Two young people in Peru who were changed by shoe box gifts are now spreading that joy to other children through The Greatest Journey
Worship music rang out from a rooftop in Lima, Peru, as several teenagers in brightly colored face paint danced and twirled in front of a crowd of children.Give“Hallelujah, hallelujah!” The song carried over the brick wall and filtered through the neighborhood of colorful, clumped buildings that climb up the sandy hillside. About 60 children smiled and clapped as they watched and cheered loudly as the dancing ended.
Lorena Lamilla, 18, and Jhonatan Tamani, 16, grinned broadly as they explained that the children are invited back to church for the next 12 weeks to participate in Bible lessons called “The Greatest Journey.” Lorena and Jhonatan both distinctly remembered the shoe box gifts they received at that very church through Operation Christmas Child about nine years ago. They attributed the gifts as turning points in their lives.
“It was because of that gift that we began to grow closer and closer to Jesus and grow in our faith,” Jhonatan said.
Lorena agreed, adding, “Along with the box, I received a booklet called ‘The Greatest Gift.’ I saved that booklet and read it often. I thank the Lord for that because that is what encouraged me to grow in my faith more and more.”
Although they are young, the two are quickly becoming leaders in their church, Mision Crist Samaria, in the San Juan de Lurigancho district of Lima. They have been trained as teachers of “The Greatest Journey,” the Bible lessons offered to many children who receive shoe box gifts through Operation Christmas Child. They started teaching their first classes in late February.
After traveling to a poor area of Peru on a mission trip with the church, their passion grew. Jhonatan described giving his piece of bread to a young boy who ate it with such hunger and vigor, it brought tears to his eyes
“We need to do something for the children, and we’re going to start with the children in our own community,” Lorena said.
“The Greatest Journey” classes provided the perfect launching pad for the pair, who feel called by God to be a pastor and a missionary. They connected with the lessons immediately and have hope their students will come to salvation through the lessons.
“As we received a shoe box and we learned and grew in our faith, I hope that they will do the same,” Jhonatan said. “I hope that they, too, will move from being students to teachers.”
Both of them still remember the gifts they received, and Jhonatan still has “The Greatest Gift” booklet that outlines the Gospel.
“I remember that there was a little red, stuffed animal dog in my box,” Jhonatan said. “That was what was most precious to me. I would hold it and sleep with it.”
Finally, he passed the treasured dog on to someone else, just as he is now passing on his love of God by teaching “The Greatest Journey.”
“For me, it was a pair of tennis shoes, the light-up tennis shoes,” Lorena recalled. “I put them on, and I was running and jumping. I ran home very happy, and as I ran, I could see them lighting up along the way.”
She has become a light in her community and is determined to study to become a pastor despite the obstacles in her path. Both are trusting in the Lord to provide resources they do not yet have in order to follow God’s calling in their lives.
“We have a God that takes care of us, is with us always, and is there when we need Him,” Jhonatan said. “And when we feel alone, He is there.”
“The Greatest Journey” lessons have helped them find hope that they can begin to make a difference, starting in their own communities. Lorena grew up without a father and hopes through teaching the lessons, she will help the children avoid some of the struggles she faced as a young child. For a time, she distanced herself from the Lord.
“But upon feeling God’s calling on my life, and having an opportunity to teach in Sunday school, I said to the Lord, ‘I’m going to leave it all so that I can come and give it all to the Lord,’” she said. “And if the Lord calls me to something, I will leave whatever I’m doing to serve Him.”