Participating in an Operation Christmas Child shoebox gift distribution is truly a life changing experience. And that is not only for the children involved. Along with playing with the children, we were privileged to be able to participate in sharing the gospel story with them. If you missed the story of what happened up to this point you can catch up here:
And to restate: some of these pictures may be from other team members. We all shared our pictures and I didn't think to mark down which set came from whom, so if a team member happens to stumble upon this post please let me know so I can credit your picture to you.
After play time the kids are all brought in to the main area whether it be a porch, a classroom or a church. While we had been playing with them, a couple of the team members as inconspicuously as possible had starting setting up the shoe boxes at the front of the area where the children would be seated. They were set out in groupings of how they would be given out. The stacks of shoebox gifts were then covered with a big, colorful parachute or fabric of some kind so that the children couldn't see the boxes. Then the children were seated in rows according to age and gender in order to make the distributing of the boxes less chaotic.
Once all the children are in their rows, they sing some familiar songs. Then they are asked to be seated and are given a short, fun gospel presentation. Because Costa Rica is mainly Catholic, the gospel is still allowed in the schools so this was totally acceptable to do if we were in a school setting. And because it is all organized through a participating local church all school officials know what is going on and have been contacted before hand by the church. Nothing is done in secret or by surprise or under handed. It was so good working with an organization that is so above board and organized with all that they do.
The participating local churches are trained by Samaritan's Purse and all materials are provided by them so that there is consistency to how the gospel is presented. It is beautifully done in a fun, easy to understand way. And in all locations that distributions are done the parents are invited so, again, everything is transparent and above board. We got to participate in some locations by holding up the pictures as they told the story of creation, man's fall and the story of Jesus life and His saving mankind. Then the children and parents, if they want to, are led in a short prayer of thankfulness and salvation.
Then small booklets of the Greatest Journey are given out so that the children can take them home, and reread the story and color in it and the parents can also read it.
The leader will now talk about how Jesus was the greatest gift of all and start talking about gifts and how fun it is to get a gift. Then they are asked if they would like a gift. Some of the children don't quite know how to respond. Some are wary as they have never received a gift. Others are excited for that very reason and in anticipation of where this is leading. In most of the distributions we did the children were now asked to close their eyes and put out their hands and keep them like that and were told "No peeking". Now our team would quickly place age and gender appropiate boxes into their outstretched little hands. At this point some of them just couldn't contain themselves and take a quick peek at what could be in their hands. When everyone has one they get to open their eyes. To build the excitement even further they do fun things like get the kids to place the boxes on their heads, drum on the boxes, all sorts of fun things to build and build the tension and make it fun and memorable.
The anticipation is high! The boxes are taped so they can't open them yet and they start a big countdown to where everyone can open them. They make it so fun and build the excitement by stopping the countdown for silly things like the pretense of tying their shoe or something. But finally the countdown reaches "go" and then the opening begins. If the children can't rip the tape themselves our team members help. It is loud and it is exciting. Some of the children are quite overwhelmed. Some will take one thing out of the box and try to pass the box on. They don't quite understand the whole box is for them. Some are so overwhelmed when they open the box they look at the things on top and then close the box not quite sure what to make of it. And others are going through the box as fast as they can.
One incredibly meaningful thing that Operation Christmas Child does for the team members is that if you want you can bring a packed box in your luggage to personally give to a child. They divide up the personally packed boxes amongst the different distributions so there is some in each one. You get to choose the child you want to give it to so while you play with all the kids you are praying and asking God to direct you to just the right child for your gift. Then when they are seated on the floor and you go and sit with them. Your box is in a bag so they don't know what's going on. They just assume adults are sitting down with the kids. Then when they start distributing the gifts you get to give your child the box you packed for them. It is so deeply moving knowing all the prayer that I did for just the right things in the box and for that box to go to just the right child so that they would know Jesus loved them and that I packed the box lovingly and prayerfully just for them. And then being able to hand them the box and watch them open it? Pure joy!!!
(face blurred on purpose)
At this point, the children are then invited to join a 12 week Greatest Journey course in their community. More coming on that in the next post. Now we just spent time showing how some games or gadgets in their boxes worked if they didn't know and the grand party was over. As we walked towards our waiting bus, the children would run up to gates or fences to wave us off. In one location a little boy ran up to me and gave me a great big hug as I was waiting by the bus. This started a chain reaction of kids running up and giving us hugs and thank yous. Not one team member left with dry eyes. And as we were driving away we would catch glimpses of them walking home with their boxes, happy and excited.
I wish I could share all the pictures of the whole thing with you. It is truly am amazing thing to be a part of.