A Shoe Shine

“Shine ’em up real nice and I’ll pay you good.”

Scrawny, 9-year-old Moises reached into his backpack and slowly pulled out a rusty paint can, his brown and black shoe polishes, and some old buffing rags. I can’t imagine what was running through his little mind as Neal sat down on the stone bench and plopped a heavy boot up on the bucket for Moises to begin his work.


“How long have you been at this today?” Neal curiously asked. “Since 7 o’clock,” Moises replied matter-of-factly.

It was late into the afternoon. People walked by, staring, smiling, even begging.

“How many customers have you had?” Without making eye contact, Moises answered quietly, “You’re my first one today.” He silently began cleaning Neal’s boots.

“Do you live with your parents?” was the next question. “No. With my grandma.”

Moises gingerly retied the shoe strings, added some polish, rubbed the color in with his index finger, and then buffed it all out.

Neal leaned forward. “You’re a hard worker, you know. I like that in a man. It’s important to work hard. You’re making a difference for your family in the right way. You’re not begging. And you’re not sitting back and just hoping things will work out.”


Moises looked up. He gave the tiniest head nod in acknowledgement as he soaked in Neal’s words. Then he started working on the second boot.

Conversation drifted in and out. Neal told Moises about a work accident he’d endured years before. He’d cut off the tip of his thumb working hard on a job. Moises grimaced and shook his head. “You know what I’ve learned over the years, Moises? Never give up. Don’t ever quit doing the right thing, even if it’s hard to continue.”

A few minutes later, Moises gave Neal’s foot a pat as if to say he was finished. Neal inspected the boots. With a smile and a nod, he handed Moises his pesos and told him to keep up the good work. That little boy watched us as we walked back to our car, pulled away, and blended into the evening traffic.

What a small intersection in time. The gospel wasn’t given. Not in so many words. But a message full of wisdom and encouragement and love was passed from man to boy on the park sidewalk in the middle of San Pedro.

Maybe I’m being too optimistic or hopeful when I witness these simple moments. Maybe I romanticize the little things in life too often. But I can’t help but dream of the miraculous change that could take place in the life of Moises if God becomes the master of his ways.

Right now, Moises’s easel is his old, dented paint bucket. His paints are some cheap, colored shoe polishes. And his brushes are those old, cut-up rags he keeps in his little red bookbag.

Maybe one day, Moises will paint more than shoes.  Maybe someday, he’ll create gorgeous pictures for his customers – word pictures of God’s great love and mercy and grace and provision in his life. Maybe his conversation with Neal was a starting point. Or maybe some other Christ-follower will cross his path and show him the height and depth and richness of a Savior’s love.

I think that’s what I love so much about working with our little pre-schoolers. We don’t have to hope and pray for God to send us “shoe-shine” moments – although He still does. The amazing part is that we get to witness God transforming lives right before our very eyes. Every single day.

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