After a long, winding drive through the lush green mountains of Jamaica, we came to a fork in the road. There were no legible signs directing us, so we had to call for directions. We made our turn onto a narrow dirt road and headed down a steep hill. As soon as we rounded the corner, barefoot boys began running along with our van, jumping on it as we got closer to their home. Their big smiles pressed up against our van windows revealing they were eager for visitors. They were ready for us.

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We had arrived at the Mount Olivet Boys Home in Walderston, Manchester, Jamaica. A home for boys between the ages of 7 – 17 who even in their short lives, have faced challenges like abuse, unstable living conditions, or poor behavior. These boys have endured things in life that are unfathomable. But they are here, protected, and together.

With not even a foot on the ground as I went to exit the van, I received waves, smiles, and hugs. We began setting up for our shoe distribution and the crowd quickly grew as boys were curious of the visitors. There was a long, loud line of boys anxiously awaiting interaction with strangers.

I sat down on a pile of old 2’ x 4’s and noticed a few nails and screws from the construction site nearby. I swept them away to protect the little feet that would soon be in front of me. Each boy that sat in front of me had a dream—pilot, soccer star, teacher, pastor. They were proud to tell me about high scores on recent math tests, delighted to talk about their favorite sports, and hungry to be prayed for. So much so, that some boys came back and asked to be prayed for again.

“These boys were starved of a loving, caring, and positive childhood, so this time together was a way to show affection and make them feel like they belong. This is the medicine that they lack growing up in toxic family environments,” said Patrick Newman, Director of Mount Olivet Boys Home.

One boy I served came back several times and sat next to me, each time asking for a wipe. He had gone off to play with his friends and kept getting a little dirt on his shoes. But he wanted to protect them, so he cleaned them after every wear. These shoes meant something to him and he wanted us to know that, too.

“A new pair of shoes for any child is always a joyful experience. However, for the boys here who do not have the love and support of parents and families, this means so much more to them. The smiles and the joy they felt could be seen days after as they continued to wear their shoes with pride. This has impacted their lives tremendously as in most cases they would be barefooted,” said Newman.

They also asked us if we would visit again—because they didn’t want to be forgotten. They wanted to be seen and heard. I’ll never forget what I saw and heard. Their strength and spirit was inspiring. Their gratefulness for a simple pair of shoes and prayer was humbling. Their tender and honest hearts stirred my own heart. And I’ll never forget the boys at Mount Olivet Boys Home.