Three months before receiving her shoebox gift, Vanessa began attending church and committed her life to Christ. She longed for a copy of the Bible and began praying for one. When she opened her shoebox, guess what she found inside?
South Africa is a bustling nation of 55 million people nestled at the southernmost tip of the continent, surrounded on three sides by the sea. Only 25 years removed from apartheid, the country continues to recover from that traumatic chapter in its past. While many residents today enjoy unprecedented opportunities, others still face daunting challenges.
In the midst of the struggle, the Good News of the Lord Jesus Christ is being presented to children as they receive gift-filled shoeboxes through Samaritan’s Purse. Tens of thousands of children in South Africa have recently received shoeboxes collected through our Operation Christmas Child project over the past year. For many, the gift was an answered prayer.
Two hundred excited kids crammed into Christian Life Centre in the coastal city of Durban for worship music, a Gospel presentation, and shoebox gifts. The church lies in a community affected by extreme poverty and HIV/AIDS, but praise reverberated through the sanctuary on a cool June day—even before the children received their gifts.
Cries of joy filled the room when kids found out they were receiving a shoebox. In a community where families have little, a gift is a big surprise.
When 9-year-old Duke popped open the cardboard lid on his shoebox, he immediately saw a pair of bright red flip-flops resting on top. He had been hoping and praying for shoes for many years.
“And today, it happened!” he said as he picked up his red flip-flops one-by-one and smiled. Lacking his own shoes, he had been wearing borrowed pairs day after day. Now he couldn’t believe these were actually his—that they were a gift freely given and packed especially for him.
Duke not only received an answer to his prayer for shoes, but he also listened to The Greatest Gift presentation, which introduces children to the Gospel with Bible stories about Jesus. The Greatest Journey, a 12-lesson discipleship program for shoebox recipients, will soon begin at Christian Life Centre, and Duke plans to come and learn more about the Gospel message he heard.
“Jesus is wonderful,” Duke said.
A Small Gift with Special Meaning
At Rose of Sharon church, young Titus was amazed to find a word search—something he had always wanted—in his shoebox. Gripping the yellow book, Titus told everyone he could about his gift.
“A word search is my favorite thing! And I wanted this thing like miles ago!” Titus said. “This is my best day. I’m so happy.”
Before Titus received his shoebox, Pastor Ernest Yenkesamy began the service by explaining that the gifts are a demonstration of God’s love for each child.
“On the other part of the world, miles and miles, kilometers away, somebody loves you. You are special in the eyes of God, and that is why you are going to receive a gift,” Pastor Ernest said to the children.
Through his shoebox gift, Titus saw God’s love for him in action. He was stunned that God placed a word search, something simple yet significant to him, into his hands.
“Jesus is the best thing in the whole wide world,” Titus said.
He wants to return for The Greatest Journey and hear more about Jesus.
Rose of Sharon has reached over 450 kids within a seven-kilometer radius of their church with The Greatest Journey program. After a shoebox distribution with different children last year, the response was so great that it resulted in a new church plant in a nearby community.
Pastor Ernest is encouraged by the vast impact that Operation Christmas Child has had in their area. “It might just sound like a shoebox with stuff in it, but it comes alive when it comes here,” he said.
From the Box to the Bible
At Temple of Glory, a church in Pietermaritzburg, which neighbors Durban, Vanessa found a Bible in her shoebox in March of this year.
Three months prior, Vanessa had started coming to Temple of Glory and committed her life to Christ. She was thrilled to receive Him as her Savior and Lord and longed for a copy of the Bible. Vanessa trusted God and began praying for a copy of His Word.
When she opened her shoebox this spring, she saw the Bible inside. The shoebox also included a note and a picture from a young girl from America named Elizabeth, the girl who packed the gift. Vanessa was delighted that a little girl across the world had placed a Bible in her shoebox.
Vanessa began reading her Bible, and she graduated from The Greatest Journey in June. The goal of a shoebox gift is to lead children from the box to the Bible, and that’s exactly what happened in Vanessa’s life. God used a shoebox gift to bring her into a closer relationship with Him.
A shoebox gift’s journey is covered in prayer from the beginning. Those who pack shoeboxes are encouraged to pray for the child who will receive the gift. As shoeboxes are prepared, shipped, and distributed, staff and volunteers continue to pray over them. God is answering those prayers and leading shoeboxes to just the right small hands across the world. Oftentimes, the gift is an answer to the child’s prayers too.
“It might just sound like a shoebox with stuff in it, but it comes alive when it comes here.”—Pastor Ernest
Please pray for each shoebox gift’s journey, and for the children who receive shoebox gifts to experience God’s love for them.
Each year, Operation Christmas Child’s National Collection Week is the third week in November. Please pack a shoebox!