It seems like most of these traveling experiences are so fast- moving, its like a rushing river of images and emotions--and what I catch of it is a teeny sliver. How I wish everyone could experience what I did when I took a trip to Mexico last year with Operation Christmas Child. My mind was blown and my faith was expanded!
Our family has been packing Christmas shoe boxes for Operation Christmas Child for probably 20 years. Every year we lovingly pack at least 4...one from each of the girls (including Lynnie--a gift from heaven!) and we pray for the needy children out in the world somewhere who would receive them. What a thrill to partner with OCC that somehow gets these boxes into the hands of deserving children all over the world.
We've helped out a few times in the warehouses where hundreds of volunteers help organize and crate the thousands of boxes coming in from the region. But I really didn't realize until this trip the depth, breadth and lasting impact these boxes have on the kids out there. Not just the kids, but their families, their entire communities! The Lord is using these gifts of love to literally carry the Greatest Gift to villages around the world.
See, its not just a box of toys, school supplies, treats and hygiene items. The kids LOVE these things, and truly feel loved when they receive them. But its what comes along with the box that they treasure the most and ends up transforming their lives forever.
I joined up with a group of complete strangers from all over the USA who were also invited on this "Vision Trip" to an area called Guanajuato, deep in the heart of Mexico. We got to experience three distributions in three different little cities. And each time, we met local pastors and volunteers who worked tirelessly to create a very special time and message for the kids. Each church somehow pulled together with limited resources a wonderful presentation that creatively told the story of God's love for them.
The kids were absolutely engrossed....so was I! They did such a great job telling the story of how God so loves the world, He gave us Jesus to forgive our sin and restore our relationship with Him. At every location, the kids listened so attentively, leaning forward in their chairs. They were given their boxes, and you could tell they were so excited, they didn't know what to do.
With each box, the children were given a colorful little booklet called "The Greatest Gift," (you can see it on top of the little ones' boxes above).You should have seen them looking at every picture, following along as the leaders told the story. It was priceless! Every child and teen receiving these boxes knew that someone out there loves them...someone who made the box for them, and most of all, Jesus!
Then the moment of dreams...counting "Uno, Dos, Tres!" and the crazy joy of the kids opening their boxes. No one can watch this without getting teary. These kids happily explore, swap and share, cuddle their toys, try on their hats, sunglasses, scarves and jewelry. I watched one little girl take every single crayon out of its box and line it up on the dirt ground, clapping with joy and saying the color in Spanish. It was also touching to see the parents around who were so delighted for the children.
These kids appreciate EVERYTHING in those boxes! But the joy didn't stop there!
Until this trip, I didn't know about The Greatest Journey. All of the kids are invited back to a discipleship program run by volunteers at the church. Its totally optional--and some kids don't opt to do the program, but many do...excitedly! They RUN to the church for the opportunity to worship, play games, and learn about the Bible, about Jesus, their Savior. We got to worship with them, play games, and watch the kids interact and learn in their groups. It was SO sweet! They were helping each other with memory verses, so happy to cheer each other on. One little boy rattled off and entire page of the memory verses by heart, and of course everyone cheered!
The young volunteers who sacrifice time and energy to teach these young ones just stole my heart. Their own lives have been changed by the Lord...and they are simply passionate about helping kids to know Him too.
Some of the pastors shared with us how this program has changed entire families. Kids were going home with their hearts full of the love of Jesus, which was breaking down all kinds of walls in families. One pastor told us that the 200-some boxes that were given out through his church literally transformed his community. Kids were finding meaning, hope, purpose in Christ. People were receiving forgiveness and giving it. That's what happens when Jesus takes over a heart...a lot of hearts! And this is happening ALL OVER THE WORLD!
Last week I met an amazing young man named Yves who was a recipient of an Operation Christmas Child shoebox when he was a boy living in Togo, Africa. He shared how that distribution resulted in the birth of 3 churches (still there and growing), and the conversion of the local witch doctor. Yves had struggled with a disdain for people after his family was slaughtered in Rwanda and the watching world did nothing. He had harbored that hatred for years, but it began to unexpectedly melt when he read a note enclosed in his shoebox that said, "God loves you, and so do I." He actually felt loved...by God...by God's people. Now Yves is a shining example of the power of what God can do with a shoebox.
(This is Yves:)
Since Operation Christmas Child's inception, they have distributed over 150 million of these boxes, all packed by people like you and me. Each of these boxes has wound up in the hands of God's intended recipient (like Yves), and the stories resulting are beyond calculation. Yet not beyond God's endless wisdom! This year OCC hopes to send 11 million boxes around the world. Will you join me in this endeavor?
We're having a concert on November 4 in Rancho Santa Margarita where the price of admission is...one packed shoebox per family (Please see my concerts page and scroll down to November 4). The experience of doing this as a family is truly rich and meaningful. It adds a depth to this season of giving that we just shouldn't miss in our over commercialized society. OCC collects these boxes during the week of November 12-17, so start early. Please come, or find a drop off site near you by going to the OCC website (HERE). There is also an OCC app, of course, with lots of ideas and resources. Oh, and don't forget to include $9 in the box, which pays for warehouses, trucks, planes, ships, crates, fuel....everything needed to get your box from you to that child God has in mind. Join with me in sending endless love to children around the world.
Thank you, friends!