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10-year-old’s passion: serving others

EDITORS’ NOTE: The following story is part of a monthly Baptist Press series to explore and describe how individuals, churches, associations and conventions exhibit a passion for Christ and His Kingdom.

FRANKLIN, Tenn. (BP)–Erin Oquindo received 99 pairs of shoes and 154 pairs of socks last year for her 9th birthday.

All of which she promptly gave away.

No, Erin isn’t unusually finicky about footwear, nor does she harbor an orthopedic obsession. What she does have is a heart for service.

When Erin invited friends to her birthday party, she told them she didn’t want gifts for herself, but asked them to bring shoes and socks to donate to the Dallas-based charity Shoes for Orphan Souls.

“She didn’t feel like she needed anything, but she knew other people that did,” said Robin Oquindo, Erin’s mother. “She never thinks about herself; it’s the way she’s always been -– it’s just the way God made her.”

It is also just one of many mission projects in which Erin has participated.

Braided pigtails and smudged Puma sneakers give every indication that Erin, who celebrated her 10th birthday in September, is an average girl excited about reaching “double digits.” But ask her about her extensive charity work, and her dark eyes reflect fond memories of mission projects that outnumber those of people many years her senior.

“It makes me happy,” Erin said, between bites of an after-school peanut butter sandwich. “It honors God and what He did for us.

“I think He feels happy too.”

During just a few short years, Erin has donated her time and efforts to an array of causes including hurricane relief, clothing and food drives, and aid for animals. In spite of an ever-increasing number of extracurricular interests and academic challenges, she has no intention of slowing down.

Erin’s introduction to service came through helping her Sunday School class at ClearView Baptist Church in Franklin, Tenn., hang posters asking people to donate money for mission projects.

Following Hurricane Katrina, Erin found hands-on opportunities to serve through assisting in the relief efforts initiated by her church. That catastrophe also gave rise to Erin’s first charity-focused birthday party.

For her 8th birthday, Erin asked her friends to donate money to the United States Equestrian Federation’s hurricane relief fund. Erin, herself an equine lover and competitive horseback rider, said that like all of her service projects, helping horses connected well with other aspects of her already busy life.

“The secret is that everything has to do with everything else in my life,” Erin said, explaining that her love for horses developed partly through the horseback riding lessons she received for her 7th birthday. “It comes full circle,” she said of the horses and birthdays connection.

That circle also explains the overall motivation behind the service projects in which Erin participates. Doing mission work, she said, is just a natural response to knowing what Christ has done for her.

“He is my Savior and He’s my bridge to God,” said Erin, who was baptized about three years ago. “He died on the cross, so we can do good things.”

Erin said she wants her mission work to help others learn about Jesus, which is one reason her efforts with Shoes for Orphan Souls are close to her heart.

Her 9th birthday party was only the beginning of Erin’s relationship with Shoes for Orphan Souls, an organization devoted to providing “new shoes and socks to orphans and at-risk children in the United States and throughout the world.”

Her involvement continued last summer as she helped promote Shoes for Orphan Souls as the 2007 Vacation Bible School mission project at ClearView.

Because he knew of Erin’s previous involvement with the organization, ClearView children’s minister Shane Pass asked her to help him motivate other VBS students and to serve as spokesperson for the mission project. It was a role that required Erin to speak before a group of her peers and appear as a guest on a radio show.

“She isn’t typical,” said Pass, who has known Erin for about seven years. “She has an amazing temperament for missions.”

Pass is quick to commend Erin’s mother and father, Ruel, for their encouragement and support of her service projects, saying that they “get her opportunities to be involved.”

While Erin’s mother acknowledges that the service projects are a family affair, she also points out that Erin’s participation is self-motivated. “We [Erin’s parents] don’t think it’s a selfless, charitable act if you force someone to do it. We just stand behind her and do our best to make it happen when she comes up with these ideas.”

Erin’s mother said that part of their role as parents is to help Erin understand the entire process of the mission projects.

“We try very hard to do the whole thing,” her mother said. “We buy shoes, we help collect them and we’re there to help load the truck as well.”

So far, Erin has participated in nearly every aspect of a Shoes for Orphan Souls collection drive that gathered 15,000-plus pairs of shoes for the ministry. She badly wants to take the next step: to travel overseas with the shoes and put them on a child’s feet while sharing the story of Jesus.

Her parents are willing for that to happen once Erin is a little older. For now, Erin is always on the lookout for the next local project. She said she and her mom work through ClearView, Moody Radio and other connections to seek out missions opportunities.

Having just completed the VBS mission project that garnered 261 pairs of shoes and 605 pairs of socks, Erin decided to take a break and celebrate her 10th birthday quietly without the now-traditional philanthropic party.

But the break will be short-lived. Erin’s forthcoming autumn and Christmas projects already are on her mind. Kans4Kids, an effort benefiting the Tennessee Baptist Children’s Home, is likely up next and the season of Operation Christmas Child probably will follow.

Even though Erin’s favorite part of the mission work is seeing the array of items that people donate and the support they provide -– including the staffs of Moody Radio affiliates in Nashville and Chattanooga — there is really only one thing she wants people to know through the efforts.

“Jesus loves you.”
Brooklyn Noel, who wrote this story on assignment for Baptist Press, is a corporate communications specialist at LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention.

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  • Brooklyn Noel