Churches in this African nation distribute gift-filled shoeboxes in poor villages with many orphans and widowsYou Can Pack a Shoebox
Children ran around outside the church playing, laughing, and showing off gifts they’d received in their Operation Christmas Child shoebox. The church in this Zambian village had attracted quite a crowd, and people stood across the dusty street trying to get a peek at the excitement.
But Judith, who’d brought four of her grandchildren to the church to receive a shoebox gift, quietly wiped away tears with her black scarf and struggled to find her voice. For all the joy surrounding her, Judith couldn’t hide her sorrow as she talked with our team about the hardships of raising her grandchildren in the impoverished village.
Twelve-year-old Emmanuel, Judith’s oldest grandchild, went to live with his grandmother after his parents divorced eight years ago. Judith hasn’t seen Emmanuel’s father, her son, since he left town after the divorce.
It’s a story our national leadership team members have heard all too often. Poverty and financial struggles lead to divorce, which leads to orphaned children because parents cannot take care of them. Some parents leave their children behind when they move to other villages to find work. These children often end up with a family or adult in the village who can barely provide for their own needs.
Sickness and disease, including HIV/AIDS, have also contributed to orphaned children in Zambia. About five percent of Zambia’s population, or 600,000 children, are orphans.
Judith’s grandchildren are among the 299,000 children in Zambia who received shoeboxes this year. For many it’s a rare treat to receive presents because their families are so poor. Emmanuel liked the flashlight more than any other item in his box.
“I praise God for the gifts my grandchildren received,” Judith said.
First Time to Hear the Good News
Mutambo Philip is pastor of the church where Judith and Emmanuel attend and where they came to receive the shoebox gifts.
“For the last four weeks, ever since we announced we were having this event, our children’s Sunday School classes have been packed,” Pastor Mutambo said.
Most children who received shoeboxes were first-timers to the church, and for the first time in their lives heard that God loves them. The pastor explained that, because cult groups and spirit worship are common in his village, some children and adults have never heard the Good News of Jesus Christ.
“The Operation Christmas Child shoeboxes help draw the children closer to us,” Mutambo said. “It’s easier for us to tell children God loves them because they’ve already seen the love practically in a shoebox.”
Mutambo prays that as the church reaches more children through shoebox gifts the church will also reach parents and families. The church is already helping women and widows who struggle to raise a family on their own.
“It’s the man who works in many families,” Mutambo said. “If a widow was depending on the husband, and he dies, a very big gap is created in the family.”
The church is closing that gap by teaching women skills to help turn a profit such as knitting, chicken raising, buying and selling vegetables, and making and selling peanut butter.
Even with their newfound skills, a struggling economy makes life hard in the village. Mutambo is grateful children in his village received shoeboxes and experienced hope and joy – some for the first time.
Loving Through Learning
In another part of Zambia, some children walk miles and miles to the church where Josephine runs a community school. Community schools are often free and the only option for children whose parents can’t afford the nominal fee or uniform cost to attend a local government school.
Josephine’s husband is pastor of the church, which they started 16 years ago in a village with many orphaned children. They hosted an Operation Christmas Child event to give more children an opportunity to experience God’s love.
Children who came to the event heard the Gospel, received a shoebox gift, and were invited back to the church to attend The Greatest Journey, the follow-up discipleship program for shoebox recipients. Josephine was overwhelmed at the love shown to children through the shoeboxes.
“People have seen what happened at the church,” Josephine said. “It will attract people to come.”
About an hour outside Lusaka, Zambia’s capital city, 44-year-old Cecilia is also praying that the shoebox distribution at the church she attends will result in more children and families coming to faith in Jesus.
Cecilia led the Gospel presentation on the day of the distribution, and although she’s a Sunday School teacher, she wasn’t expecting such a large crowd.
“I could feel my heart beating I was so nervous,” she said.
Cecilia’s church also hosts a community school, where she teaches for a minimal salary. About 70 children attend the school.
“Most of their parents don’t even work,” Cecilia said. “Please pray for financial breakthrough.”
This busy mother of three is raising her children on her own since her husband died eight years ago.
“Most of our church members are women and most are widows due to sicknesses and HIV,” said Cecilia’s pastor, Wilson Kumwenda. “The Operation Christmas Child event has really encouraged them to have faith in God.”
Wilson said many people in the village don’t want to hear the Gospel and aren’t interested in attending church.
But the shoeboxes—the shoeboxes have brought the church hope.
“We will start The Greatest Journey and we expect more children to come to church and to be discipled,” Wilson said. “Pray that the church will reach many people.”
Since 1993, Samaritan’s Purse has distributed 135 million Operation Christmas Child shoeboxes. Each one takes an amazing journey into the hands of a child, and that journey begins with you. Learn how to pack a shoebox.