Before I started my internship, I had heard that I might be able to take photos of an Operation Christmas Child distribution. But I didn’t actually expect it. Some of the staff members in the Democratic Republic of the Congo have been here for more than a year and haven’t been to a distribution. But before my first week was up, I got my opportunity—and to make it even better, it was held in a town called Hoho.
The children were called up one by one to receive their gifts. As a young child, I packed shoeboxes with my mom and brothers. While I watched, I thought of all the people it took, throughout the process, to put each one into the hands of a child.
Once all the gifts had all been distributed, the children opened them, and a wave of joy swept through the crowd. They shuffled through all their new treasures, showed them to their friends and families, and held tightly to their boxes.
But the impact goes far beyond the material items in the box. The children also receive The Greatest Journey booklets, which tell the story of the Gospel in their own language. As they waited to open their boxes, they flipped through the booklets. After the distribution, churches often invite the children to attend The Greatest Journey discipleship program. Through this program, many children come to Christ—and they often invite their friends. At the end of the program, there’s a graduation ceremony to celebrate.
I went back to Hoho a week after the distribution was held to visit a staff member. Children from the distribution immediately recognized us as the people who had brought gifts, and their faces lit up. They surrounded our car as we stopped to ask for directions, and when we entered the house of the family we were visiting, I could see children’s faces peering in through the windows and door.
As much as the children love their shoeboxes, material possessions don’t last forever. In the eastern region of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, there is ongoing conflict, and people are living in an environment that is never truly stable. Those who flee from danger are often forced to leave everything behind; those who live in areas outside of the current conflict live in fear.
Despite the brokenness and instability, Operation Christmas Child provides the children in the area with something that is constant—the gift of having a friend in Jesus.