By Carla Bregani, Senior Communications Advisor
It’s hot and stuffy inside the cinder-block, one-room church. More than one hundred children sit in rows on the cement floor, organized by age and gender. Parents crowd around barred windows and doors.
The noise is loud- and probably seems louder to me because it’s all in Spanish- parents calling to their children, older kids teasing one another as they sit impatiently, a few younger ones crying anxious tears.
Pastor Bismarck turns on a microphone and begins to speak in Spanish. He welcomes the children to this small church in a barrio a few hours’ drive from Managua, Nicaragua. It was only 15 years ago that he was sitting on a church floor just like these children, waiting to receive the first gift he had ever received-an Operation Christmas Child shoe box.
With young Bismarck’s box came two gifts that helped change his life: a soccer ball, and news that Jesus Christ loves him. “Before that gift, I didn’t know what a gift was,” says Bismarck. “The gifts helped us understand that we were special to the heart of God and that people in Canada cared for us.”
Accepting Christ’s sacrifice and love for him, Bismarck set out on a journey to tell other children the same exciting news. He organized a soccer ministry using the soccer ball from his shoe box gift, and shared God’s love with street kids as they played the game together. He has now planted and pastored five churches; that single shoe box gift served as a catalyst that changed the course of his life.
In the stuffy, hot barrio church, Pastor Bismarck is finishing his short message, telling the children inside and parents still crowded around the windows and doors that Jesus loves them and He wants to be their Friend. Then the gift-filled shoe boxes are given out, row by row and child by child.
On the count of “uno, dos, tres!” the volume soars as the children excitedly discover gifts of hats, dolls, trucks, pencils, paper, candy, and much more. Shouts of joy, surprise, and “gracias!” fill the room.
Pastor Bismarck stands back to watch the commotion. He has no doubt that Operation Christmas Child shoe boxes are God-given opportunities to share God’s love with children and families. “A shoe box can move the heart of a child,” he says. “But not just the heart of a child or one family. It can change the whole community. And yes, I consider it a miracle.”
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