The Barefoot Army

I’ve been enjoying an audio book this month called 1776, by David McCullough.  There were so many interesting things for me to learn about this time period which I had only a slight knowledge of before.  As an amateur historian, it was fascinating to learn of how absolutely dire the situation was for our young country in those first months after the Declaration of Independence.  It is a wonder that our country survived the year at all.  The first few engagements between the better trained, better disciplined, and better paid British army against the underfed, under-trained, and outnumbered Continental army, were disastrous for the Americans.  It was one defeat after another, and one distressing retreat after another.  I had always pictured the American army in blue uniforms, tricorn hats, with starch-white leggings – like all the pictures.  In truth, in 1776, they wore the clothes of their trades: farmers, merchants, blacksmiths and fishermen.  They hardly looked like, or even acted like an army, as so few of them were actual trained soldiers.     

By the end of that year, most of the Continental Congress had fled Philadelphia, as had many of its inhabitants, so certain were they that the English were about to invade the capital city.  The dispirited, tattered American army had endured so many retreats that they had marched themselves right out of their shoes, and there were many soldiers who had to go barefoot for want of replacement footwear.  Some of the common folk in the towns and villages would turn out to witness the retreating army stomp through their countryside, only to see a trail of blood stains on the ground (or mud, or snow) because so many of the soldiers had cuts and sores on their tired, aching bare feet.   It was quite a pitiful thing to see.      

This image has been the backdrop to my month as I have noted the many bags and boxes of shoes that have been accumulating here at Family of Christ, ready to be collected up by the agency, Soles 4 Souls.  The staff is quite ready for the September drive to be over simply so we can reclaim valuable hallway space for our many other ministries and programs.  Now, in truth, we’re quite happy with your faithful response and all these donations of shoes.  It’s hard for any of us to imagine, but the lack of footwear in some parts of our world cause many problems for kids who need shoes to go to school, or adults needing them to walk to work, or other folks needing them just to get their regular chores done.  Our donations of excess shoes from our closets will make such a big difference to people in need.   Each of us doing a little can together make a larger impact.  Now that’s one of the descriptions for what it means to belong to a church.  Each of us sharing a little of who we are, combining our resources, working together for a greater good.  We hope to create the spiritual synergy needed to have God utilize us as the Lord’s own hands and feet.  Plus, it feels so wonderful when we throw our efforts together to experience a transformative outcome.  Hebrews 10:24 says “Let us stir up one another to love and good deeds!”  Now isn’t that yet another good description of church?   Do you want to know how 1776 ended?  After countless losses and retreats, and with General George Washington’s top two generals conspiring to see him removed for obviously not being up for the task, the situation was next to hopeless.  Thomas Paine wrote on Dec. 23 this famous phrase, “These are the times that try men’s souls.”  At this lowest point is when the wily Washington choose to strike.  The main force of the British army retired to New York City for comfortable winter quarters, for their gentlemen officers did not care to wage war in wintertime – that being considered uncivilized. 

This was precisely when Washington hatching the daring idea to cross the Delaware River in and around Trenton, NJ to go on the offensive.  There were ice chunks afloat in the water, but in silence and in darkness, the day after Christmas, they crossed the river and marched forward this time, not in retreat.  By morning’s light they arrived and attacked garrison of Hessian soldiers that the British had left to guard the town.  (Hessians were professional soldiers-for-hire from a region of Germany.)  In a short time, the whole thing was over with a few hundred Hessians fleeing, and 900 of them surrendering.       

As battles go, it was a minor victory.  But as it was the first real victory on the field of battle, it was an incredible morale booster for the American army, and the entire young nation.  The road ahead would be filled with more dangers and set-backs, but now everyone, from General George Washington down to the lowest private in the ranks, actually harbored a hope that they could quite possibly prevail.   Thought you might like a little history today with your pondering!  This Sunday there is so much to experience from dedicating a new cross, to welcoming our new Preschool Director, to running/walking the 5K, plus the next all-church musical reveal, and enjoying a church Oktoberfest picnic…oh and, of course, three worship services where we’ll learn about taking care of others.     

Let’s see each other in church!    – Pastor Josh

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