The morning air was warm and thick with the coming rain. The minibus drove up the long, bumpy, dirt road on the edge of the Guyana backcountry. The children from grade six were standing in front of their school to greet us.
We were honored to be there, honored to have the rare opportunity to personally deliver Operation Christmas Child shoebox gifts. The gifts were from all over the U.S. and were carefully and prayerfully packed by people who may never have the opportunity to see the faces of the children receiving their gifts.
Operation Christmas Child is a project of Samaritan’s Purse, and gifts are usually distributed by pastors and teachers from the local community. They are not usually delivered by a handful of Americans. That’s the point.
These shoeboxes are like keys. They can open doors to families who would otherwise never be open to talking to a pastor, due to pride or cultural differences. Once the door is opened, the pastor or church leaders can come alongside families that are hurting. They can offer them hope and help in Jesus’ name. That’s why Operation Christmas Child’s motto is “Good News, Great Joy.”
We Americans were there, along with the local pastor, for a rare firsthand experience. The schoolroom was packed. The excitement was palpable. The children were pressed and polished in their homemade school uniforms. After singing and formal welcomes, the pastor told the children about God’s love for them and that He cared about them so much that He sent His only Son, Jesus, to forgive sin. They were told that there were gifts from people who cared about them even though they didn’t know them. They were told that they were special and loved.
We passed out the shoeboxes, and, on the count of three, pandemonium ensued! The children were so excited. They oohed and aahed at each others boxes. They laughed at funny glasses and breathed in the clean smell of soap bars. They smiled, giggled, and let us take pictures of their happy faces.
About halfway back, there was a little girl who was quiet. Her name was Bibi. She explored the contents of her box and then tucked it all back in neatly. She read the simple note that had been put in her shoebox. When she was finished, she slid the note into the fold of her dress, near her heart.
When it was time to go, the kids all ran out to either meet the rickety school bus that was coming up the road or to run for home on foot to beat the coming rain. We watched them go, clutching their shoeboxes, carefully wrapped in plastic bags. They were laughing and singing and playing like children all over the world do when school is out for the day.
One small figure stopped partway down the drive. She turned and slowly came back. It was Bibi. She walked up to me and whispered, “Thank you. Thank you so much.” She asked me if she could kiss my cheek. I stooped down, gave her a hug, and let her do as she had asked. She stared at me with her big eyes. They were so full. Honest gratitude is beautiful and life-giving.
In this hectic world, it’s easy to be too busy. We know the dangers of stress and the health risks that come with it. We know we should slow down. But I often don’t. I push through, thinking that forward progress is always better. How often do I go out of my way to express true gratitude? There are many people who have helped me along the way. So many deserve not just a passing thank you but also a life-giving, personal reminder that what they did mattered.
Bibi got a shoebox. But Bibi also gave me a gift. She demonstrated what it means to give back by giving what she did have, a simple kiss, to someone who by comparison had everything already. I was reminded to be thankful, even if it’s not convenient. I was reminded to be generous, even when I don’t feel like I have that much to offer.