No one is really sure how many shoeshine boys work the streets of Chichicastenango, but estimates reach into the 50s.
Sometimes these boys start working to make a few dimes worth of profit when they are as young as the age of five. They wander the streets with a small wooden box of shoe shining supplies looking at each pair of shoes they pass by. Calls of “Lustre!” and “Shooshine!” (for the tourists) ring out across the street when they find a dirty pair of leather shoes. The owner of those shoes can look down into the dirty faces of several boys vying for the opportunity to transform those dirty boots into mirror-like beauties.
Standing on the narrow sidewalks of this market town high in the Guatemalan highlands on the edge of the Sierra Madre Mountian Range, I have chatted away with many of these boys like Mauricio, Tomas, Juan, and Mario. They talk about their dreams, their classes at school and the lack of customers.
These hardworking boys often are trying to make money to help their families, have enough money to send themselves to school, or to help pay for food for their family’s next meal. Still, these boys often have dreams. They want to be engineers, teachers, run a shop of their own someday, or move away and work in a bread factory. Each one is different but none that I’ve asked see themselves shining shoes for the rest of their lives.
I’ve seen these boys grow over the past five years and move from the job of shoeshine to selling gum or fruit and on to other jobs like selling chicken, or riding as assistant on the public mini buses–little steps on their way to making their dream come true.
I know former shoeshine boys who are grown and now are pastors or have worked for successful organizations. While dreams help keep these boys moving forward, it helps to have someone come along side them and give them a boost.
That’s Where Jesus Comes In
Shortly before Christmas this year, a group of Guatemalans and a few Americans teamed up to hold a special event for the shoeshine boys at the band shell in the central park in Chichicastenango. They sent out a few of the group to tell the shoeshine boys about the event and 33 boys showed up to check things out.
After a few games and songs, I had the privilege of talking with the boys. I told them about how our lives are like a pair of old shoes (holding up my dirty boots). We need help with our lives just like the shoes they search for on the street need help, I explained. However, no matter how much wax or shine we put on our “old shoes” they still need more help. That’s where Jesus comes in. The blood of Christ not only washes away the dirt of sin, but Jesus makes us new creations. At that point, Hudson, my four-year-old son, and I opened a Christmas present box and pulled out a shiny boots that I put on in front of them as I talked. I had their attention. I could see that I was speaking their language and they understood what Christ does for us.
We continued the shoeshine outreach with a local pastor sharing about how he had been a shoeshine boy and a time of praying with the boys. Then we served a meal and sent the boys out with a bag of supplies like extra shoe wax and a toothbrush and toothpaste.
We hope to make this part of a bigger picture of outreaches to help these boys avoid being sucked into the alcoholism and darker side of the streets they wander every day by filling their lives with the light of Christ and real relationship with Him.
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