They also were encouraged to see children and parents graduate from The Greatest Journey discipleship course.
Each year, Samaritan’s Purse distributes millions of shoebox gifts around the world to children in need. Edward Graham, the youngest son of Franklin Graham, and his wife Kristy were among those who recently traveled to Ecuador to help distribute Operation Christmas Child gifts and celebrate the graduation of those who completed The Greatest Journey, a 12-lesson discipleship program designed for shoebox recipients.
Lesli Velasco received a shoebox gift from Samaritan’s Purse in March and then went through The Greatest Journey.
As Edward, Kristy, and other guests prepared to watch Lesli and her classmates graduate, Lesli shared how the program changed her life.
“It showed me how powerful God is and what Jesus did for me on the Cross,” Lesli said. “I am so thankful for The Greatest Journey because now I want to be a light in the darkness.”
When Edward heard Lesli’s testimony and her heart for sharing the Gospel, he was struck by the power of a simple shoebox gift given in Jesus’ Name.
“It’s not just a shoebox. It’s not something just filled with toys,” Edward said. “It’s a chance to share the Gospel and the Name of the Lord Jesus Christ—not just to the little ones but also to their families.”
One special aspect of the graduation ceremony in Quito, Ecuador, was that it was not just children who were honored. More than 30 parents also graduated from The Greatest Journey.
The discipleship classes were held at a local Christian school, and when leaders noticed that many parents were just waiting around, they decided to formally engage them in the program. Together, children and their parents learned about God’s love, studied the Word, and memorized Bible verses.
“You may think that the shoebox ministry is meant for children, but it’s not. It’s so much more than that,” Edward said.
Silvana Morales, a director at the school, thanked Operation Christmas Child for opening the door to teach students about the love of Jesus Christ. Only 12 percent of their student body comes from a Christian background, meaning many of them were able to hear the Gospel for the first time through Operation Christmas Child.
“Thank you for opening the doors for us not to bring religion, but to bring Jesus to our students,” Silvana said.
Seeds for Church Planting
Operation Christmas Child has also become an invaluable tool for pastors to reach out to their communities. In Catzuqi, Ecuador, Pastor Christian Mediavilla and his wife Eva are planting a church. The shoebox gifts are a catalyst for their outreach to the community.
Pastor Christian said that many people in their neighborhood are skeptical of the church, but by giving them a gift, they are able to build trust and earn the right to share the Gospel.
“We are so thankful for you. This is such a blessing,” Pastor Christian told Edward. “We were already planting seeds in this community, but shoeboxes are helping us reach the children and their families. We are a small church with a lot of needs and a lot of work to do. I pray your heart of service will never end.”
Pastor Christian and Eva are now equipped to start The Greatest Journey in their church. Each shoebox recipient will be invited to attend the discipleship program, which allow them to hear the Good News of Jesus Christ. Please pray for Pastor Christian and his wife Eva as they invest in their local community.
Shoebox gifts are just the start of Operation Christmas Child’s ministry. Sharing the Gospel, equipping pastors, and discipling children are at the heart of the project. Pray that shoebox gifts continue to open doors not just in Ecuador but around the world.