Operation Christmas Child shoebox changes African boy's life

Tri-City HeraldDecember 7, 2012 

One boy. One shoebox. One story beyond imagination.

The narrative -- almost like a fairy tale -- began in 2003 when Fred Otiini Otanga opened a simple shoebox filled with Christmas gifts. But what this 10 year-old African boy couldn't know was the very best gift was yet to come, to be opened at the perfect time.

Like stories go, one never knows the end when they are at the beginning.

So like the good boy he had been raised as by his mother, Emma, little Fred wrote a thank you to the nice lady in the United States, who lived in a faraway place named Georgia.

Days passed after the letter left his South African village to find its way to Marilynn Sanders, who secretly had hoped whomever opened her Operation Christmas Child shoebox might write back.

Letters winged their way across continents between young Fred and Marilynn for three years. Then one day, Marilynn decided to surprise her pen pal. For Fred's 13th birthday, she flew to Africa to meet this special child whom she'd grown to love -- a wonderful moment arranged with his parents.

During those 10 days Marilynn and a friend were there, she met the pastor who gave Fred his first shoebox. She also learned that the best gift she could give this boy was a better education. The young teen was attending a poor government school where learning opportunities were limited.

"Once we got back home," Marilynn recalls, "we started raising money and researching schools and when he was 15 years old, we finally got him into a Christian school."

And that's where today, at 19, Fred excels in high jump and track where he has received a number of medals.

Marilynn surmises, "He must have inherited that talent from his mom's Kenyan Kalenjin tribe, known for being the fastest runners."

Fred's ability hasn't gone unnoticed at his school -- and beyond. An Olympic coach wants him to train and compete in 2016.

It's beyond one's imagination that the gift of a simple shoebox could set this story in motion. But then, nothing is beyond the imagination of God and His love.

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