Here is the story that is circling the world, by the Rev. Daniel Buttry, a popular author and an international peacemaker for American Baptist Churches. His latest book is Blessed Are the Peacemakers. You’ll also find Dan in our 2012 July 4 series on 13 great Americans.
As he travels and talks about his work, Dan tells about a day that socks—simple socks—changed his awareness of God’s calls in our world.
Here is Dan’s original story …
We Are the Socks
By DANIEL L BUTTRY
I was packing—as I have packed for trips countless times throughout my life. It’s what I do, like most of us turn off an alarm clock, get dressed and grab a cup of coffee before heading to work. My preparations were automatic, well-honed from decades of circling the world. This time, I was heading to Liberia, where I have worked a number of times—but this time …
This time turned out to be different. And, it started with that clear verbal instruction I heard in my mind: “Pack some extra socks.” Now, you know that I am a Baptist minister and I pray regularly, but believe me: I’m not used to hearing such clear verbal instructions. And this one was so odd! Of all the answers to prayer I could have received, come on: Pack extra socks!?! But, the message was so clear. And I noticed that I had a little extra space in my bag. So, I did it. I packed more socks.
In Liberia I conducted a series of conflict transformation workshops. The last workshop was a two-day training at Providence Baptist Church in the center of the capital city of Monrovia. During a break, a young man came up to me to talk more intensely about some of the content in the training. We later had lunch together, and following the lunch we were hanging out in the workshop room. At some point he mentioned that he walked to church—he was a member at Providence as well as attending the workshop. I asked where he lived, and he said “New Georgia.” New Georgia! I knew where that was, a community way outside of town. He walked two hours one way, then two hours back, twice a week. He’d walked two hours to get to my workshop that day!
Then he took off his shoes. In all my travels I’ve never had anyone take off their shoes to show me their feet. In many cultures people take off their shoes or sandals before coming inside a room as a sign of respect, but this young man removed his shoes in the middle of our conversation to show me his feet. They were covered with sores. He had the hard leather dress shoes my parents used to make me wear to church decades ago—and no socks.
The next day was this man’s birthday. Finally, I could see the meaning of that voice in my head! I was able to give him many socks, some anti-biotic cream for his sores, and adhesive bandages to cover the wounds until they healed. I was stunned at the kindness of God to care for this man’s hurting feet, a man who walked two hours to church on wounded feet with hard shoes and no socks. I was brought half-way around the world to meet a need. Just as God cares for the birds of the air and the flowers of the field, God was caring for this man.
But I was haunted by what happened. I was training among people who had been traumatized by a vicious war that left over 100,000 dead and countless people homeless. How could God care about this man getting socks when so many had lost their lives? Thousands who survived the conflict needed far more profound care than socks. Was God straining out a gnat of need and letting a camel of misery go down the drain? My initial celebration of discovering a need for the socks quickly soured under these searing questions and the reality of the overwhelming suffering in Liberia.
Quite a while later, I was in a worship service at my home church—just coming as I was into the presence of the Lord. Like that first silent voice, another message slipped very clearly into my mind: “You are the socks.” God knew about the need of all those traumatized by the war. God had me take the socks to a man who needed them to show that God knows and cares intimately about our pains and our lives. But it was not about socks. It was about my call. God knows the profound scarring and damage from the war, and all the other wars on our planet. There are people in need, and I am called to be socks to cover those wounds, to aid in the healing process. I am the socks.
Of course, it’s not all on me. Many other people are called to help in the conflicts in Liberia, Kenya, India, Burma, Georgia, Lebanon, Mexico, the Philippines and so many other places. Each person in his or her own way can open themselves to such a call, not knowing how or where it may come. Calls may take a multitude of forms. You might hear a voice like I heard about the socks, but that kind of experience is very rare in my own life. A call may come simply in the moment that something mundane suddenly is made clear to you.
A call can come to any one of us—at any time. And, if we are aware of it, then we must respond.
One thing I have learned: We’re all the socks in some way.
Do you know the need God has created you to cover and to ease?
Want more inspiring stories by Daniel Buttry? Dan is the international peace trainer and negotiator for American Baptist Churches. He circles the globe helping to build healthier communities in the midst of dangerous conflicts. Dan’s latest book is Blessed Are the Peacemakers, including stories of dozens of men and women who risked their lives on behalf of peace.