SPRINGFIELD, MO — Evangel University graduate Kelly Ward and his wife, Alisa, recently received a surprise visit from Mike Rowe, actor and TV host best known for the show “Dirty Jobs” on the Discovery Channel.
What they didn’t know was that Rowe now hosts a web-based show called “Returning the Favor,” and they were about to become his featured guests. The format of the show is simple — Rowe “travels the country in search of remarkable people making a difference,” and then he helps them.
The Facebook Watch page for Returning the Favor has more than 2.3 million followers. Within two weeks, the 25-minute episode featuring the Wards, “Shoes for Kids” (S3:E13), was seen by more than 1 million viewers and shared more than 7,000 times.
“It is really overwhelming to think of over a million people watching us and what we do,” said Alisa.
What they do
The Wards are what some might call non-traditional missionaries. Their work is done in the U.S., and their primary outreach is providing shoes to kids in poverty through a program called Sole Mission.
“It’s absolutely incredible to give a child their first brand-new pair of shoes,” Alisa said to Rowe, while the video showed excited pre-school children jumping up and down. “Their faces light up. And they tell you, they feel better than anything they’ve had on their feet before.”
Through hard work, careful shopping and the generosity of others, the Wards have given away nearly a half-million pairs of shoes over the past 11 years.
“We raise the money to buy all of these shoes,” Alisa said, explaining that they travel and speak at different churches and civic organizations, and she never pays more than $5 for a pair.
On the show, Rowe looked at her, did the calculation in his head and said, “That’s two-and-a-half million dollars!”
“Yeah,” she said with a soft smile and a nod.
Kelly and Alisa have been married for 30 years. They lived in Springfield, Missouri, for 14 years before moving back to Texas in 2018.
Kelly completed his bachelor’s degree through Evangel University’s College of Adult & Graduate Studies in 2008 and then earned his master’s degree in counseling from the Assemblies of God Theological Seminary of Evangel in 2010.
In addition to their work with children, he is a grief counselor and serves as an online adjunct instructor in Evangel’s Behavioral & Social Sciences Department.
The episode starts out in a school near Houston, Texas, where the beauty of their ministry unfolds. While there, Rowe talked with a grateful mom and helped her children select a new pair of sneakers, before he and his crew visited the Sole Mission’s base of operation in Conroe.
Following an elaborate and somewhat humorous series of events, Kelly and Alisa were presented with 1,000 pair of PLAE shoes, as well as 10,000 pair of socks from Bombas — gifts worth in excess of $200,000.
But wait, there’s more — Rowe then presented the Wards with a check for $25,000 to help with their ministry.
With tears flowing, the show ends with Alisa saying to the family and friends gathered, “Thank you to everyone who has come along side of us to help kids, and help them from the soles of their feet to the souls of their hearts.”
Three weeks later
Reflecting on the show and the exposure it has brought to Sole Mission, Kelly said, “We believed with increased exposure, there would be increased interest in what we do. We believed our financial donations would go up, but on the flip side, we knew requests for shoes would go up as well.”
Part of that equation has come true.
“So far, we have had many inquiries from churches and organizations around the country who want to partner with us to distribute shoes in their communities.”
With continued interest and exposure, they have faith for the finances to meet the needs. The Wards have radio interviews scheduled, and in July, they will be on the local WB39 morning show in Houston.
“The biggest response we’ve had is from people wanting to volunteer with Sole Mission,” said Alisa. “In fact, a homeschool mom is coming next week with her homeschool co-op to volunteer. The parents are coming with their children to model service.”
Kelly and Alisa Ward are Assemblies of God U.S. Missionaries with the Church Planters and Developers division. Men and women serving through this division have a focus on the overlooked areas of the country, from the most remote rural communities living in poverty to the highly secular and diverse urban core. One-hundred-percent of donations to the Wards via their Facebook ministry page go to Sole Mission.
Evangel University, with the Assemblies of God Theological Seminary (AGTS), is a comprehensive Christian university committed to excellence in educating and equipping students to serve the church and society globally.
Evangel and AGTS serve more than 2,100 students from all 50 states and numerous foreign countries, offering 70 undergraduate majors and 19 master’s and doctoral degrees.
AG News published a spotlight on Kelly & Alisa Ward, too.