Operation Christmas Child gift-filled shoeboxes go to difficult places, from densely populated inner cities to deserts and jungle. Local churches are using these gifts to share the Gospel — even where the name of Jesus has never been heard. Working with these ministry partners, Samaritan’s Purse aims to follow the Apostle Paul’s example and preach Christ where He is not yet known (Romans 15:20-21).

Together, despite formidable challenges, the Lord is opening doors to deliver Good News and great joy to children in need around the world.

In June of this year, Lynette Mahaffey and Esther Troyer of Sugarcreek traveled to Tanzania to distribute shoeboxes with Operation Christmas Child. Once on the ground in Tanzania, they traveled on heavily eroded, dusty roads to reach the villages where the children were anxiously awaiting their arrival. The children would run up to the vans, most of them dressed in sweaters, coats and hats. The temperatures were dipping into the low 70s and to these children, it was winter.

Shoebox distributions are structured the same way in most countries. It begins with singing and dancing, followed by the presentation of the Gospel. The children sit quietly with their eyes fixed on the brightly colored posters that illustrate the story as it’s told aloud. The pastors live in these communities by example, investing in and loving these children and their families. They always express their profound gratitude for the shoeboxes because they know the value of the box is in the Gospel opportunity it provides. If these children truly grasp and understand it, it can be life-changing and the future will be much better for them.

After the Gospel presentation, the children open their shoeboxes. Some favorite items include sunglasses, toothbrushes, balls of all kinds, dolls and stuffed animals. One little girl came to a distribution wearing shoes that were so small her toes protruded through frayed holes and curled over the toe of the shoe. She was excited when she opened her shoebox to find a brand new pair of socks on the top and under the socks a brand new pair of shoes.

To the mothers, who are keeping watch nearby, shoeboxes can be an answer to prayer. One mother approached Troyer saying, "Thank you for making my child so happy."

In Tanzania a pack of crayons is a whole week’s wages. Children can’t go to school unless they have school supplies. What we see as a simple gift, these people see as extravagant. "We want them to see Jesus in every box," said Mahaffey, area coordinator of the Ohio East team of Operation Christmas Child.

Before leaving one distribution, Esther asked three children what they have learned by receiving a shoebox.

The first one spoke up and answered, "how to love one another."

The second child said, "how to serve others."

And finally the third child stated, "how to be bold in sharing Jesus."

Why pack shoeboxes for Operation Christmas Child? Simply put ... evangelism and discipleship will change the lives of children, families and whole communities.

National Collection Week is Nov. 18-25. For more information, gift suggestions and to download a shoebox label, go to www.samaritanspurse.org. For local information call Mahaffey at 330 852-8812.