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Linda Hester, Guest Writer for Senior Pastor Aaron Rayburn - When I Close My Eyes

When I close my eyes, I can see the dust of the African roads being stirred as we make our way to the remote villages. I see sunlight streaming through windows into churches and schools that are lit only by that sunlight. I see the children captivated by the Gospel presentation, and smiles turn to tears as they see gifts in shoeboxes packed just for them. I see a little girl who has never received a gift take one from my hand and sweetly pass it to her friend, not knowing if there will be another for her.

I have volunteered for Operation Christmas Child (OCC) since 2009, but the images from my most recent trip are among the most memorable and life-changing, as I traveled with other volunteers and Samaritan’s Purse (SP) staff to Malawi.

We worked with OCC volunteers from the Malawi National Leadership Team (NLT) to distribute approximately 2250 shoebox gifts in impoverished villages, orphanages, and community centers. Each distribution began with a song or skit from the children, followed by a gospel presentation by the ministry partners using colorful SP materials. Time and time again, little hands and sweet prayers were raised to heaven as the invitation to accept Christ was extended. Then the shoebox gift along with a colorful booklet of the Gospel, in the local language, was handed to each child. Following each distribution, the ministry partners, who have been trained by the NLT, lead a discipleship program to help children reaffirm decisions made for Christ, know how to walk with God daily, and know how to share Jesus with their friends and family.

Perhaps the most eye-opening distribution was the very first held in a village school where we were told the surrounding community is heavily influenced by traditional occult practices, which involve secret initiation ceremonies held in nearby graveyards. Children as young as 5 years old are often forcibly initiated into this secret society. Throughout the shoebox distribution, the children were smiling and listening intently. Then, as they poured out of the building, we heard them laughing, talking, and full of joy as they carried their shoeboxes home.

What we did not expect is that within minutes and just a few hundred yards away, we would be eyewitnesses to unmistakable spiritual warfare. I watched a little girl playing with a toy monkey she had received in her box as we were escorted to watch a presentation under a small grove of trees. She sat with her mother, continuing to play with the toy and sharing it with her brother, while many of the village people gathered around. Soon, the girl’s mother and a few other women began to chant loudly and violently in a ritual we learned was deemed the “calling of the spirits.” Although we did not know in advance that we were watching a Dance for the Dead, we knew immediately that we had just been given front row seats to evil.

It was such a contrast to see the joy in the children as the Gospel was being shared at the distribution to seeing the fear in their eyes as they watched this very demonic dance. And yet in the midst of the evil, God reminded me that because someone took the time to pack a shoebox many months ago, this little girl has been introduced to the Power who can overcome the darkness - Jesus Christ. “In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” – John 1:4-5

Again and again, I saw how God uses shoebox gifts to show children that He loves them, knows them, and sees them. The box distributed on the banks of Lake Malawi that contained the only fishing kit we saw. The boxes that contained articles of clothing distributed at an orphanage. The boxes with soccer balls in the community where Christians have been praying and working to start a sports ministry. And the box that contained a pair of shoes that fit the recipient’s precious feet perfectly. Every box was a tool in the hands of our sovereign and loving God.

This year, I challenge you to pack one more box than you did last year and to give to Samaritan’s Purse to provide materials for this discipleship program. Ask me how if you are interested. The shoebox really is not just a simple gift. It is the power of the Gospel! “Now to Him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to His power that is at work within us, to Him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.” Ephesians 3:20-21 - Linda Hester


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