AG Missionaries Featured on Returning the Favor Program
It was supposed to be a documentary. At least that’s what Kelly and Alisa Ward, AG U.S. missionaries with Missionary Church Planters and Developers
, were led to believe. But when TV star Mike Rowe showed up during the filming of the “documentary,” they suddenly realized something else was going on.
Rowe, an American television host and narrator, is known for the Discovery Channel series, Dirty Jobs
, and the CNN series, Somebody's Gotta Do It
. But his latest endeavor is a series produced for Facebook, called Returning the Favor
. In this series, Rowe travels the country finding people doing good for others and then he does something good for them.
The Wards were secretly nominated by Alisa’s step-mother, Becky Alford, and then selected for the show, but the Wards didn’t have a clue what was really taking place.
Kelly and Alisa, high school sweethearts, have been married 30 years. Involved in ministry most of their lives, the two have worked with children and youth as well as served as associate and senior pastors of churches. They have also served as South Texas district missionaries to inner-city San Antonio.
In 2003, the couple became U.S. missionaries, initially working with KidCare America, an after-school ministry. In 2007, they began working with Rural Compassion — ministering to small churches in rural communities.
While ministering with Rural Compassion, which encourages pastors and resources small churches and their outreach efforts, a church inquired about providing shoes for school children who desperately needed them. The request was fulfilled.
However, this exception became the norm – more and more churches became aware of the need for new shoes by school children until fulfilling their requests for shoes consumed much of the Ward’s time and effort.
In 2011, Sole Mission
became its own standalone ministry with the Wards leading it. They give away thousands of shoes a year.
Kelly explains that Sole Mission doesn’t have a shoe manufacturer donating all the shoes, but instead they rely on donations from individuals and churches and support from programs such as Boys and Girls Missionary Challenge (BGMC
) and Speed the Light (STL
) — as well as Alisa’s thrifty shopping.
“I never pay more than $5 for a pair of shoes,” Alisa says.
When Rowe’s producers heard about the thousands of children that Sole Mission supplies with new shoes on an annual basis, they wanted to know more. After several phone conversations and an online interview, an assistant producer paid the Wards a visit at their Conroe, Texas, office and warehouse — a former church donated by the South Texas district to their ministry.
“They [the show] lied to us,” Kelly says with a laugh. “They said they were from a small documentary company and heard about us, so they were considering doing a documentary on us to help us with exposure.”
Shortly after the visit, the Wards received a call informing them that Sole Mission had been selected — a film crew would arrive in early March to document their ministry.
March 5th arrived and that’s when things started to get even more unpredictable.
The Wards, with the help of a church, set up a shoe distribution at a local preschool — the documentary crew was running late in arriving and the last group of kids, who had not yet received their shoes, were getting restless.
As Alisa was finally given the go-ahead by the assistant producer to start bringing the kids in from the hallway for their fitting and shoes, she suddenly realizes that Mike Rowe was just feet from her.
“Instead of freaking out because there’s a celebrity standing in the hallway, I was trying to be professional because I was on a documentary,” Alisa says, laughing about Rowe’s comment on the video that he’s never been ignored by an honoree before. “I realized right then, things were much different than we thought, but I still had no idea what was going to happen.”
For Kelly, when he realized Rowe was there, he was thinking how huge it would be for awareness purposes to have a celebrity endorsement – potentially bringing in extra resources to get more shoes, reach more kids, and further their mission.
However, Sole Mission’s purpose is not only to provide new shoes for kids, but to create an opportunity for families and the local church to connect and start a relationship.
“You have a family of three or four kids, waiting to be fitted, so they’ll be there 30 to 45 minutes trying to find the right shows for each child,” he explains. “That gives the volunteer the time to get to know family, hear what’s going on, and speak into lives.”
Although the Wards were excited about what they believed was to be an endorsement for their ministry by Rowe, their belief undershot reality — and then some.
The crew spent three solid days with the Wards, learning how their ministry worked and how they served people.
Maxine Taylor, the producer for the episode, was impressed.
“I think Kelly and Alisa are so effective in what they do because they are so humble and giving, and they are completely dedicated to helping children,” Taylor states. “By just being around them, it makes you want to do more. Their energy and drive is so inspiring . . . I’m just amazed by everything they have done.”
Toward the end of the filming, as the Wards were asked to give the camera crew a walking tour of Conroe for some “B-roll” (filler) footage, the camera man asked the Wards to walk out into the middle of the street with him.
Unknown to the Wards, Rowe and Taylor, who had left the group earlier, had been secretly working with a local company to create a Sole Mission-themed parade float. As the Wards reluctantly stepped into the street, the float was headed toward them surrounded by dozens of family members, friends, and supporters cheering for the Wards.
As the two groups came together, Rowe revealed that Sole Mission was going to be featured on Returning the Favor
. And in returning the favor, Rowe’s team had secured donations of 10,000 pairs of socks from Bombas and 1,000 pairs of shoes from PLAE for Sole Mission — a gift valued at over $200,000. In addition, Rowe presented a check for $25,000 to the Wards.
“I didn’t know what to say,” Alisa says. “I still get emotional when I think about it. It’s incredible to think somebody would do that for us.”
Since the show posted
on June 17, it has more than one million views. The Wards have heard from several people interested in either volunteering or helping to provide resources and have accepted interviews with a local TV network and some radio stations. In the next two months, prior to school starting, the Wards are expecting to place new shoes — and socks — on the feet of about 10,000 kids.
“Every year, we keep saying yes to churches when we don’t have the shoes or the resources,” Alisa says, “and God keeps providing and doing His part — God has just blown us away! I can’t imagine what He’s going to do next.”