Good News for Barbuda's Children—with a Texas Twist

November 9, 2017 • Caribbean

About 250 boys and girls from Barbuda, which was devastated by Hurricane Irma, received Operation Christmas Child shoebox gifts on Nov. 7. Many were packed by a small church in Texas, and the pastor and his wife got to see the distribution firsthand.

As Pastor Mark Brumbelow and his wife Cherry packed Operation Christmas Child shoebox gifts in late September with their small church in Wild Peach, Texas, they sensed God was going to do something special. But, they weren’t exactly sure what.

Cherry Brumbelow joins the packing party at Grace Baptist Church.

In fact, their packing party on Sept. 23 almost wasn’t held. A month earlier, Hurricane Harvey roared ashore along the Texas Gulf Coast and dumped more than 50 inches of rain further inland, damaging many hundreds of homes and putting Houston underwater.

In Wild Peach, the San Bernard River flooded and the homes of seven church families, including Mark and Cherry’s, were severely damaged or destroyed.

Nevertheless, the 30 members of Grace Baptist decided not to cancel their packing party. They felt an urgency to their mission, and so they gathered together that Saturday and cheerfully packed more than 1,000 gift boxes.

You Can Pack a Shoebox

“We know God has a special purpose for every shoebox, but we felt there was something different about these, that there was something mighty important and that we must hold that packing party,” Mark explained.

He’s been the church’s pastor for 10 years, and Cherry serves as a volunteer with Operation Christmas Child, mobilizing churches in her community. Over the past four years, members of Grace Baptist have packed more than 16,100 gift boxes—including the 1,000 on Sept. 23.

“We know God has a special purpose for every shoebox.”

Two weeks later, Operation Christmas Child staff notified Mark and Cherry that some of the boxes they packed would be distributed to children from the tiny Caribbean island of Barbuda. The lives of those children were turned upside down when Hurricane Irma decimated the island on Sept. 6.

So, victims of one hurricane would bless the victims of another hurricane. “Boy, are we glad we obeyed the Lord and went ahead with that packing party,” Mark said.

Faith Became Sight

On Nov. 7, Mark and Cherry had the joy of being present when about 250 children participated in the first-ever Operation Christmas Child distribution event for the Caribbean islands of Antigua and Barbuda.

Mark and Cherry Brumbelow of Wild Peach, Texas, help distribute shoebox gifts.

Mark and Cherry Brumbelow help distribute shoebox gifts to children in Antigua.

Nearly every home on Barbuda was affected by Hurricane Irma’s Category 5 fury, and this week’s event had to be held on their sister island of Antigua as Barbudans remain unable to return to their homes on a permanent basis.

After Mark and Cherry placed shoeboxes into the hands of the children and interacted with them as they opened gift boxes, they were filled with joy. “Seeing this makes me want to do all I can while I can,” Mark said, his voice breaking with emotion.

Cherry echoed those comments. “It’s beyond words how excited I feel,” she said. “I can’t wait to get home to pack some more shoeboxes. It’s such a joy to be a part of Operation Christmas Child, especially knowing that the children will be taught through The Greatest Journey how to faithfully follow Jesus.”

Mark Brumbelow

Mark Brumbelow enjoys looking at all the special gifts the children received.

Bishop Nigel Henry, who just celebrated 35 years of ministry on Barbuda, also attended the distribution event. He was excited about Operation Christmas Child and its follow-up discipleship course, The Greatest Journey.

“It’s a tremendous privilege to be a part of this kind of evangelism,” he said. “This will help our churches be revitalized from the child up as opposed to from the adult down.”

Sisters Aleyah and Alisha and their younger brother Kwasi were among the children who received shoebox gifts. The three listened intently to Devon Recha, who presented the Gospel. Devon was 12 years old when he received an Operation Christmas Child shoebox gift on the island of Grenada and also experienced Hurricane Ivan when it ripped through there in September 2004.

Devon Recha shares the Gospel to children gathered for the shoebox distribution.

Devon Recha shares the Gospel to children gathered for the shoebox distribution.

Devon, a former senator-turned pastor, challenged the children to commit their lives to Christ and to follow Him. Aleyah, Alisha, and Kwasi raised their hands when Devon asked the children if they wanted to say “yes” to have Jesus as their Savior and Friend.

“I want to follow Jesus because He is the most special Person in the world,” Alisha said.

After the shoebox gifts were passed out, the three children squealed in delight when they opened their boxes. “I like the coloring book, the monkey, everything,” Alisha said, with a wide grin.

Sitting several rows back, Michelle, their mother, said, “This is very nice. We appreciate this. I say ‘thank you’ for what you’ve done for us and our children.”

Grateful to Have Survived

Michelle and her children feel blessed they survived Hurricane Irma. As the storm’s 185-mph winds roared outside, the four of them huddled in the upstairs of the Barbuda guest house where she worked. (Michelle’s husband Jenna was posted at his security job during the storm.)

Alisha, 9; Kwasi, 5; and Aleyah received shoebox gifts in Barbuda.

Left to right: Alisha, Kwasi, and Aleyah committed their lives to Jesus Christ during the distribution.

It was after midnight, and her boss had permitted her and other workers to stay there during the duration of the storm.

“I was scared, the thunder roared and the lightning flashed,” recalled 9-year-old Alisha.

“The roof was ready to blow away, so we prayed,” Michelle said. “I was ready to give up, but God was so good.”

The monstrous winds momentarily grew calm, and some friends helped Michelle carry the children downstairs to safety. That’s where they survived—and slept—the rest of the night.

Hurricane Irma flattened Barbuda. The majority of the homes there were damaged or destroyed, including the house Michelle and Jenna rented.

On the heels of Hurricane Irma followed Hurricane Jose. On Sept. 8, two days after Irma struck, the prime minister ordered the 1,800 residents of Barbuda to be evacuated to the island of Antigua. For the first time in 300 years, no living person was on Barbuda.

At the last minute, Hurricane Jose spared Barbuda a direct hit. But the devastating damage from Irma was already done.

Multifaceted Relief Strategy

The Tuesday Operation Christmas Child shoebox event was part of a much larger and long-term strategy by Samaritan’s Purse to help the people of Barbuda recover and to rebuild their lives.

After Hurricane Irma devastated Barbuda, we immediately set up reverse-osmosis equipment at multiple locations, which desalinates the water and provides clean drinking water safe to drink. This was especially critical for military, government, and relief workers who would go to Barbuda during the day but return to Antigua at night. We have so far provided over 100,000 liters of clean water.

These children from Barbuda had to evacuate to Antigua after Hurricane Irma.

These children from Barbuda had to evacuate to Antigua after Hurricane Irma.

As residents were also able to return to the island during the day, our staff and volunteers began helping homeowners clean up their property and tarp their roofs. To date, we have been able to serve 468 households—all in the Name of Jesus.

In total, we have distributed thousands of tarps, hundreds of generators and jerry cans, as well as dozens of hygiene kits.

Next up, we will be constructing transitional shelter for residents—non-permanent structures with a metal roof, wood studs and covered with heavy-duty shelter plastic. These are similar to what we built following the devastating earthquake in Haiti. These are designed as temporary shelters until residents’ homes can be repaired or rebuilt.

One resident we’ve helped is Lestroy Newton, who has lived in his home on Barbuda for 33 years. We tarped his roof damaged by the hurricane and provided a generator to keep his refrigerator running.

“I’ll tell you what, if it weren’t for Samaritan’s Purse, we would still be in chaos,” he said. “I don’t know what we would have done. I thank God for you.”

Note: Samaritan’s Purse also continues hurricane relief on Puerto Rico and Dominica.

Please pray for the children from Barbuda who received shoeboxes. Pray that they will experience God's love and know that He has a plan for their lives.

Please pray for the children from Barbuda who received shoeboxes. Pray that they will experience God’s love and know that He has a purpose for their lives.


Operation Christmas Child, a project of Samaritan’s Purse, works with local Christians in more than 100 countries to deliver gift-filled shoeboxes to children in need. The Greatest Journey is our 12-lesson follow-up discipleship course for children who have received shoebox gifts. 

You can be a part of this exciting international evangelistic outreach by prayerfully packing a gift-filled shoebox! Learn how to pack a shoebox. You can also volunteer at a processing center.

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