More Than a Shoebox

by: Sue Wengerd

She stands there, list in hand, looking at the shelves loaded with every imaginable kind of item. A turn of her head and as far as the eye can see, there are options: clothes, shoes, soap, pens, paper… on and on it goes.

She glances at the red and green shoebox in her cart; not that big a box, mind you, only six inches wide and twelve inches long. She looks around again; “How do I fit everything into this box?”

Overwhelmed, she scans the list, and ponders. She realizes that even though it won’t ALL fit into the box, she can ask for help from Someone who knows who will receive the content. Not just that, but He knows exactly what that child needs.

She silently prays, “God, help me. Give me wisdom; guide my thoughts and hands. Help my box to be the answer to a child’s prayer. Prepare the little one that will receive this gift, so they are open to Your love.”

She carefully selects items to put into the cart; a stuffed bear that’s soft and squishy, a Yo-Yo, silly putty, glow-sticks, flashlight, soap, toothbrush, comb, shirts, pencils, paper… before she knows it, her list is checked off;  it was easier than she had expected!

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We are so blessed to live in a country and community where we can buy the basic things in life. Think about it—when was the last time you went to wash your hands, and there was no soap? Or have longed to sit and read the Bible, and there’s not one in the house? Can your children say they have never received a gift? Simple things. Things we take for granted.

I’m sure you’re no stranger to Operation Christmas Child. If you have read this magazine for any amount of time, you have a good idea of what I’m talking about.

So many of you picked up on the vision for their mission and have filled one of those red and green boxes. What a blessing to give when you expect nothing in return.

Every year I’m so fascinated by the journey a shoebox takes.

It starts with you, as you pick up the brochure and begin to make your choices. Boy or girl? What age? You go to the store and buy all kinds of fun things. Then comes the exciting part—filling the box. You pack and repack, making sure that every nook and cranny is filled. You pray for the child that will receive it, write your note, and put a check in the envelope. You rubberband it shut and take it to a drop-off spot. They’ll take it from there.

The folks at the collection location record the number of boxes they receive, pack them into shipping boxes, pray for the children that will receive them, and then off goes the box to the processing facility.

Thousands of people volunteer every year to help prepare shoeboxes for international shipping.  The volunteers check each box to be sure there is nothing inside that is on the restricted list, such as liquids, war toys, candy, or even toothpaste. The volunteers stop their work every hour and pray for the children that will receive boxes. (Do you see a pattern here? Praying for the children is the best part of the gift.) A volunteer gives the box their approval, tapes it shut, puts it into a shipping box, and now it’s ready to be sent across the ocean.

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While you’re busy filling your shoebox, Operation Christmas Child is also busy. They are preparing the way for your shoebox, and the opportunity to share the gospel.

OCC has volunteers on their National Leadership Teams who go into the areas where they will be sending your shoebox. There, they will train pastors and community leaders how to host an outreach to share your shoebox and—most importantly—share the gospel.

The shoeboxes are sent to over 100 different countries, such as Cambodia, the Dominican Republic, Fiji, Liberia, Madagascar, Malawi, Moldova, Mongolia, Namibia, Nepal, Paraguay, Philippines, Romania, Thailand, Uganda, Zambia, and Zimbabwe, to name just a few.

We imagine the boxes being transported by trucks, ships, or planes. They do reach their country of destination by those means, but they are transported into small villages by many different methods: bike, donkey, camel, canoe, cart, elephant, foot, helicopter, horse, oxen, raft, wagons… you get the picture.

When the training of the Leadership Teams is completed, the anticipation for the arrival of the shoeboxes is at a fever pitch.  The day finally arrives. Can you imagine a room full of children so excited they can’t hold still? For many of them, this is the first time they have ever received a gift. The energy level is so high you can feel it.

Before the volunteers hand out the shoeboxes, each child is given a copy of The Greatest Gift. It is a beautiful book filled with lots of colorful pictures and eleven scripture stories as told by the Apostle John. Most of these children have never heard the good news that Someone loves them no matter what, and loves them so much that He would die for them. “For God so loved the world, that He gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish but have everlasting life” John 3:16.  They learn that this Someone is Jesus, and if they become a follower of Him, they can have eternal life. Now that is a priceless gift!

These books quickly become favorites of the children. They take them home and share them with their brothers and sisters, and their mom and dad. And the gift keeps giving.

Then it’s finally time… someone hands them a gift… they tear into the box… and there are all the items you bought and packed!  Their box is filled to the brim with so many gifts, so many treasures they never knew existed. A little girl squeezes her teddy bear; another one glows while holding up her brand new purse. A shy little boy rubs a pair of soft socks against his cheek. Another admires his new soccer ball; he never imagined he would have his very own. Every little face is lit up with the purest of joy, with awe, with gratitude.  Today, your box made a difference in a child’s life.

But that’s not the end.

It would be easy to hand out the gifts and keep moving on to the next event, but why not use this opportunity to do more? The children have received not only the book The Greatest Gift, but also your shoebox filled with all kinds of goodies. Now, each child is given the opportunity to come back for a weekly Bible lesson from The Greatest Journey.

It is a 12-lesson course that helps children learn how to be a Christ-follower in their everyday life. The study is set up to help them memorize scripture, and it includes an activity as well as a Bible story. When they have completed the course, each child gets to participate in a graduation, and they receive their very own New Testament.

According to the OCC website, more than 14.9 million children have enrolled in these studies since 2009. How amazing is that? I’m sure that when the children come home from an event with a storybook, a box full of presents, and a Bible, the parents begin to wonder what it’s all about. Suddenly the time, money, and prayers you put into packing a shoebox have turned into so much more than just helping one child. It has turned into an eternal benefit for the whole family.

Thank you for sharing your time to gather the gifts for your shoebox.

Thank you for caring about a child whose name you may never know.

Thank you for praying for the child that will learn that Jesus loves them.

The reward will truly be out of this world!

I hope you enjoy the following true stories of how an everyday item we often take for granted changed the life of a child. These are stories that Operation Christmas Child has so generously given us permission to share with you.

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A Special Bible, Packed in a Shoebox, Makes Its Way to a Remote Pacific Village

A child in the Philippines received a surprising gift in his Operation Christmas Child shoebox and God transformed his life.

Alex and his parents regularly attended meetings of a local cult for years in their remote village of the Philippines.

But, we praise God that last year he heard and received the Gospel of Jesus Christ through the outreach of Operation Christmas Child. Toti Ramos, the pastor of one of our partner churches from a nearby town, brought shoebox gifts to the village and then invited Alex and the other children to participate in The Greatest Journey, a 12-lesson discipleship program for children who receive shoebox gifts.

During those classes, Alex learned more about God and the significance of one particularly special item in his shoebox—a Bible.

The Greatest Treasure

Alex is able to read the Bible that came in his shoebox because, surprisingly, it is a Tagalog version—the national language of the Philippines!

From among the millions of shoebox gifts distributed across the world, God guided this shoebox into the hands of a child who now considers God’s Word his greatest treasure.

Alex prayed to receive Jesus not long after graduating from The Greatest Journey. “Now, I know I will go to Heaven,” he said. “All the Bible stories I learned during The Greatest Journey were new to me. My favorite lesson was about Jesus’ death and resurrection.”

Alex is one of more than 40 children in the village who participated in The Greatest Journey and have prayed to receive Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior. He said the New Testament was his favorite shoebox gift item because he is excited to learn more Bible stories.

Alex and the children were eager to continue studying the Bible after The Greatest Journey course was complete. Their parents were also interested in the Gospel after seeing the change in their children’s lives, and so Pastor Ramos and a few church members have continued coming to the village to teach weekly Sunday Bible classes.

A Village Transformed

Each of Alex’s six siblings also received an Operation Christmas Child shoebox. As the oldest, Alex works diligently around the house to help his parents, who, like most everyone in the village, are farmers. Still, “it is hard for my parents to provide for us,” he explained.

Alex said he used to be a “terror” to his siblings but he’s changed now that he is a Christian. Alex isn’t the only one who changed—the entire village is different. Children better obey their parents and their school attendance is much improved. Alcoholism is less prevalent in the village.

A number of parents have also accepted Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior and many, including Alex’s parents, have left false religion and attend the classes led by Pastor Ramos. [Pray that Alex’s parents will be saved!]

This is all especially exciting because the village is part of the Iraya people group—one of several tribes indigenous to the southern Philippines. The Iraya are considered an unreached people group because less than 2 percent are Christian.

Please pray for Alex and others who have come to faith in Jesus Christ. Pray that they will continue to grow in their relationship with the Lord. Please also pray that others in the village will turn from false teaching and fully trust God.

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Evgeniy and The Soap

My mother abandoned me at birth so I grew up in an orphanage until I was adopted in 2004 at age 14. At the orphanage, located in part of the former Soviet Union, we didn’t have a lot of things—including showers or bathtubs. Instead, they put us on a school bus once a month and drove us to the public bath house in a small city of 10,000 people. The 120 kids in the orphanage were divided by age group for the event. In my group of 30 kids, we shared one bar of soap.

At age 12, I received my shoebox wrapped in blue Christmas paper. There was a slinky and some small plastic rubber balls in it, and a nice white washcloth, too. Looking at the washcloth, I thought: What is this? I had no idea how to use it. But, best of all, there was a bar of scented soap. It smelled wonderful! That was so special because the soap we had in the orphanage was odorless.

At the orphanage, we had to hide everything that was precious to us because it could get stolen by older kids. So I gave an older friend my bar of soap and asked her to keep it for me. I never took it to the public bath because it probably wouldn’t have survived.

She hid the soap until about a year after I received my shoebox. At that time, showers were built in the orphanage—our first two for 120 kids. It was, however, about another six months before the showers actually began working properly. One Sunday after they finally started functioning, I asked my friend for the bar of soap.

Another friend and I went and begged the security guard to open the showers up for us so we could use them. He was kind. He opened the locked showers because I told him I had this soap. That was the first time I used it. Then I put it back in the white box, closed it, and gave it to my older friend again for safe keeping. I only used it a couple more times before I left the orphanage.

That bar of soap was a present that I’d never had before. It was precious. It was my own. I specifically remember that I didn’t want anyone else to use it. I’d never had my own bar of soap.

I became a Christian about a year and a half to two years after my brothers and I were adopted. When we learned English and were able to communicate with our parents, they shared the Gospel with us. Growing up within the Orthodox church, we knew of Jesus as God. But, we were not taught about having a personal relationship with Him. My parents told us we could have a relationship with Jesus. We could talk with him in prayer. My brother accepted Christ right after that and I later followed.

Today, I work for a pharmaceutical company in Texas that makes eye care products. I am also a photographer in my spare time. Looking back, I realize that my shoebox gave me a sense of hope. It showed me that someone really cared enough to pack this gift and send it to me.

To the person that packed my shoebox, I say, “Thank you! You gave me something small, but it was so significant!”

Now as I pack shoeboxes, every one contains a bar of scented soap just like the one I received and a washcloth. I want the child to experience what I experienced. I want them to know that there’s someone who cares for them. Most of all, I want them to know God loves them.



A Special Bible, Packed in a Shoebox, Makes Its Way to a Remote Pacific Village and Eveniy and The Soap originally published on Copyright © 2018 Samaritans Purse. Used by Permission.


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