From Watertown to Port-of-Spain
The powerful effect of a shoebox
It’s only a simple shoebox, but it can change a life. Imagine for a second, receiving a gift from a stranger a world away, with just what you wanted inside. That would make you wonder; that would make a difference.
Each shoebox that’s part of the Operation Christmas Child project travels around the globe, packed during the holiday season and delivered throughout the year. After all, packing and shipping millions of boxes takes time. But those boxes arrive right on time, filled with toys, letters, soap, shampoo, socks and other essentials, and packed with the assurance that the recipient matters, that he or she is a child of God, beloved.
That would make an impact.
In Watertown, Minnesota, 9-year-old Maili Buttenhoff enthusiastically packed a shoebox for a little girl to receive in Port-of-Spain, Trinidad, 3,000 miles away.
Altogether, Maili’s fellow church members at Watertown EFC packed more than 50 shoeboxes in 2013 for children around the world. Generally, those packing the boxes don’t learn who opens them (other than “boy” or “girl”). But this time was different.
As part of a special distribution trip in February, Operation Christmas Child and the EFCA wanted to showcase the connection between each shoebox prepared and the children who receive them. Maili was chosen to prepare a shoebox that would be hand-carried to a 7-year-old girl in Trinidad. That girl, she later learned, was Rae-Anne Preuehomme.
“It’s great for all the kids who don’t have many things, to get what they will need and things to play with,” Maili says.
“It’s good for a child to give,” adds Maili’s mom, Chris, who coordinates the project at their church. “And it’s going from a child to a child, which I think is really neat. It’s a tangible thing for kids to be part of: They can write a note or put a picture in the box.”
Maili did more than that for Rae-Anne; she also joined her mom in picking out everything for the box because, she says, she knows what a girl her age would want. When Rae-Anne opened her box, there was a Ty Beanie Baby® cat. Immediately, she ran off and handed it to her brother, Reshard, who loves cats.
Rae-Ann’s favorite gift was the strawberry-lemonade Chap Stick®. “I like the taste and like to lick my lips,” she said with a smile.
Impact far greater than its size
“There’s an anointing that goes with these boxes,” declares Curtis Paul, a local Trinidadian pastor. “There’s a power that goes with these boxes. We hear testimonies of kids receiving exactly what they prayed for.”
Curtis is an ordained district elder with the International Bible Way Church of Jesus Christ, Inc., and associate pastor at Bible Way Temple in Morvant, Trinidad. Each year for the past 14 years, he has witnessed the impact Operation Christmas Child makes in the lives of the children in his community.
Among churches across Trinidad and Tobago, Curtis also coordinates the work of a Christian nonprofit called Samaritan’s Purse, which provides spiritual and physical aid worldwide. Operation Christmas Child is a project of Samaritan’s Purse.
Since OCC started in 1991, more than 100 million boxes have been delivered to children in more than 130 countries. Nearly 1,000 EFCA churches have taken part, with more than 60 serving as collection or relay centers.
But shoeboxes are just the beginning. Each child who receives a shoebox gift also takes part in The Greatest Journey discipleship and evangelism course. In partnership with a local church, children go through a 12-week course teaching them to know Jesus, follow Jesus and tell others about Jesus.
- Christmas came early this year for children in Port-of-Spain, Trinidad.
In 2014 alone, approximately 10,300 children in Port-of-Spain (and the surrounding area) will have the opportunity to participate in The Greatest Journey.
“The box is just the tool,” Curtis says. “We have testimonies where it has impacted other members of the family.”
And the influence of a simple shoebox is multiplying in other ways; Curtis started seeing changes on the city streets.
In Trinidad and Tobago, a record-high 550 murders were recorded in 2008, with the majority of violence in Trinidad attributed to gang/drug-related incidents or domestic disputes.1 Sadly, according to Curtis, Christians were not helping.
“In the past, we were on the street corners; we were in the public places on the weekend doing services and ongoing outreach programs,” he explains. “But for some reason, the church retreated to the building and we lost the streets to the drug lords; we lost the streets to the criminal element.”
But the Trinidadian church’s partnership with OCC reopened the door, and the gospel is gaining traction.
“Thank God,” Curtis says.
Through local churches like Watertown EFC and families like Maili’s, a child-to-child connection is opening multiple doors for the gospel more than 3,000 miles away.