By Beth Hartt
If you’re like me, an empty shoebox might mean you just replaced old running shoes. Or maybe your kids outgrew theirs and needed new ones. Or maybe you treated yourself to new pair just because.
But what if your whole life you never had anything to call your own until a shoebox landed in your hands? What if, for the very first time, you felt like someone really cared about you when you opened it? What if that shoebox actually held hope, love, and maybe even salvation?
That’s what millions of children have found in simple shoeboxes delivered to them through Operation Christmas Child, a project of Samaritan’s Purse that has delivered shoebox gifts to more than 113 million kids in over 130 countries since 1993. But those are just numbers. To get to the heart of Operation Christmas Child, you need to hear the stories. The stories move me tears and fuel my passion for this amazing ministry.
And the stories are miraculous. There are the ones of children who had been praying for one simple item — the very thing that ends up in the shoebox they receive from halfway around the world. Like this story posted on the OCC Facebook page recently:
“Nebojsa had epilepsy and often went to the hospital for treatment. When he received his box in the hospital, he opened it impatiently. Inside, he found a hat and gloves, candies and a school set including a compass and ruler. When he saw this, Nebojsa started crying. His mother explained that he was failing math class because he told the teacher he forgot his supplies, but the truth was that his family didn’t have the money to buy them. He held the supplies in his arms for a long time, with tears in his eyes.”
There are stories of redemption and forgiveness, like Alex Nsengiman, who received a shoebox as an orphan in Rwanda after the genocide. The shoebox reminded him that he was loved at a time when he desperately needed that reminder. Then there are children whose lives were so changed by the gift of a shoebox, that they now fill and donate shoeboxes of their own to kids who were just like them.
The truth is it’s not the gifts in the boxes that alter the lives of these children forever. It’s that many of them hear about Jesus for the very first time when the shoeboxes are handed out. The local ministries who deliver the boxes share the Gospel with the kids, and then walk them through a discipleship program. Now they not only have small gifts to call their own, but they have the true joy of discovering Jesus Christ and his redeeming love for them. Very often, those children take the good news back to their families, sometimes even their community. All because of a shoebox.
When I read these stories and watch these videos, the childrens’ gratitude humbles me. I know what goes into shoeboxes. My family puts several together each year, and I’ve volunteered at the processing center where I’ve peeked inside hundreds of shoeboxes. We’re not talking high dollar items here — simple toys, a toothbrush, a bar of soap, lollipops, coloring books, crayons, pencils, socks, a stuffed animal. These are things on my weekly Target list, not indulgences. But when basic survival is your main priority each day, these things are extravagant. Read More