Shining example: The shoeshine stand that delivers clean water

Leon McLaughlin’s story might make a script for a feel-good kids’ movie.

The plot goes like this: A humble shoeshine man operates from a stand in an important city building. As he shines the shoes of top city officials and business people, he shares his passion for bringing clean water to children around the world.

Although there is skepticism at first, it turns out that the shoeshine man has done his homework. He has traveled to poor countries and discovered that thousands of children die of preventable diseases, such as diarrhea, because they are forced to drink dirty water.

Deeply shaken, he spends his evenings studying water filtration systems on the Internet. He comes up with a method of employing such systems in the developing world without the need for an army of specialist technicians.

The shoeshine man shares all of this with the city bigwigs as he shines their shoes. They are inspired and help him with connections to set up his own non-profit, get technical help, raise money, and partner with a major humanitarian organization.

In the closing scenes of the film, hundreds of thirsty children, who otherwise might die from waterborne disease, are able to gulp down pure, clean water.

Too good to be true? Well, that is precisely what Leon McLaughlin has done.

John Wilson listened to Leon McLaughlin — the man whom he paid to shine his shoes — chatting about his plans to bring clean water to water-starved places around the world. John suggested that Leon approach World Vision with his idea.

To fill in a few blanks: Leon’s non-profit is the Clean Water Foundation; his shoeshine stand is located in the Columbia Center in downtown Seattle; and Leon has partnered with World Vision to install nine water filtration systems in poor communities in Bolivia and Peru.

The incidence of diarrhea among children in some of those communities has dropped by as much as 75 percent. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Start talking to Leon, and he’ll enthusiastically tell you about all sorts of other exciting water projects he’s got going on in places such as Haiti and Nicaragua.

Next month, Leon heads to Dallas to receive the American Water Works Association’s Award of Merit -- a sort of Oscar for people who dedicate their lives so that others can enjoy clean water.

I don’t often watch Joel Osteen on television. But a few months ago, I was idly channel-surfing and paused when I came across him preaching. His theme was “bloom where you are planted,” and his point was that, rather than grumble about our circumstances, we should endeavor to “bloom” -- in particular by becoming an encouragement and help to those around us.

That spoke to me. At the time, a relatively small personal setback had left me discouraged and discontented. When we look at our own lot in life, it’s too easy to mistakenly believe that we have little to offer.

Thank goodness Leon has never had that attitude. He has bloomed where he is planted and is literally changing the world.

I have no doubt that if he can do it, so can we. He is -- excuse the pun -- a shining example to us all.

Can you think of other examples of people like Leon who are "blooming where they are planted"? Share your stories with us!

Make a one-time gift to World Vision's Clean Water Fund. Join Leon in his efforts to bring clean, safe water to those who lack this basic resource. Your donation will help provide interventions like deep wells, piping systems, purification equipment, and more.


    Leon is an amazing mand with a passion to serve. He is that one ripple in the ocean that has sent waves across the world. He didn't wait for things to come to him, he just made things happen. "Where there is a will there is a way" and Leon has proven this...

    Thanks to organizations like World Vision and to individuals like Leon for making the World a better place and Changing the World.

    To answer your question, I know of a number of individuals you might want to do stories on that have "Bloomed where they were Planted".

    Thank you,

    Greg Stern

    Praying about mission field, I have a strong calling on starting additional ministry on to send additional funds to World Vision, Gospel for Asia and local City Mission in Cleveland Ohio

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