From the hills of Tennessee to the mountains of Colombia, Faith Russell’s shoebox dream reached new heightsYou Can Build a Shoebox Online
The kids sitting cross-legged in the Bosa community of Bogota, Colombia, filled most of an open-air basketball court at the local Christian school. Obviously they were there to have a good time. They launched into dancing when the sound system boomed bass-filled rhythms that flooded the school grounds and community around. People even gathered outside the school fence to watch. “What in the world is going on?”
Their community is known as “the first corner in Bogota” because Bosa is where people go for a good time. But not like this. This event was at the Christian school, and a pastor was leading the parade.
Actually it was no parade at all. It was a Bible study of sorts where children learned about The Greatest Gift of all—Jesus Christ. And on this very special day these children would receive a representation of Christ’s love packed in a shoebox by someone thousands of miles away. Lizeth Doyana Rios, 13, would find out exactly who packed her shoebox gift—Faith Russell from Knoxville, Tennessee.
In 2014, Faith and her brother Griffin rallied their church to pack 300 shoeboxes. Faith announced that although they were packing hundreds, she really wanted to do 20,000. From that point on, it became a goal. Faith has walked 100 total race miles despite having spina bifida to raise awareness for the Operation Christmas Child cause.
The box that Lizeth Doyana Rios opened on December 9 in Bogota was the 20,001st shoebox packed as a result of Faith’s vision. Why is that number special?
“Because there’s always room for one more,” Faith says. “With one simple shoebox you can change the whole world.”
What Lizeth unpacked last week were Faith’s dreams. Her dreams of expressing generosity and the gospel of Christ with kids all over the world.
Yes. It was a shoebox with gifts inside—sandals, necklaces, coloring books. But each of those items, along with pictures of Faith and her family and a handwritten note, were specifically chosen so that a 13-year-old girl somewhere in the world would understand that another 10-year-old girl loved her in Jesus’ Name.
On December 9, Lizeth experienced just that: “This is a very wonderful day, because I’ve never received a gift like this. She wanted to give me the best and do the best for me. I believe these are people who want to bring us love.”
Thousands of Miles and Ministry Opportunities
Shoeboxes like Faith’s bring local churches astounding ministry opportunities in places like Bogota.
“It shows God in a way that is real,” said Pastor Pablo Antonio Martinez, pastor of Iglesia Ministerio Monte de Sion. “It shows God’s love in a way that is material. It doesn’t matter what the circumstances are. People see that God is here and that there is hope.”
Through Operation Christmas Child, Pastora Maria at Iglesia Christiana says her congregation has influenced more than 6,000 local kids. Recently more than 400 kids graduated from our Gospel-centered discipleship course, The Greatest Journey, which was created for shoebox recipients.
“We want children to walk in the way of the Lord,” said 16-year-old Daniel, who helps walk children through the six-week study, a teaching tool that has helped transform his church’s engagement with its community. “This is our purpose. To bring the Gospel. And I can see here that this work is not just for one country but that you aspire to reach all countries and all continents all over the world.”
The 20,000 shoeboxes gathered by Faith Russell, her family, friends, and her church join an estimated 12 million shoeboxes to be distributed this year in more than 130 countries worldwide. It’s amazing to think what God can do through these gifts in communities throughout the world.