A special education teacher near Nairobi is thankful for Operation Christmas Child and is now taking her students on The Greatest Journey.
Before 6-year-old Yvonne could even say the word “grace” she experienced its meaning when she met Grace Njenga—a pastor’s wife and mother of an autistic son.
“Can I help you?” Grace asked, first in Swahili and then in English, smiling at Yvonne from the church’s front doors on that Sunday morning when they first met.
Yvonne had run down the dirt road just a little ahead of her ever-attentive mother Charity. Yvonne has Down syndrome and, at the time, could not put into words what she felt or needed.
She could hardly speak, could not dress herself, could not bathe herself, could not use the washroom without help. Her mother had not been able to afford the help needed to train Yvonne in the activities of everyday life.
But meeting with Grace was about to change Yvonne’s life.
As Grace cared for her own son Gideon, she began to notice many other children with special needs all around her. She wanted to do something about it.
“I decided not to only help my son,” Grace said, “but also to reach many other children, even outside our community.”
So, she started a school for children with special needs at her church, Redeemed Gospel Church in Meru, Kenya.
That calling brought her to reach out to Yvonne, now 8, who has become an encouraging reminder of why she’s committed herself to the work.
She recalls when Yvonne started at the school two years ago: “She was very hyper. She couldn’t sit still for even five minutes. So I taught her mother. I introduced her to a new diet for Yvonne. I encouraged her to work patiently with her daughter.”
Yvonne’s progress since has been remarkable and surprising—even to her mom Charity. Yvonne now talks, sounds out words, recognizes colors, and can even help with simple tasks. For instance, Charity can tie money into a handkerchief and send Yvonne to the store for groceries.
Boxes Full of the Love of God
Yvonne and Grace both recently experienced more of God’s grace, through the work of Operation Christmas Child.
Grace was excited when she heard about an Operation Christmas Child shoebox distribution at the local library. There were enough boxes for each of her students, including Yvonne and her son Gideon, to receive one. In the boxes there were pencils, paper, shoestrings, toys, towels, toothbrushes, crayons, and clothes. And even modeling clay.
She says this simple show of generosity by people she’s never met has brightened her students’ lives and strengthened her in her work. Of the dozen or so students who attend Grace’s school only a small percentage can afford to pay anything. This leaves little extra to purchase basic supplies such as pencils, paper, and craft materials.
“Now I was able to teach them how to brush their teeth and how to use a towel when they bathe,” Grace said. “And even the toys are used because they help the students to focus and remain calm during class.”
Grace teaches students the colors by using the crayons.
“As they color with them, I tell them: ‘This is red. This is green. That’s orange.’ Being able to teach them as they work helps them remember,” Grace said.
“People may say it’s just a box. But it’s not,” Grace said. “It’s full of the love of God, and when those children see those things they see that there is someone who is thinking about them even though they are poor and on another continent.”
Grace is now walking her students through The Greatest Journey, the Samaritan’s Purse discipleship program for children who have received Operation Christmas Child shoeboxes. As they are hearing about Jesus, they are seeing words and learning to sound them out.
Yvonne keeps her shoebox and can tell you that the logo on it is the same as the logo on the shirt of a local pastor. That symbol is a shoebox that’s sprouted wings—the well-known logo of Operation Christmas Child.
It’s God’s love and grace that works in Grace’s heart and is in motion through Operation Christmas Child and The Greatest Journey. It’s God’s love that drew Charity and Yvonne to Redeemed Gospel Church, and it’s what has kept them there.
“I’ve experienced too much love from them and seen God do many things here,” Charity said. “There’s no way I would ever want to leave.”