A child’s heart … in a beat it could see truth. Love had come from thousands of miles away in a shoebox.
“ ‘Yesu ara-gu-kunda’ (phonetic) means ‘Jesus loves you’ and this is what we said to the children when we handed them their boxes in Rwanda,” Tricia MacFarlan said, reminiscing how this past month she and Operation Christmas Child team members placed gift-filled shoeboxes in children’s hands. “The boxes are personally packed, and we saw over and over again how they arrive to a child who had wanted that very thing.”
In a country still learning how to heal from a tragic past of genocide, the opportunity for the Tri-Cities Area Coordinator in Benton County to see the global Samaritan’s Purse charity come full circle was meaningful.
Tricia’s volunteer journey with the nonprofit organization began in 1994 after a story she read moved her deeply.
“I had ordered all these books from an advertisement I’d seen in a magazine,” Tricia said, recalling the anticipated shipment. “So a huge box arrives and there’s all this packing paper, but at the very bottom is just one book, ‘Miracle in a Shoebox.’ ”
A bit surprised and disappointed at not finding the other books, the stay-at-home mom decided to at least read the publication by Franklin Graham right then with her three little daughters. It was a moment that forever changed her life.
“I’m pregnant and already emotional, and I start sobbing,” Tricia said, reflecting on how the book touched her very core. “I called the director of our Sunday school and asked, ‘Can we do this project?’ ”
It was a question that would have her garage filled for years with bright green and red shoeboxes.
Since that spontaneous beginning, the response from the community has been awe-inspiring, as local churches have joined hearts and hands during the month of November to provide a “miracle in a shoebox.” Miracles that Tricia witnessed in orphanages, churches and a hospital this summer.
“As we moved out of the city, we’re bumping on this dusty road and you can smell the heat,” Tricia said, thinking back to the team’s open-window bus ride, then a crumbling brick building coming into view. “We see lines of children waiting to hear the gospel, but they don’t know what else is coming.”
There’s an air of expectation as the team members walk inside with toddlers to teens, all excited to hear Bible stories. Unimagined is the blessing about to unfold as the shoeboxes are handed to each one.
“We’re expecting that they’ll be squealing with excitement, but they don’t know. Even with the boxes in their laps, they’re still quiet,” Tricia said, reflecting on how this experience is brand new. “Pastor tells them, ‘We’re going to count in Kinyarwanda, French and U.S. (English), and you’re going to get to open that box in your lap.’ ”
In a heartbeat, there are cries of joy.
Two boys find light-up bouncy balls in their boxes, a little girl discovers sunglasses her father says she has asked for but they couldn’t afford. Play-doh, plush toys, crayons, hair ties, caps, toothbrushes and more bring ecstatic happiness.
The gifts touch each child.
“I met one little boy, 4-year-old Miguel, who was named after a famous singer and his mom told me, ‘My son loves music so much, especially singing,’ ” Tricia said, remembering the conversation. “When he opened his shoebox gift, the first thing he saw was a large plastic toy microphone. He shut the box. He was so happy and right away stood up on his chair and starting singing!”
A gift packed months ago for an unknown child in a distant country. But up close and personal is a loving God.
“It spoke in his heart language,” Tricia said.
A message little Miguel instantly understood: “Jesus loves me!”