For nearly 25 years a road divided the two sides of Nyiela, a community in western Liberia that had separated itself into Muslim and Christian parts of town. The sides didn’t talk much and they didn’t cross over, not even for clean water or medical care—not even during the Ebola crisis. Tribal conflicts added to the divide.
Two years ago, though, things began to change when the local church decided to host an Operation Christmas Child outreach event. And instead of holding the event at the church or in a location on either side of town, they decided to shut down the road between them for several hours and use that thoroughfare as neutral ground.
Leaders and parents anxiously lined either side of the road as more than a dozen children gathered, laughing and playing and not realizing what a historic moment they were living.
“We told them we just want to share the love of Jesus,” said Pastor Alphonso Dean, National Coordinator for Operation Christmas Child in Liberia. “We gave these gifts to their children with no strings attached, we shared the Gospel, and children from both sides of Nyiela raised their hands to receive Jesus.”
And afterward, the imam was amazed.
“He told us ‘These gifts are exactly what our children needed,’” Pastor Dean recounts. “This convinced them to let us come back and do another outreach event.”
That second event occurred in May of this year. Our ministry partners distributed more than 150 shoebox gifts to children from both sides of town. We praise God that many of these young ones received Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, and a number have enrolled in The Greatest Journey 12-lesson discipleship program.
Additionally, leaders on the Muslim side of Nyiela have generously donated two acres of their land to build a Christian church.
“The unity of the town has brought the children together, and now Muslims and Christians together are receiving The Greatest Journey training,” Pastor Dean said. “The region around Nyiela has become a major place for us to work.”
The outreach has opened up opportunities to work in other places as well that were initially reluctant to allow Christians in. Some of these closed-off villages are now inviting Christians in to do outreach events and to teach The Greatest Journey lessons.
“This has served as a channel through which we can reach other Muslim communities,” Pastor Dean said, recounting a recent outreach in a neighboring village—this time inside the village mosque where the imam even allowed leaders to share the Gospel. “There are many things that the gift boxes are allowing us to do that would never have happened otherwise.”
Pastor Dean and other national leaders pray that these connections will allow for opportunities to meet other needs such as providing schools, medical care, and WASH programs to impoverished areas.
“We have been closed out for almost 100 years from some of these communities, and now we are receiving invitations,” he said. “They have gone from ‘No we don’t need anything from you’ to ‘Can you come? Can you come now?’ Because they are realizing that there are no strings attached and that our God is a God of love.”
Each year, Operation Christmas Child’s National Collection Week is the third week in November. Please pack a shoebox!
Please donate $10 for every shoebox you prepare. Your donations will help cover project costs, including shipping (make one combined donation for multiple shoeboxes). Consider making an additional donation to help Samaritan's Purse go beyond the shoebox and expand assistance to children, their families, and their communities. Samaritan's Purse does not provide receipts for the value of gift items included in a shoebox.