I have just returned from a trip to Senegal, West Africa, with a group of pastor's on a Shoebox distribution trip with Operation Christmas Child. Shoeboxes all have very similar dimensions. The ones OCC provides are 28cm x 11.5 cm x 15 cm. By our western definition of what is big and what is not, shoeboxes are decidedly smaller than a breadbox. There is a bit of a game to be played as one packs a gift-filled shoebox. One needs to find great gift ideas that are small enough to fit in the box, yet cool enough to warrant being part of what will often be the recipients only gift in their lifetime. If you have packed a box before you will surely have discovered that size does matter, and in this case, smaller is often far greater.
On my trip I was a part of 4 unique distributions, one in the city center of Dakar, one in the slums of Dakar, one in a women's prison, and one in a rural village in the region of Mbour. I am not sure anymore what it is that I expected as I went to my first distribution, but this I know - my expectations were far exceeded on many fronts.
I had always understood Shoeboxes to be a great way to ready for our Christmas season here in Canada, by preparing a gift for someone in a developing country. My children, especially when they were young, benefited from the experience of being involved in packing gift-filled boxes, as they spent time thinking beyond themselves, and developing a heart to share and give and bless others. I think I expected these small packages to bring a sense of joy to the one who recieves it, while giving a sense of joy to the ones who packed it as well. And this happens for sure.
I had also heard that Shoeboxes are Gospel opportunities. And they are. Knowing this began to change the way I saw Operation Christmas Child. I wondered what that really might look like – to be a Gospel opportunity? While in Senegal, at each distribution I attended, I heard the presentation of the Gospel message, the story of Jesus Christ, given in a lively and engaging manner for kids, in their own mother tongue. I didn't understand any of the words, but the message captured my attention, as it did the children there too. What I soon discovered is that Shoeboxes are even more than Gospel opportunties.
One of the local pastors, Pastor Maxime, describes Shoboxes as bulldozers. He calls them bulldozers because they are having such a profound impact on families and whole communities. Shoeboxes open doors, break down walls, push down barriers, turn up the hard ground, and ready the soil for the seeds of God's love that are being planted. And I have seen these bulldozers at work. In Senegal almost every shoebox distribution that occurs will eventually result in the planting of a new church. It is hard to imagine how something as small as a gift-filled shoebox can result in something as large as the birthing of a new faith family. Yet in the hands of our Great God, small gestures are transformed into the immeasurable. They become the means by which Jesus is being made known among us, around us, and even beyond us.
I have seen the look in the eyes of children as they receive these small shoebox gifts. I had the great pleasure of taking with me on my travels a shoebox that I packed with my family at home. One of the things I was most excited to pack was a pair of beautiful dolls. On the day I decided to give our family's box away, it turned out that the videographer who travelled with us wanted to be sure to film the delivery. There were others giving their boxes from home too, so we had to wait. The young girl who waited with me, Amie, was the very last child to be given her box that day.
With no common language, we both used an interpreter to help us connect a bit. I asked her how old she was. She was 5. I told her about my friend in Canada who is 5 named Jillian. I told her about some of the things Jillian likes to do, and then asked her what she likes to do. She told me she enjoys singing and playing football. I asked her to sing a song for me, and she did. I loved hearing her small voice. We drew pictures in the sand of our families. We wrote our names, and discovered both our names had 4 letters. I taught her the song my Gramma taught me as I was learning to spell my name, as it worked for her name too. Soon I forgot that I had even brought a gift for her – the gift of this time together had become so precious. Here I was, across the globe from my home, yet somehow making connections with this young girl. It was a gift far greater than I had imagined.
Finally it was her turn to open her box. Inside were the two dolls, one big, one little. I asked her right away what she might name the big doll. She told the interpreter. He simply said “She has given her your name, Kyla”. Wow. That felt big. Tearfully, I asked if she could name the smaller one Amie, so we could always remain friends.”
I was invited to give something small, and in the Hands of our Great God my life has been forever changed. I now carry in my heart the joy and hope, and a burden of constant prayer for this young Senegalese daughter, Amie. Oh, Lord, let her see You for who You truly are, and may she put her trust in Your name one day soon.
Our small gestures are well placed in the Hands of our Great God. We may not see the results we expect, and we may never even see results for ourselves, but there are no better hands to be entrusting with our lives, our offerings, our hearts. We are all invited to pack a small box (or many small boxes) again this year. I invite you to join me in trust, with great anticipation, that our small gestures will be transformed by our Great God into the immeasurable - for His glory.
Operation Christmas Child Collection Week is November 14 - 20th. For more information visit: http://samaritanspurse.ca/operation-christmas-child.aspx