As we walked onto the preschool playground in Asuncion, Paraguay, the children were anxious to see who these strangers were that had come to visit them.
Among the 2 to 4 year olds, there were typical little ones who wanted to be the clowns of the class and those who were shy and hid behind the teachers. Like all children, none of them wanted to stay in their seats.
The Gospel was presented in a way that preschoolers could understand, with a Wordless Book of colors representing God as light (yellow), our sin (black), Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross (red), Jesus’ atonement for sin (white), and spiritual growth and an eternity with God in Heaven (green).
The children began calling out the colors of the book as a teacher explained what each of the colors meant.
The preschoolers didn’t know that they would be given a gift, so imagine the surprise that lit up their faces when the shoeboxes were revealed. As in all shoebox distributions, each child also received “The Greatest Gift” Gospel booklet.
As we gave out the shoeboxes and the countdown to open them began, excitement grew. Some of the children were hesitant to open their boxes, while others tore into them with childish fervor.
One little girl caught my attention. She opened her box, looked at everything inside it, and quietly sat it on the ground. Then, she picked up The Greatest Gift booklet and went through it page by page, trying to sound out the words. She was so enthralled with the pictures and the words in the booklet that one of the teachers had to remind her to pick up her shoebox and take it with her as she was getting ready to leave with her mother.
It was a wonderful example to us to be overcome with the newness of the Gospel and hear it and see it through the eyes of a child. For every shoebox that was given out, the Gospel was presented, and a seed was planted. Some seeds will sprout immediately; others will take time to be cultivated.
Seeing the Gospel Take Root
Later in the week, we went to Iglesia Evangelica Biblica Parque del Norte (North Park Evangelical Bible Church). When the church started about 12 years ago, it hosted its first shoebox distribution. Most of the children who received a shoebox then are now active in the church as adults.
Today, about 25 children attend the church. For this shoebox distribution, the church invited 200 children from the community to hear the Gospel at the celebration event.
When the children arrived, they were given a heart to put on their outfits as a way to keep count of the attendance according to age group. The hearts were different colors according to the child’s age.
As with all shoebox distributions, the Gospel presentation was the focus of the event. At the end of the presentation, we gave the children their shoeboxes and had them open them at the same time. Then, something strange happened. They all began to leave the building at the same time.
I was curious as to why the children left so quickly. It was evident when we went outside. The children were exploring their shoeboxes in the comfort of a cool breeze. They shouted with glee as they dove into their boxes.
Four children climbed in between two soccer goals that were put together like a tent and placed all of the items from their shoeboxes neatly on the grass side-by-side to inspect each item.
One little girl found a pencil and pad of paper in her box and immediately began to write on the pad. When we asked her what she was writing, she explained that she was thanking the one who sent her the wonderful treasures. Her grateful heart was a lesson that we need to be thankful for not only the big things in life but also the small things like a pad and pencil.
In each of the distributions we participated in, the focus was on the children and all who were present hearing the Gospel. Shoeboxes are a way to plant a seed of hope and love into a child’s heart.
Every shoebox is a seed planter that then needs to be watered and nourished. That is done with the 12-week discipleship program called “The Greatest Journey,” which teaches kids about faith in Christ and how to become disciples for Him.
Be a seed planter; pack a shoebox.