The 9-year-old girl broke through a long line of boys to reach Gen. John Bradley.
Pleading in Farsi, she pointed at his feet.
Her name was Lamia, an interpreter told the general, and she wanted a pair of boots like the ones on his feet.
“It was winter, and she was wearing sandals,” Bradley said. “I told her I was sorry I didn’t have any boots, but I promised I would try to get her some.”
At the time, Bradley was a three-star lieutenant general in the U.S. Air Force, commander of the Air Force Reserve Command and a member of the Church of Christ in Falls Church, Va. He had traveled to the remote village of Shakarak, Afghanistan, north of Kabul, to distribute relief supplies.
He had seen the primitive living conditions of the people on trips to Afghanistan as he checked on some of the 76,000 airmen under his command. He visited refugee camps containing tens of thousands of people living in tents — displaced by three decades of war.
Faithful to his promise, Bradley and his wife, Jan, sent clothing, blankets and four different sizes of boots for Lamia and her family.
“We were deeply touched, and we knew we had to do something,” Jan Bradley said. MEETING GREAT NEED
For the Bradleys, “something” became the Lamia Afghan Foundation — a nonprofit dedicated to providing for needy children and families in Afghanistan.
The couple co-founded the charity last year, as John Bradley, 63, retired from the Air Force after a 41-year military career. They moved to Nashville, Tenn., where they attend the Hillsboro Church of Christ.
In less than two years, the Lamia Afghan Foundation has shipped nearly 250,000 pounds of supplies to Afghanistan — including school supplies, clothing, blankets and medical and pharmaceutical equipment.
Jan Bradley, 61, works at her computer or on the telephone 10 to 12 hours per day, making people aware of the needs of the Afghans, her husband said.
Those needs are great, he added. Decades of war have left 1.4 million orphaned children — many missing legs or arms due to buried land mines. With limited shelter, they must endure the country’s extreme temperatures. Some parts of Afghanistan reach 120 degrees Fahrenheit in the summer. Winter lows drop into the teens.
Last November the foundation sponsored a Winter Warmth drive in three locations — Washington, D.C., Texas and California. More than 70,000 pounds of clothing and other usable items were collected and shipped to Afghanistan at no cost through a State Department program that allows the foundation to use available space on military planes and ships.
The gifts came from individuals, thrift shops, Afghan-Americans, companies and churches, including the Falls Church congregation.
Mike Tune, the church’s minister, believes the foundation will open doors of opportunity in the Muslim nation as Afghans become aware that those who are helping their people are Christians.
“The Lamia Foundation is not a religious organization. It is a relief organization,” he said. “But it is religiously motivated by Christ’s call to feed the hungry and clothe the naked.
“No one meeting John and Jan ever goes away from them unaware that they are Christians and that Christ motivates them.”
Gail Wilson, a member of the Fairfax, Va., church, serves as treasurer of the foundation’s eight-member board of directors. Her husband served in Iraq with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. She wanted a way to help innocent victims in war-torn countries.
“When you meet the Bradleys, you know they are people who can make a difference when they work on a project,” she said. “They have poured themselves wholeheartedly into this work,” HEARTS, MINDS AND SCHOOLS
Despite the economic downturn, Lamia Afghan Foundation continues to receive donations from churches, schools and corporations including Opryland Hotel, Crocs shoes and the American Red Cross.
The foundation also partners with three church-supported relief ministries — Nashville-based Healing Hands International, Fort Worth, Texas-based Rapha International and Global Samaritan Resources of Abilene, Texas.
“Nobody says no to us,” John Bradley said. “Even in tough economic times, people really want to give.”
The Bradleys see their work as more than a relief effort.
“Although we play a tiny part, this aid builds trust with Afghan people and helps the military mission,” Jan Bradley said.
That mission has become increasingly difficult in recent months, as Taliban-led forces have increased attacks against U.S. and NATO troops.
U.S. leaders, meanwhile, debate the merits of continuing the 8-year-old war, which is losing support among the American public.
“In order to be successful, more than a military effort is required,” John Bradley said. “Government reform, expanded educational opportunities and economic development are essential to a successful strategy.”
The Bradleys hope to expand the foundation’s work to include construction of schools.
Afghanistan’s education minister, Farooq Wardak, has agreed to provide the land and teachers, if the foundation will raise funds to build the schools.
When funds are raised, the foundation plans to break ground on its first schoolhouse in the village of Shakarak — where a brave girl named Lamia once asked John Bradley for shoes.
The Afghans “are a peaceful, courageous, warm, kind and hospitable people, who have had so much adversity during the last 30 years of war,” Jan Bradley said. “They deserve better.”
For more information or to contribute to the Lamia Afghan Foundation, see www.lamia-afghanfoundation.org.