I had absolutely no idea what receiving a shoe box could do for a child.
We think, as we pack shoe boxes here in America, that we put some trinkets and useful items in a box and it will bless a child in another country for a short amount of time.
What could possibly be so special about a shoe box that it could CHANGE A CHILD'S LIFE FOREVER?
Let me share some more images and stories from Ecuador with you, then you will know.
(In case you aren't familiar with my trip with Operation Christmas Child, you can read all about my amazing experience before moving on.)
The Gift Before the Shoe box
At each of our distribution sites, the boxes were the very last thing revealed to the children.
After a message from a local pastor and a skit for the children, they were given a booklet.
This special booklet, "The Greatest Gift" (in Spanish, that's El Mejor Regalo), was passed out to each and every child.
So many of the children thought this booklet WAS what they were receiving.
They treasured their books and looked through them intently. These books are put out by Operation Christmas Child and tell the story of Jesus, God's greatest gift to us.
The shoe boxes are then passed out to the children, and you should just have seen the joy on their faces. This sweet one in the picture with me hadn't smiled at all before she received her box. She opened her shoe box and pulled out this Beanie Baby - then her face lit up!
My heart broke and rejoiced all at the same time. I wanted a picture with her because I needed to remember her reaction. I needed to remember the impact of this gift on her precious little soul.
I don't even know her name.
But I will remember her forever.
At another distribution site on the top of a mountain, this sweet little one sat with her book long after the shoe boxes had been passed out.
A booklet that would so easily get tossed aside by most children I know, was treasured.
This beautiful woman and little girl will remain in my memory forever, too... just two of the millions of people who are touched by Operation Christmas Child.
The Greatest Journey
Samaritan's Purse (and all of us, really), can help fulfill the Greatest Commission...
After a child receives a shoe box, they have the opportunity to participate in 12 weeks of Bible lessons. Operation Christmas Child trains local teachers to instruct children. Sometimes these teachers are former box recipients themselves.
I had the great honor of watching some of these classes in action.
These pre-teens were packed into a small kitchen in a pastor's home in the heart of Quito. There was barely enough room for them to all fit. Younger children were crammed in the pastor's living room and courtyard, too.
This pastor and his wife had such a heart for the gospel. The children would come to their home each week. They received The Greatest Journey classes, and also a healthy meal. Then, the pastor invited them all to come back to church on Sunday.
I was struck by the excitement in the room, and this husband and wife's commitment. Our team was able to step outside with them and pray over them. What an honor to meet people with this kind of LIVING faith.
At the end of their 12 week instruction, the children receive their very own New Testament.
In this way, Operation Christmas Child is making the gift SO MUCH MORE than a simple shoe box. It is about changing lives.
You can make a difference for children like those I met in Ecuador.
It's so simple.
$6 a month helps disciple 12 children per year.
It's such a small financial commitment for us, but such a huge blessing for them.
I'm so humbled to help spread the word on behalf of Samaritan's Purse!
"Millions have already gone through The Greatest Journey. Now, we want to reach even more. 'Disciple A Dozen' is a special 12-day campaign that we pray will raise enough support to reach 240,000 boys and girls around the world and impact a new generation for Christ. Help us go and make disciples of all nations by giving children a unique opportunity to take a bold step in their faith."
Take some time to watch this video -- it tells the story so completely.
Then, if you feel led, help disciple a dozen of your own.
I'm here to tell you - I've seen it all in action. I've witnessed each step of the shoe box journey. I've witnessed the discipleship after the box. This is a tangible way to further God's kingdom and make Jesus known to children.