Faith & Service

Massive Shoe Drive Aims to Save Lives in the Congo

By Drew Menard, June 1, 2017

EDITOR’S NOTE: Serving others is one of Liberty’s longest-standing traditions. This story is part of a “Love Thy Neighbor” series about the many projects through which students display selfless service as they strive to follow in the footsteps of Jesus and obey His greatest commandment: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”

A student’s dream, a graduate’s passion, and an NBA star’s generosity:

In July, representatives from Liberty University will travel to the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) to bring thousands of people one of the most cherished gifts they will ever receive — a pair of sneakers.

Each year in America, countless shoes sit collecting dust in the backs of closets. But Liberty aims to make sure they are put to good use. In the DRC, shoes are hard to come by, but they can literally save lives by safeguarding against infections transmitted through the soil.

The trip is being made possible through one of the largest collection drives in Liberty’s history. In March, students collected new and gently used shoes, bringing them to a packed Vines Center for Convocation where NBA superstar Steph Curry joined them in the cause. In all, 20,000 pairs of shoes were collected, and $10,000 was raised.

The project combined the visions of two ambitious dreamers, worlds apart, who came together at their alma mater to do something incredible.

Emmanuel Ntibonera
Liberty graduate and current M.B.A. student

Emmanuel Ntibonera (left) and Chris Strachan

In 2000, Emmanuel Ntibonera, his parents, and eight younger siblings fled their homeland, the DRC, to escape what would become the bloodiest conflict since World War II. (More than 5.4 million died there in the Second Congo War between 1998 and 2008.)

“We had to leave the country,” he recalled. “There was so much killing; it just wasn’t safe for us, being a family, and my dad was a preacher. We (became) eternally displaced, moving from one place to another, looking for safety, traveling miles and miles just to seek refuge.”

The family lived as refugees for nine years in Kenya, where they struggled daily just to get by, before being granted asylum in the United States.

Since coming to America, Ntibonera has earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Health Promotion from Liberty (2016) and is working on a Master of Business Administration. He also founded a nonprofit ministry, the Ntibonera Foundation, and travels the country with his siblings, leading worship at churches and conferences.

But even as he built a good life in the Land of Opportunity, Ntibonera was troubled for his homeland.

“During the war when I was running, my family and everybody, we were told: ‘Just keep going forward. Don’t think about what is going on behind you,’” Ntibonera said. “God is telling me now: ‘Look behind you.’”

Ntibonera returned to the Congo in 2014 with his father and two of his brothers. He was struck by how much his people were still suffering. Liberty’s Intramural Sports department had supplied him with 350 T-shirts and 200 jackets, and Ntibonera used money he had saved to provide food to villagers. Knowing that much of the relief coming into the country never makes it to the communities that need it most, he vowed to return to do more.

Back in the U.S., Ntibonera and his family began collecting shoes as they ministered across the country. After two years and 10,000 pairs of shoes — which took over entire rooms in the family’s house — he knew he would need help getting them across the ocean.

Ntibonera asked Liberty Senior Vice President for Spiritual Development David Nasser if the university would help him ship the shoes overseas. Nasser caught the vision and offered to do more — he wanted to help double the collection. Nasser connected him with alumnus Chris Strachan (’11), and the project grew bigger than even Ntibonera could have imagined.

Chris ‘CoSeezy’ Strachan
Liberty graduate, founder of Kick’n It

As a Liberty student, Chris Strachan learned the value of hard work. The New York native worked as a team manager for the men’s basketball team from 2007-11, handing out water and washing uniforms. But he soon caught the eye of Head Coach Ritchie McKay in 2008. McKay saw something special in him and offered him a position helping to welcome recruits to campus and creating video scouting reports.

One of those new players was Flames freshman standout Seth Curry, who currently plays in the NBA with the Dallas Mavericks. Strachan became friends with Curry and his family, including his brother Stephen, now a two-time NBA MVP with the Golden State Warriors.

Since graduating from Liberty with a degree in sport management, Strachan has launched Kick’n It, a platform to unite people through an affinity for footwear, pop culture, and community service — all things he is passionate about. Strachan organizes community events and gives celebrities in sports, fashion, music, and film a way to give back. Stephen and Seth Curry are members of Kick’n It’s advisory board.

The brand debuted with a “Kickback” event in Sacramento, Calif., partnering with a local YMCA and collecting over 500 pairs of sneakers for underprivileged inner-city kids. Members of the Sacramento Kings, as well as Steph Curry and his wife, Food Network chef Ayesha Curry, showed up to sign merchandise and play games with the guests. A follow-up event in Oakland involved distributing clothing and 200 meals to the homeless.

“I want to build people up,” Strachan said. “I want to use the things I love to put smiles on people’s faces. Coach McKay used to always say, ‘Speak life.’ That stayed with me.”

Students volunteered to help pack thousands of shoes donated during Liberty’s Kickn’ It For A Cause Convocation.

After meeting Ntibonera, Strachan agreed to help organize a “Kick’n It For A Cause” Convocation at Liberty on March 1. A social media campaign, in the vein of the Ice Bucket Challenge, invited students — and their friends and families across the country — to donate a pair of new or gently used sneakers. Stephen Curry attended the Convocation, where he spoke in support of the drive and brought 1,000 pairs of Under Armour shoes with him. Nike, Liberty’s basketball sponsor, sent 500 pairs.

For Ntibonera, being in the Vines Center that day was overwhelming.

“When I saw everything happening, I was just praising God the whole time,” Ntibonera said. “This is God … this has nothing to do with me. It was just unbelievable.”

Curry even shot some hoops to raise money, joining his mother, Sonya, his wife, Ayesha, Strachan, McKay, Ntibonera, and Liberty President Jerry Falwell. The students erupted with cheers when Falwell sunk his shot.

Students volunteered to help pack thousands of shoes donated during Liberty’s Kickn’ It For A Cause Convocation.

The shoes have been stored at the headquarters of a nearby relief organization, Gleaning For The World, where students volunteered to help pack them.

Ntibonera and Strachan will join Nasser and Josh Rutledge, Liberty’s vice president for Spiritual Development, in the Congo to deliver the shoes this summer. While this venture is sure to leave long-lasting footprints, both in the Congo and at Liberty, it is just the beginning for these young Champions for Christ who want to continue making an impact on the world.

More “Love Thy Neighbor” stories:

A Day of Service
LUCOM, School of Nursing Hold Community Clinics in Guatemala
Reaching Out to the Local Community
Disaster Relief Teams Make National and Global Impact
Student-Athletes Put Service Projects in Motion


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