The Power of a Simple Gift – Operation Christmas Child

Operation Christmas Child, shoeboxes

Vicki is hard at work on shoebox gifts.

Operation Christmas Child is an endeavor that is near and dear to my heart.  Not only do I sincerely believe in the power of one simple gift, it also happens to be one of  my wife’s most favorite things.  Anything that brings her that much joy and happens to be an amazing tool for ministry deserves all of the support that I can give it.

If you don’t know what I’m talking about then I invite you to read the  following excerpt from Operation Christmas Child: A Story of Simple Gifts.

A Story from Operation Christmas Child

Not sure that your one shoebox will make a difference?  Read an actual account from Bosnia in 1993 (one of the first shoebox distributions).

 If any American city had experienced a December snowfall of five feet, no school would have been open.  But on that frosty morning in Bosnia, Lejla’s mother woke her, dressed her, and put an old pair of shoes on her feet.  The toes of the shoes were ripped open.  Her father had tried to close them up with steel wire but the leather was so rotten it wouldn’t hold together.  Lejla’s mother wrapped her feet in bags and sent her out into the arctic chill that defined Balkan winters.

A bulldozer had come through early that morning and cleared a narrow path in the road that remained slippery and messy.  Lejla may have been walking toward the school five miles away, but she had no intention of showing up there.  If ever an adolescent was on the brink of giving up, it was Lejla.  To prove it, she purposely detoured into a landmine field where just the day before her best friend had been killed and another friend had lost his leg in an explosion.  Maybe if she walked through the same field she could end her miserable life.  She had no reason to live.  With no coat to keep her warm, maybe she would even die from the frigid temperatures, she thought.  She was tired of being cold, weary of hunger pains, and afraid of the future.

After fourty-five minutes of wandering through the landmine field with no answers and no explosions, Lejla looked into the sky and cried, “God, I hate you for hating me so much and wanting me to suffer like this.  If you think I’m going to live like this, I’ll show you.”  Then she headed toward Sniper Alley with the certainty it promised; a one hundred percent guarantee of being shot to death.  She slipped under the barricade and wrenched her neck up toward the mountain, waiting for the powerful boom to end her misery.  It didn’t happen.

I found myself walking toward the school, disappointed I had survived Sniper Alley.  As I approached, I saw some kids holding boxes and I wondered where they had gotten them.  We had nothing new; even primitive items were scarce.  As I got close, I noticed how bright and beautiful the boxes were.  One of the boys said, “There are people inside giving these away.  You can get one too.”

Why do I need a box? Lejla thought.  I don’t have anything to put in it.  It’s pretty, but it won’t do me any good.  When I walked inside, I saw an older gentleman sitting on the steps.  He jumped up and grabbed a box from the top of the pile and headed toward me.  But I didn’t want any interaction.  I wanted to be left alone.  I was bitter and hateful.  To make matters worse, the man had a big smile on his face and gently said, “I want you to have this.”  I took it so he would go away quickly, but to my surprise the box was not empty.  The heaviness caused my hands to give way slightly.  I took hold, turned and ran as fast as I could until I found a solitary corner and slumped to the floor, cradling the box in my lap.  My heart was racing and my emotions were fragile.  Do I dare hope for what might be inside?  After all, this is a shoebox.  I looked down at my frozen feet, and then with great apprehension, lifted the lid.  Inside was a pair of brand new sneakers.

For some time I sat and cried while lifting the lid and closing it.  The crying had left me weak and quivering.  I felt sick, then happy.  As I drew the sneakers out of the box, my hands bumped into other things.  The shoes that fit perfectly were enough, but more?

I pulled out a twelve pack of pencils.  My entire class of fifty-eight students had been sharing a nub of one pencil all year long, and now I had my very own!  A notebook was there to replace the one I had used for three years, with hardly scribble space left.  Then I discovered erasers that smelled like strawberries – the first smell of anything pleasant that I could remember.  When I clasped a tube of toothpaste, I opened and tasted it.  The flavor was so delicious that I nearly ate it all.  Energized by the thrill, I gathered my new belongings and got home as fast as I could, hoping that none of the kids would steal my box from me on the way.

My mother was stunned when I came through the door and inquired where I had gotten all of my treasures.  “A man gave them to me and said the box was from Jesus.”  I assumed there was someone in America by that name.  That night, I pulled out my new pencil and notebook and wrote a letter to Jesus, telling Him things I had never told anyone.

At school the next day, I found the man who had given me the box and asked him if he would take the letter to America and give it to Jesus.  He explained that Jesus was God’s Son and that He came to pay the penalty for man’s sin.  He told me that Jesus is the One who died for our sins and that if I confessed my sin to Him, Jesus would forgive me and love me as His very own.  The man spoke truth to me and I had no reason to doubt him, for I already knew that He had heard and answered my prayer.  He was real and I knew He had mercy. 

In Jesus’ wonderful way, He reached down from Heaven into a little girl’s frightened heart and saved me, and He used a shoebox to do this miracle in my life.  Today, I may not have the physical possessions that filled my shoebox that day, but I have the most valuable and lasting possession – eternal salvation and assurance that my soul belongs to Him.

To make it sweeter, He allowed me to come to America and personally say “hvala” (thank you) to all those Christians who make the shoebox ministry possible.  I have my own family now and we are privileged to pack fifteen hundred shoeboxes each year.  If only one person finds salvation through these boxes, my life will have been worthwhile.  I am among the one hundred million souls that have been touched by Operation Christmas Child, and changed by the Jesus of Heaven and Earth who reached out to me.

Choose to Get Involved

The power of one simple gift in the form of a shoebox full of goodies is this: it beautifully and simply illustrates a gift given out of love with no expectation of anything in return to someone who has most likely never received a gift before.  In other words, it shows by example just what Christ did for us and opens a door in a child’s heart to receive His love.  This is the message and the ministry of Operation Christmas Child.

If you’d like to participate there’s still time.  Shoebox collection week is November 13th through November 20th and there are drop-off locations nationwide.  Packing a shoebox is easy!  Don’t have time to pack a shoebox?  Each shoebox costs $9 to ship and that is a very inexpensive and easy donation that would sponsor a gift that could save the soul of a child.  Or, you can build your box online through the Operation Christmas Child website.  And please don’t forget to pray that each box is guided by the Holy Spirit to the child who needs it most!

However you do it, choose to get involved.  On that glorious day when you are walking down the streets of paradise you could be approached by another child of God who says to you “Thank you for your gift.  I am here because you chose to give”.  That is indeed the power of one simple gift.


  1. Great story Matthew. It is so easy for us to try and make ministry difficult. Yet it is often times the most simple ideas that lead to something wonderful.

Speak Your Mind