Here I Walk doesn’t have much to do with the price of tea in China, but the project has everything to do with the price of shoes in China.
The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America’s ELCA Good Gifts program provides a specific opportunity to provide shoes for school-age children in the mountainous Sichuan region of China. Much like Sarah and Andrew Wilson, the children in these regions have a long way to travel – and it is uphill at least one way. At an average temperature of 40-50°F and an elevation of 3000-4000m, the children of Sichuan villages must walk approximately over a mile to the nearest school over dangerous, rocky and cold terrain. It is easily surmised that given the poverty of the region, most parents are forced to forego educational supplies such as shoes for more immediate “opportunities” for their children. Most of the youth in this region will join family farming or labor projects, contributing to the near 10% local illiteracy rates. While U.S. citizens may look on their sneakers to find a “Made in China” tag, Chinese citizens often do not have the resources to purchase similar goods produced by their own labor force.
In light of both the Wilsons’ Here I Walk pilgrimage and specific needs in China, Oak Grove Lutheran Church (Zelienople, PA) has been called simultaneously to two ministries.
First, we honor of Here I Walk’s celebration of 500 years of the Protestant Reformation. Andrew Wilson remarked how a pilgrimage is “like hiking, but with an added layer of connecting to the past.” Many Lutherans recognize their connection to nearly 500 years of exciting and turbulent history. However, as Christians, Lutherans will do well to remember their foremost location in God’s history of creation and working in the world. As the verse of the great Lutheran hymn puts it, “God’s Word is our great heritage” (Nikolai Grundtvig, 1783-1872). We walk both literally and metaphorically because God creates, sustains and redeems people through His Word and work in the cross of Jesus Christ.
Second, we honor the future that Here I Walk speaks toward: opening further Roman Catholic and Lutheran dialogue against the odds of revisiting old scores and traversing hardened lines of division. Oak Grove Lutheran Church prays for the Wilsons and joins them on their journey in prayer and hope. We join them because even now they boldly walk to heal those ecumenical troubles which prevent the Gospel of Jesus Christ being proclaimed to the world. In the same way, we here at Oak Grove pray that we are joining this mission in a unique way as well. We are supporting shoes for the children of China to join in this new generation of traveling Good News. Despite the rapid growth of the Christian church in China, there are still many structures in place to prevent speaking the Gospel of Jesus Christ freely for all people. So, we send shoes for walking:
Because where there are shoes, there is walking.
And where there is walking there is a school at the end of the journey.
And at that school there is education.
And where there is education, there is hope for a new future.
And where there is a new, previously unimaginable future, there is Jesus Christ blessing the feet of those that carried the Word.
And that is the blessing Christians so deeply desire; that at the end of the journey, they will hear the words of their Lord speaking, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”
As St. Paul writes to the Romans, “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 they preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!”