malawi on.
After a few days of visiting missionary friends in Swaziland and South Africa, we flew to London for some sightseeing. As we rode the underground tubes and walked through the streets, I began to notice people’s shoes. I saw red beaded satin slippers, shiny two tone wing-tips, sandals with lacy straps around the ankles, pink and white striped flats, high heels with gold embellishments, men’s patent leather oxfords that had spit shines, multicolored mules and all kinds of sneakers. Vendors were selling summer sandals at open air markets. Store windows in the city sported trendy looking work and dress shoes. Athletic stores showed off the latest styles of high tops and sports footwear.
The opulence of the footwear astounded me. I could not help but contrast it to our barefooted guard. He was willing to fight for a worn out pair of tennis shoes. As I thought about him and glanced at a woman who was wearing a pair of alligator skin designer heels, I wondered if I would be sucked back into the consumer driven, self-centered culture. I prayed for strength to resist its pull.