In March, my sister-in-law, Dona Hoover, and I and 15 other Canadians went on an Operation Christmas Child (OCC) distribution trip to El Salvador. OCC is a ministry under Samaritan’s Purse led by Franklin Graham that delivers shoe boxes filled with toys, school supplies and toiletries to children in poor and often war-torn countries.
It was a dream come true for me. I have volunteered and worked with OCC for many years and I wanted to experience what happens after the shoe boxes leave the processing centre in Waterloo Region. On many occasions, it has given me a healthy focus when my personal life was unravelling. During many sleepless nights and days filled with despair, I could at least participate in something life-giving to other children.
In addition to distributing boxes, OCC also invites the children to a 10-week Bible course named the Greatest Journey. When they complete the course, OCC hosts a graduation celebration. This may be the only graduation that they will ever attend so OCC puts a lot of effort into making it extra special for the children. On the distribution trips, we are honoured to participate in both the shoe box distributions and the graduations as well as participating in the Greatest Journey.
While joy and excitement might be the expected response to the boxes, and we did see much of that, we also experienced children holding the boxes as tightly as they could. We encouraged them to open it and reassured them that it was their gift.
The days were hot and tiring and most of us struggled with stomach ailments, but the children’s excitement and energy lifted our spirits. Even the language barrier was overcome through smiles and gestures. Applying finger nail polish on the children’s nails was a wonderful expression of letting the young ladies know that we love and care for them as we held their hand, smiled and looked into their eyes, sharing Jesus’ love.
The distributions often leave long-lasting change for the communities. They provide the local pastors with an introduction to the community. In one case, a church opened in an area dominated by gangs. The gangs told the church that it would not last there, but the church thrived and eventually the gangs left. In addition, Samaritan’s Purse has other ministries such as providing clean water supplies. Communities are more open to these ministries due to their connections with the shoe box programs. In two different communities, we were welcomed and honoured by the mayor and police chief. We were also given the key to the city indicating their gratitude for how the shoeboxes are impacting their children, their streets and their community in a life-giving way.
Thank you for the opportunity to participate in this wonderful program. These experiences have made a major impression on me and I will cherish them forever. Since returning from the trip, I have had opportunities to share my experiences at four churches, an OCC volunteers banquet, the Wilmot Cluster Ladies Group and an extended family reunion. I am honoured to advocate for a ministry so dear to my heart.