Shoebox Recipient Draws Reconciled Family to God

October 26, 2016 • paraguay
distribution at Centro Cristiano Fuente de Vida in Barrio San Francisco; Gutierrez family, shoebox salvation story
Joanna (dressed in pink) volunteers with her family at their church’s Operation Christmas Child outreach event in Paraguay.

Joanna’s family in Paraguay was going in separate directions, all pointed away from God. A shoebox gift introduced her to Jesus. Then, she began leading family members to Him.

You Can Pack a Shoebox

Joanna’s family was about to break apart.

The Paraguayan family hadn’t lived under one roof for some time. Joanna’s mother, Martha, was working in Uruguay, located south of Paraguay in South America.

distribution at Centro Cristiano Fuente de Vida in Barrio San Francisco; Gutierrez family, shoebox salvation story

Joanna received a shoebox gift three years ago at age 13. This year, at age 16, she helped distribute shoeboxes, along with three members of her family who have come to know the Lord.

Estranged from her husband, Martha was considering making her move permanent because she didn’t see any reconciliation to her marriage in sight. That meant the children were going to have to choose where and with whom they would live.

That’s when Joanna received a shoebox at age 13. That day, the girl who felt so much uncertainty decided to place her faith in Jesus Christ and the direction of her family in His hands.

“I wanted to follow Jesus, so I decided to become a Christian right then,” said Joanna, the youngest of four children.

Finding Her Heart in San Francisco

“Receiving a shoebox was the way Joanna received the Gospel,” said Maria Vera, who along with her husband, Victor, formed a church called Centro Christian Fuente de Vida (Foundation of Life Christian Center). The church meets on a plot of land in an area of Paraguay called San Francisco.

After receiving Christ at the church’s Operation Christmas Child outreach event, Joanna began taking The Greatest Journey classes and attending Sunday school, which the Veras taught underneath a tree.

distribution at Centro Cristiano Fuente de Vida in Barrio San Francisco; Gutierrez family, shoebox salvation story

Joanna and her mother, Martha, take a stack of shoeboxes to hand out during an outreach event in Paraguay in early June.

When Joanna told her mother the news of her salvation during a telephone conversation, Martha decided to come home and began attending church services with Joanna. Martha now teaches The Greatest Journey discipleship classes and plays the tambourine in the church’s praise team.

“God has used Joanna to work in our family, starting with me,” Martha said.

Joanna’s influence spread to her older sister, Jessica.

“At home, she was always singing all the songs she had learned in Sunday school,” Jessica said. “‘Sing it again,’ I would ask her. I started coming to church and learning all the songs myself.”

Their brother, Adam, was withdrawn. Joanna repeatedly encouraged Adam to come to church. Adam finally gave in to see why she was so persistent.

“She wants all of us children to come to God,” Adam realized.

More Blessed to Give Than to Receive

During the church’s Operation Christmas Child outreach event this past June, Joanna, now 16, helped hand out boxes like the one she received three years ago.

Observing Adam at the event, Pastor Victor Vera said, “It’s a miracle to see him here, talking and laughing openly with the people here, because back then, he wouldn’t say anything.”

distribution at Centro Cristiano Fuente de Vida in Barrio San Francisco; Gutierrez family, shoebox salvation story

Martha credits her daughter, Joanna, with drawing her to God. Pastor Victor Vera calls Martha one of the pillars of the church.

Joanna, Martha, Jessica, and Adam now attend church together.

“I am very happy that my family is almost whole,” Martha said about her husband and other son being closer to accepting the Gospel.

“I’ve learned to never say no when Joanna’s telling me things about God,” said Joanna’s father, Gilberto, a recovering alcoholic.

“I’m very grateful and very touched that God has used me in this way,” Joanna said.

Please pray:

  • For Joanna to continue to grow in her faith in Christ as she approaches young adulthood.
  • For wisdom for Joanna, Martha, Jessica, and Adam as they invite other family members to church and talk with them about the importance of having a personal relationship with Jesus.
  • For Victor and Maria Vera as they lead the Foundation of Life congregation in purchasing a plot of land to expand the church’s outreach in the San Francisco community of Paraguay.

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