The unfamiliar item was a source of curiosity and conversation in Edouard’s West African community.
My parents worked hard to provide for our family in Senegal. We made do. We ate one meal a day, used candles and lanterns for light, and slept on the bare floor.
Family members had to search on a daily basis for pieces of tarp, spare wood, or metal to cover their home. No permanent roof meant that our belongings were vulnerable, so we did our best to safeguard what we had. No item was wasted. We used pages of newspaper as wallpaper.
Our family knew the Lord, finding joy and peace in their circumstances nonetheless.
We were a happy family without things. We didn’t have things like a refrigerator or a mattress. It wasn’t easy, but we were happy, because we were a family and were all together.
I remember my dad, who was a pastor, would start each day by praying, “God, You are good, and I’m giving You the day.” My father would remind us that God is seeing the big picture and encouraged us to find joy and hope in the Word of God—to love God and others around us.
I placed my trust in Jesus Christ as my Savior at age 12 at a Christian camp. Two years later, during a Wednesday night Bible study at church, I received an Operation Christmas Child shoebox gift.
I was ecstatic to receive a pack of two toothbrushes, one of which I gave to my sister. They were our first toothbrushes. Before that, we would rub charcoal and salt on our teeth to clean them.
Among the other gifts I received were additional personal care items, as well as colored pencils, a coloring book, and a green yo-yo. I had never seen such a thing before and didn’t know what it was.
My best guess was that it was a modern-day sling shot similar to what David had used to slay Goliath (1 Samuel 17). For the first couple of weeks, my friends and I swung the yo-yo in circles above our heads, until an Operation Christmas Child team member visited our church and showed us how to use the yo-yo.
The yo-yo circulated around the community as curious friends and neighbors tried their hand at it. Since receiving a gift was so rare, that in itself was a point of conversation.
“Did you know that I received a gift?” I would tell my friends as I showed them my shoebox. Intrigued, they would ask, “What’s in there? Who sent it?”
People would want to see it and touch it, because it came from an unknown place. I was amazed that someone would send me such a gift.
I thought, “Who would care about a kid far away in a dusty country who didn’t have food, who sleeps on the floor, who didn’t go to school, who didn’t have a toothbrush?”
I saw Someone cares—God. He cares so much. God hears our cry and He loves us. I have a God who loves me so much.
It’s about God’s love and that changes lives. The person who packed my shoebox with love—that person changed my life. God changed my life.
My shoebox gift inspired me to get more involved in church, serving God and others.
A few years later, I came to the U.S. to train as a track and field athlete. One Wednesday evening, my youth director called to ask if I could come to the church along with some other youth to help move boxes. When I saw the red and green shoeboxes, I started to cry. They were like the one I had received when I was 14.
I encouraged the other young people there to take their time as they moved the boxes so that we could pray over each container.
Today, my life has come full circle in more ways than one. I now work with athletes as a personal trainer, speak to groups about packing shoebox gifts like the one I received as a child, and have become a pastor like my father, encouraging people to put God first in their lives and to share His love with others.
The most important thing to pack in your shoebox is your heart, because a kid needs that. In some corner of the world, there’s a girl or boy waiting for you to pack a shoebox for them, to show God’s love to them.