By Brian Koonce
PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti – George “The Shoeman” Hutchings is known for turning old shoes into water well-drilling rigs in sub-Saharan Africa, but after the 7.0 earthquake that devastated Haiti, he’s turned his efforts to the recovering Caribbean nation.
Hutchings, a member of Ballwin Baptist Church, has been collecting old shoes and selling them by the pound since 1998. Last year he collected nearly 200,000 pairs. At about a pound per pair, Hutchins sells them for 35 cents a pound. Until the Jan. 12 earthquake, he had been focusing on raising money to provide wells in Kenya. This time he’s focusing on a portable backpack system that takes water – which is more readiliy available in Haiti – and purifies it.
“You can’t drill right after there’s been an earthquake,” he said. “It changes the aquifers and aftershocks can ruin your bore holes. So we found this equipment that runs on solar power, boils it, collects the steam and condenses it back into clean, purified water.”
Hutchings partnered with Edge Outreach, a water ministry based in Louisville, Ky., to travel to Haiti with ten of the backpack units, capable of purifying up to 1,000 gallons of water each day.
Regardless of the method used to get clean water to people in need, Hutchings is very careful to draw the connection between the immediate physical need for water and man’s need for the true “living water.”
“If I can provide water, it provides health, sanitation, water for garden, for their good,” he said. “It changes the entire economy of the village and eliminates a long walk and provides safety. That’s my springboard to preach the Gospel, because Jesus is the fountain of living water. It’s a natural transition.
Hutchings said collecting shoes is great for children’s ministries, especially Vacation Bible Schools. Ballwin Baptist had “Shoeless Sunday” April 11, when people were encouraged to give the shoes they wore to church that day and go home barefoot. There are drop off locations around the state, but if there is not one near a church, Hutchings said he is more than willing to come pick them up. For more information or to contact Hutchings, go to www.shoeman.org.