Chapel: Giving your best, in this case, shoes
By Rick Vacek
GCU News Bureau
Nine pairs of shoes left Monday morning after Chapel near the entrance of Grand Canyon University Arena served as testament to the power of Palmer Chinchen’s message moments before.
There figure to be many, many more shoes there Thursday night.
Chinchen, pastor of The Grove in Chandler, is the leader of “The Barefoot Tribe.” He spoke at Chapel about the group’s mission: to supply shoes to the people of two impoverished African nations, Liberia and Malawi — people who usually have to go barefoot and, as a result, contract various diseases.
Being this type of sole provider began at The Grove several years ago when Chinchen declared a “Barefoot Sunday” and challenged each church member to bring a pair of shoes to church. But something else was afoot in this exercise: He asked that they bring their favorite shoes, not a beat-up pair, and walk barefoot the rest of the day to see what life is like for those less fortunate.
Thursday night, fans attending the GCU women’s basketball game vs. Seattle at the Arena will get a chance to walk in those same footsteps on what is being called “Barefoot Thursday.” At halftime, fans will be asked to take off their shoes and put them in the pile for Chinchen’s mission. To demonstrate the spirit of the event, the GCU coaching staff all will be barefoot during the game.
Head women’s coach Trent May said Monday by phone from Chicago — his team was stranded there for nearly two days because of a major snowstorm that hit the eastern half of the country — that he got the idea last year when he saw The Barefoot Tribe mentioned in an email. May contacted Chinchen, and after a series of email exchanges they recently finalized the plans that Chinchen announced at Chapel.
“It’s a big deal, but it’s not a lot of effort,” May said.
It is, however, an important exercise even though, according to several studies, the average American owns about 19 pairs of shoes. Chinchen loves to tell the story of the reaction he got when he first came up with the idea. He said his four kids told him it would never work, but 2,000 pairs of shoes were donated on his first annual Barefoot Sunday at The Grove. Participants had to walk without shoes to their cars on pavement being baked by record-breaking temperatures well into the 100s.
“I thought, ‘Sweet! Now they’ll feel what it’s like,’” Chinchen said.
As a young boy, Chinchen saw for himself what it was like. He lived in Liberia for seven years during his childhood and was so moved by the conditions, he created The Barefoot Tribe, whose goal is to “stop injustice, include people of every race, ethnicity, nationality and background, become social entrepreneurs, end extreme poverty, promote sustainability, eradiate malaria, put down our weapons, become abolitionists, live simply, create more art, spread the kingdom of heaven in places of hell on earth, and love like Christ, always.”
“Of all the instincts, the greatest one is to show compassion,” he said.
Chinchen transports shoes to Africa — usually about 10,000-12,000 at a time and free of charge — on rubber ships that have sailed across the Atlantic Ocean and emptied their cargo in the United States. He estimated that he has sent about 40,000 pairs overseas and takes heart in victories such as a town of 7,000 in Malawi, located in southeastern Africa, where each resident now has a pair of shoes.
He also is heartened by contributions such as the one he’s receiving from a school-age child who organized a barefoot day and accumulated 800 pairs. “Those stories have just kind of snowballed exponentially,” he said.
He calls the new wave of young people “Generation Justice” and said, “I feel like a tribe is forming in this country for Jesus Christ. They are committed to justice and compassion.”
Donating favorite shoes, not just any pair, makes this sacrifice special. May tells the story of the time his church was doing the same thing, but he hadn’t heard about it and was taken aback when he saw people leaving the previous service barefoot. He happened to be wearing shoes that truly were his favorites, but he took them off and tossed them in the pile, like everyone else.
That’s what he is asking fans to join him in doing Thursday. This is one basketball game where some turnovers will be encouraged.
● To find out more about The Barefoot Tribe, click here.
● Next week’s Chapel speaker: Tom Shrader, Redemption Church
Contact Rick Vacek at 602-639-8203 or firstname.lastname@example.org.