"Tomorrow, your character, smile, and everything you carry is going to be about God and immolating the aroma of Christ to wherever you are going to serve,” said Jo Dubs, founder and director of the “God in Shoes” ministry, to a room of hundreds of women receiving orientation for a day of service during the 2019 North American Division Women’s Convention in Orlando, Florida. “Tomorrow is all about serving, it's not about us."
Since 2009, the Georgia-Cumberland Conference-based ministry, God in Shoes, has been the official community service outreach organizer for the division’s women’s convention, which is held every five years.
“Many conventions have similar formats, but what makes this convention different is the unique outreach done through God in Shoes,” said Carla Baker, director of Women’s Ministries for the NAD.
Participants came from the Cayman Islands, the Philippines, Guam, Bermuda, and all across the United States. The 625 women who registered to serve on Friday, September 27, received a “God in Shoes” belt bag to place their personal items in while on their assignment, and a “God in Shoes” button to pin on their clothing. The women had a dozen projects to choose from that met a wide range of Orlando’s societal needs.
“In going to an area, it's always important to do the demographics and see where the needs are and then start making phone calls and looking online to see areas of need,” said Dubs, who secured locations for the day of service throughout the year. “Finding places where different organizations and programs are already doing the work, then setting up appointments to hear their stories and say, ‘How can I help you and affirm what you're already doing,’” said Dubs.
As result of those meetings and months of planning, the women’s convention participants volunteered at several locations, including organizations that address homelessness (Orlando Union Rescue Mission, Coalition for the Homeless of Central Florida, and Christian Services Center of Central Florida); organizations that combat hunger and food insecurity (Second Harvest Food Bank, Rise Against Hunger, and United Against Poverty); and safe spaces for girls and women and their families (PACE Center for Girls, Help Now Domestic and Sexual Assault Center, ASPIRE Health Partners, and Harbor House). Volunteers also visited Clean the World, an organization that addresses systemic problems related to hygienic health by repurposing and distributing soap and other hygienic products; and New Hope for Kids, a center for grieving children.
In addition, each location received a donation of supplies specifically curated for the organizations’ services that had been accumulated in the months leading up to the convention.
“For something like this to happen, it takes involvement on many different levels,” said Dubs. “For months, my team worked to get the supplies by … putting the organizations’ wish-lists out to the attendees.”
This also extended opportunities for service to those who were unable to physically volunteer on Sept. 27.
“I really thank them because those gifts are going to help [the facilities] much longer than the one day we were there,” said Dubs.
“I did not know a place like this existed,” said Juilet Mcfarlane from the Greater New York Conference who volunteered at New Hope for Kids, an organization in Central Florida that has helped children since 1996 deal with grief and pain associated with illness and death. “I decided that as soon as I go back to New York, I am going to find one of those centers and I'm going to be a volunteer. It impacted me that much. I picked up so many brochures and I said I'm going to share with my local church’s women’s ministries and youth department so that we can become a part of this work.”
The same sentiment was echoed by the director of Women’s Ministries for the Allegheny West Conference, Shirley Benton, who also volunteered at New Hope for Kids.
“I’m going to set this as a mission. My team is meeting next month to talk about 2020. I'm going to bring this to them to see if this is something we can do or find out who we need to talk to in order to pursue that,” said Benton. “I understand there are not too many of them around, this is the only one here in Florida … It was just a beautiful place. It was an amazing experience, one I never anticipated, but I'm so glad I went.”
The type of work the volunteers participated in varied from sorting clothing and food, to preparing meals, to providing spa-services such as hand massages and manicures, to writing thank-you notes, and even to landscaping.
Heidi Melton, who was the leader of the group that went to the Orlando Union Rescue Mission — which offers housing, meals, and education to men, women, and families — said her group was a lot smaller than expected, so she thought they wouldn’t do the outdoor work that had been preassigned. However, when they got to the location the mission’s liaison told her, "We just had 40 yards of mulch delivered,” to which Melton replied, 'We're on it!'"
“There were women who volunteered to do it. They were excited,” continued Melton. Many of the women who helped spread the mulch were in their 60s and 70s, some were even wearing heals and dresses. Melton said they spread the mulch in less than three hours.
“I was very impressed,” said Melton. “The two gentlemen [who worked for the mission and assisted us] said they've never seen such hard workers.”
Louise “Lulu” Sanders, director of Women’s Ministries for the Northern New England Conference, helped give a “spa day” to women who were part of a behavioral health treatment center through ARISE Health Partners. Members of her team polished nails, gave hand and neck massages, cut and styled hair, and offered words of encouragement and prayers.
“It was so enlightening. The people were so receptive, and thrilled we were there,” said Sanders. “When they came out all done-up, they were so thankful and glowing. We just take everyday things like that for granted.”
In Maine, where Sanders is from, she volunteered in similar centers for women, except her experiences were not as positive. She said the people were more reserved and unpleasant – this almost kept her from volunteering for ARISE. However, she said she had an enriching time, which reaffirmed the purpose of serving.
“We need to be more outgoing. We need to follow Jesus' example of reaching out in whatever way, even if it's just a smile or hug. We need to be more involved,” said Sanders. “We can’t just sit in the pews each week and think that's what Jesus wants us to do.”
Behind the Name
God in Shoes began in 2004 in response to a challenge issued by the president of the Georgia-Cumberland Conference to ministry leaders to find ways to make their ministries more evangelistic. Dubs fasted and prayed for three days, after which, God put it on her heart to have the women of women’s ministries serve women in their area.
“God in Shoes is the opportunity for us as Christians to represent God in our shoes. Oftentimes we think as Christians that the world can see who we are. But they cannot see us unless they see us involved in their lives, entering their world, and doing those acts of kindness that really demonstrate God in the flesh,” said Dubs. “No, we are not God, but as Christians we represent God in who we are, the places we go, and the places we serve for Him.”
The ministry first organized a two-week mission for single mothers living in the Appalachia region of the United States. The mothers were given meals, assistance around the house, and evening child-care. At the end of the two weeks, the mothers were given a “spa day” by the God in Shoes volunteers.
"The whole purpose was to help them to see their worth and their beauty in the eyes of God, and understand that God loves and accepts them no matter what — it's unconditional,” said Dubs.
The anchor text for the ministry is Romans 10: 13–15: “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved. How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? And how can anyone preach unless they are sent? As it is written: ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!’” (NIV).
“I would truly like to encourage everyone to prayerfully consider how God might want to use them to make a difference for someone else,” said Dubs. “It might just be a smile, getting involved in serving soup in your community. God is just waiting for us as Christians, not that He needs us, but He wants to give us the blessing of serving others. I would challenge everyone to step up to that challenge.”
Visit the NAD Flickr page to see photo coverage of the God in Shoes day of community service in Orlando, Florida.