Just to be clear from the start, this is not one of those odd stories where I am led of the Lord to buy a pair of shoes. I don’t pray for divine guidance when I go shopping (unless it’s going to take miraculous intervention to get that obscenely expensive dress). I just go shopping. I buy what I like and what fits and what I need. That’s it.
So this kind of experience doesn’t happen every day. It happened once and it hasn’t happened since. Just so we’re clear.
A quick stocktake of my current shoe wardrobe stands at around 39 (excluding extraneous, non-countable items like runners and slippers), but this was a different time. A time when two pairs were enough. Plenty in fact. My second pair were hardly worn because they were leather and who knew that once mould started growing on them in the stinking humidity of a South Pacific archipelago, you wouldn’t want to wear them again.
So it was down to the $2 pair of rubber K-mart thongs. This was long before the time of trendy Havianas, jelly sandals and gladiators. The only options back then for summer casuals were thongs; cheap and plain; black and white and a few primary colours. My ones were a dirty off-white and they went with me everywhere. Up and down the steep hill from the makeshift schoolroom to my one bedroom flat, across the splintered cargo hatch of rusted fishing boats, along the sand on moonless nights when you can’t see all the sand crabs and broken pieces of coral.
One pair. One faithful, hardy, pair that survived the blazing island sun and torrential downpours, as well as complimenting my entire range of cotton sundresses.
Then God spoke. It was an odd instruction. Only buy what you need, not what you want, and I will provide for you.
Which was fine because this was a time when I was completely obedient and submissive to God’s will, zealous to the end, doggedly faithful in bible-reading, church-going and allround spiritual giant. And anyway, the main strip of Honiara only boasted a few musty Chinese shops with shelves of out-of-date tinned vegetables, shell necklaces and the occasional working electrical appliance. I didn’t need any other shoes and there were none to buy even if I did.
No problem God.
That was until I took a trip over to the Land of the Great Shopping Mall. Two weeks in the US for a conference with other itinerant teachers on the mission field. There I met Anne. Anne was teaching in Burkino Faso, Western Africa. She was French Canadian with wavy brown hair and an easy smile. And she had these shoes. Like ones I’d never seen before. They were colourful and strappy and made of mould-resistant rubber and I knew instantly they would definitely co-ordinate with every item in my tropical wardrobe. “So where did you buy them?” I edged cautiously. “Nairobi, Kenya.” She said. “Oh,” I answered.
But surely, somewhere, in this great city of Dallas, there would be something like them? !
Perfumed coves, racks of shiny accessories, gleaming aisles of merchandise. We wandered through them like kids at the county fair, savouring the heady senses of firstworld shopping. Then we came to the shoe department.
As if God would care about a pair of shoes? As if he would mind if I spent $15 on a new pair. Just $15! I only have my thongs and one day they’ll wear out. And these would be soooo perfect. It’s not everyday you get to go shopping in Dallas. My term in the islands was at least another year and who knows when I would get the opportunity to go shopping again. I’m sure these shoes could be classified as a ‘need’ God, not a ‘want’? Surely? What kind of ridiculous instruction was that anyway? Perhaps I hadn’t heard from God after all.
The problem was, that here in this department store they didn’t have any shoes like Anne’s.
Or in the next store. Or the next. There was only a black and white pair that were two sizes too big so they slid precariously off my feet when I tried them on.
When I got back to my little flat high on the hill above Honiara, I took the black and white shoes out of the bottom of my suitcase, and hid them in the darkest corner at the back of my wardrobe where I couldn’t see them each morning when I reached for my rubber thongs.
I never did wear them.
Three days later, I received a parcel from a good friend. It wasn’t my birthday. It wasn’t Christmas. As I tore open the wrapping, I wondered why she had sent me a gift for no reason.
Inside was a pair of strappy, colourful, mould-resistant shoes. Perfect fit. Identical to Anne’s.
Afterwards I rang my friend who lived in an outback country town in the Northern Territory.
“But why?!” I said, tears spilling down my face.
“Oh I was walking along the main street of town and when I saw these shoes in the window, the Holy Spirit said to me, “Buy these for Tania, she needs them.”
(M.A.Min, B.Ed, Cert. IV TAA)