A 94-year-old woman in Florida packs Operation Christmas Child shoeboxes for children in need as a tangible expression of God’s love. She encourages others to get involved too!
Retirement eagerly waited to welcome Sallie Simmons. She’d soon turn 65 and all the years of hard work would be behind her. Yet, one day, Sallie had an encounter with God that changed the direction of her life.
“I was on my way home, driving a brand-new car. But I thought, ‘I’m not doing what I should be doing.’ I was like a ship without a sail.”
By worldly standards, Sallie had made it. The daughter of a poor sharecropper, raised by her father after her mother died when she was only 7, she had become the first in her family to graduate high school. She worked as a licensed practical nurse for a number of years before going back to school to train as a registered nurse.
But driving home that day, the Holy Spirit burdened Sallie’s heart and she knew that retirement had to mark the beginning of a very different season of her life as a Christian.
“I grew up in the church. I knew where I should have been. I should have been doing more to serve my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. If He has blessed me all these years, I have to give Him my time.”
Sallie visited Stanton Memorial Baptist Church in Miami, Florida, and wasted no time jumping into ministry. From chaperoning youth summer camp and teaching Sunday School to a ministry for the visually impaired, Sallie seemed to be everywhere.
Eventually, Sallie learned about the church’s involvement with Operation Christmas Child, and when she realized the reason for the gift-filled boxes, she immediately committed to packing shoeboxes. “My goodness, we’re going to plant the seed [of the Gospel.] It just tugged at my heart.”
That was about 25 years ago and, not surprisingly, Sallie hasn’t slowed down one bit.
To the Ends of the Earth
Sallie describes herself as “94 years young” and is quick to let you know that she’s still able to drive her car. She even lives with and helps care for her 103-year-old sister.
Sallie is humble, kind, and a gracious listener. She enjoys sharing with people about Operation Christmas Child, and laughs when people ask her to name her favorite item to pack in a shoebox. “All of them,” she says. “I like everything.”
But among her favorites are toy cars, dolls, and hair accessories. Sallie shops year-round for the items that she’ll include in her boxes so that they’re ready come National Collection Week in November. Sallie believes that every shoebox lovingly and prayerfully packed has a purpose greater than the fun surprises inside.
“A box may go to a child who has never had a gift. It shows them that someone in the world loves them. That can change a life,” Sallie said.
Sallie also gets excited thinking about all the shoebox gifts that end up with children in hard-to-reach areas of the world.
“Those boxes go to the ends of the earth to tell others about Jesus,” she said. “If you haven’t ever packed one, try it. I’m telling you; it will make your heart feel good.”
“Those boxes go to the ends of the earth to tell others about Jesus.”
Sallie now leads the Operation Christmas Child project at Stanton Memorial, which served as a shoebox drop-off location last year for the first time. Sallie is not only committed to packing shoebox gifts, but to also supporting her regional East Miami Area team. “It’s just in me to be an encourager,” she said. “You can’t do it by yourself; you have to have a team.”
Trusting in Jesus
Sallie still remembers the evenings hearing her father praying and reading the Bible while sitting on the porch. He’d invite her to join him, saying, ‘Come, let Daddy teach you.’
“Just like exclamation points on a sentence—he would read the Scripture just like that. The tears would go to falling.”
It wouldn’t be until years later when Sallie became a Christian that she understood her father’s heart for God’s Word and love for his Savior.
“As I got older, I realized what his tears were all about. Because when I read Scripture, my heart goes full and I shed tears about the goodness of the Lord. I can’t help it.”
Sallie has had to cling to her faith through some turbulent waters, especially when all three of her adult children died within a few years of each other. She also relied on God’s strength during an illness last year. “I’ve never been so sick in my life. I thought it was time for me to go home.”
God sustained Sally through grief and sickness, and she said she’ll “serve Him until I die” because “without Christ, you’re nothing. When you have accepted Jesus Christ, your life is full. He is everything.”
Sallie trusts that, regardless of her age, God still has her here for a reason and she wants nothing more than to honor Him with her remaining days. “When He calls me home, I’m ready. You’re not supposed to be afraid to die. When you die, you’re just making a transition. When you know Him, that’s what it is—a transition.”
“Pack a box, and introduce a child to Christ.”
Sallie is committed to giving her time to God by continuing to be active in her church and telling others about Jesus—especially through Operation Christmas Child. “It’s a ministry near and dear to my heart. Pack a box, and introduce a child to Christ.”
Operation Christmas Child National Collection Week is Nov. 15-21.