A shoebox recipient now serving with Operation Christmas Child helps distribute gifts to children across her storm-ravaged country
Joy Samar never expected to hand deliver Operation Christmas Child shoebox gifts to boys and girls across the Philippines just six weeks after a terrible typhoon ravaged her country. And she certainly didn’t anticipate working for the same ministry that helped change her life eight years earlier.
She had different plans.
“I had my whole life figured out when I was 16,” Joy said. “I would go to college, get married at 30, and become a missionary by 33.”
She is just 22 years old now, but already feels that God is directing her along a different path. It started when she accepted Jesus Christ into her heart, and continued two years later when she received a shoebox gift.
That was back in 2005. Joy heard Operation Christmas Child was coming to her church in Taguig City, Manila, but at age 14 she thought she was too old to receive her own shoebox. Instead, she helped plan and coordinate the distribution for nearly 75 other children. But to her surprise, that number increased by one teenage girl when she was handed a gift.Joy still smiles when she talks about the day she was blessed to tear into a shoebox of her own.
“I remember every gift in my box,” she said. “I still have the stuffed bear I named Pepito.”
At that moment, Joy committed herself to sharing the love of her Savior with other children. But she would do so on her own terms.
Or so she thought.
“How can I glorify you if I don’t know your plan?”
The first rough patch for Joy came after she graduated from high school.
She had her heart set on attending a prestigious college, but her family couldn’t afford the tuition. Joy was forced to spend a year working and reconsidering the plans she had made for her life.
“I was angry with God because I wasn’t able to get into the school I wanted,” she said. “I thought I deserved to be there.”Joy took a job with her church, which she said helped “divert my attention away from my disappointment.” It also proved to be a step ordained by God, even though Joy was still struggling to understand why she should follow His lead.
“I kept asking God, ‘How can I glorify You if I don’t know Your plan for me?’” she said.
Joy eventually enrolled at Taguig City University, a local college near her home. It offered the courses she wanted and gave her time to continue volunteering with Operation Christmas Child.
After she graduated last April, Joy went to work for a ministry organization that reaches out to others across the Philippines. She also serves with the Operation Christmas Child National Leadership Team to support local church partners as they incorporate shoebox distributions and child discipleship within their own congregations.
“God will always make a way for me”
Joy experienced first-hand the importance of these simple gifts in providing emotional relief after a natural disaster.Just before Christmas, Samaritan’s Purse loaded a 747 cargo aircraft with 65,000 gift-filled shoeboxes—many of them packed by people impacted by Hurricane Sandy—and sent it to the Philippines.
This precious cargo was meant to brighten the holidays for the youngest survivors of Typhoon Haiyan, a storm that ripped through the island nation and left 4 million people homeless while robbing countless others of nearly all their worldly possessions.
Joy participated in a series of special shoebox distributions on Cebu, Bantayan, and Leyte islands through many of the church partners she had only spoken with over the phone.“The day the typhoon hit, we didn’t know what was going on,” Joy said. “I was so grateful for not having to experience it myself, but I knew I had a responsibility to share hope with others.” And that’s what she did as she handed out shoebox after shoebox to boys and girls who had lost their possessions, homes, and even loved ones in the storm. Joy helped give them the opportunity to enjoy being a child at Christmas, even for just a moment.
Before returning to her life in Manila, Joy knew God used these distributions to show her that He had greater plans for her than she could ever have for herself.
“God will always make a way for me,” she said. “He used me to give these shoeboxes. I didn’t pack them, but I was able bring a smile to kids who are in need. It’s the best Christmas I’ve ever had.”