Franklin Graham distributes Operation Christmas Child shoebox gifts to children in the Colombia-Venezuela border town of Cúcuta, Colombia.
On Easter weekend, April 19-20, hundreds of children in the Colombia-Venezuela border city of Cúcuta, Colombia, heard about Jesus’ love for them through Operation Christmas Child.
Franklin Graham, president of Samaritan’s Purse and the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, joined one of our church partners in Cúcuta to present the Gospel and hand out Operation Christmas Child shoebox gifts to children at a special event. He was in Cúcuta to lead the evangelistic association’s Festival de Esperanza (Festival of Hope), two days of preaching and evangelistic outreach in conjunction with more than 400 churches around the city.
As the children eagerly awaited the colorfully wrapped shoebox gifts, Franklin told them about the ultimate gift—the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross for our sins. Many of the recipients were Venezuelan migrants—crossing the border with their parents as they desperately search for a way to provide for their families.
Chanel Contreas, a widowed mom of three, is one of the families who crossed the border. She left in the fall of 2017 because there was no food, healthcare, or jobs left in her home country. Their money was worthless, and she was desperate for a better life. The four of them crossed the border with only one suitcase. It was all she could juggle as she carried her 6-month-old baby and walked with her two daughters who were then under the age of 5. They brought only essentials, unable to carry any toys or comfort items.
“My kids grew up used to it,” she said. “As a mother, I don’t want them to live in that situation. I want them to be happy and healthy, both physically and emotionally.”
When her children received the shoebox gifts, she was overwhelmed with gratitude. Her children were smiling and laughing as they discovered each treasure tucked away in the box. Full of joy and excitement, they started to look like kids again.
“I feel very happy to see them happy like this. This has no price. I have not seen them like this in a really long time, but I wanted to see them like this,” Chanel said. “I think God’s timing is perfect.”
The simple gift of a shoebox made a powerful impact. Chanel felt God’s blessing at the distribution and now wants to attend church there. She said that as she is learning to trust God with what little she has left, her faith is growing. God is providing for her family.
“Every box is an opportunity to reach a child with the Gospel of Jesus Christ,” Franklin said. “It’s about telling children around the world and their families that God loves them. God hasn’t forgotten them.”
“Every box is an opportunity to reach a child with the Gospel.”
Operation Christmas Child, a project of Samaritan’s Purse, has been active in Colombia for more than 15 years. Our partner churches there have distributed more than 2.4 million shoebox gifts and graduated over 700,000 children from The Greatest Journey follow-up evangelism and discipleship program for shoebox recipients.
In 2018, Samaritan’s Purse started projects in Colombia to minister to the many Venezuelans who have migrated in recent years to escape economic crisis in their homeland.
This past October, Franklin Graham toured some of these new Samaritan’s Purse projects, including a relief station for Venezuelan migrants just outside of Cúcuta. There, los caminantes, or walkers, are provided hot meals, shower facilities, hygiene items, and a safe place to spend the night. They also hear the Good News of Jesus Christ from our staff and local Christians.
We also operate a migrant relief station in Berlín, located in the mountains of the South American country, as well as medical clinics in the border towns of Puerto Santander and Maicao.