The Most Important Thing to Pack

September 23, 2015

by Karyn Mathewson, Operation Christmas Child Logistics Coordinator, Blezard Valley, ON

'Hugs were filling in where words weren't even there to describe it'

I have been an Operation Christmas Child shoebox packer for many years but I never knew the importance or value of packing a personal note in my shoeboxes.  It wasn’t until I went on a distribution trip to Costa Rica where I witnessed the impact of a note.

As I sat from a distance I saw a boy going through his box.  He pulled out a towel, a package of combs and a t-shirt and I thought to myself how sad it was that there was no toy in there for him to play with. 

Then I saw him reach down deep into the box and pull out a letter from an 82-year-old grandmother who shared how much she had thought about him while she packed this box and how much she loved him.

The boy listened as a translator shared her message to him and then he hugged that letter and wouldn’t let go.  It was such a powerful image that burned in my memory and I vowed every box I ever packed from that day forward I would include a personal note.

In my shoebox notes, I share about how much I love the children even though I have never met them and then I also share the most important gift they could ever receive, way better than this box, is the gift of Jesus and knowing Him.

I started an email account just for my Operation Christmas Child shoeboxes.  This was another thing I learned from Costa Rica—that some schools may have access to the internet!  I wouldn’t have thought that was possible and for many, it isn’t.

In the last couple of years, I have heard from a few children through email.  In May, I received an email from a beautiful girl in Senegal, Naomi.  In her email, she shared with me that she knew Jesus and had accepted Him into her heart.  This was great to hear because in Senegal, 98 per cent of people are Muslim.  She shared how she had received our box when she was with her father, a pastor who was helping to distribute boxes in Senegal.

Throughout the next several months, we exchanged emails.  She shared that the school she attended in Senegal had a partnership and an exchange program with a U.S. school and she would be coming to America for a few weeks. 

On a whim, I searched for the school she would be visiting and asked if it would be possible to meet her while she was in the U.S. Her host family said yes, so the trek began: my parents and my husband and I pack boxes as a family so my mom, Ruth, decided she to come with me to meet Naomi.

Through rain and unknown highways, we set out with a bit of anxiety and nervousness—wondering what this meeting would be like. 

All I can say is that God showed up in such a beautiful way.  We met with her host family and Naomi and two other students at the host family’s church.  She was so happy to meet us and gave us big hugs and just kept hugging us.

Naomi 2

Karyn, along with her mother, Ruth (right), meet shoebox recipeint Naomi for the first time.

There were no words at first—hugs did all the talking!  We spent time together talking and sharing.  She spoke incredible English and we were able to simply enjoy being together. We worshipped together and sang about how no one was higher than our God, our God is able and the sermon was from Jeremiah 29 that God has a plan for us!

Naomi described what was really important to put in shoeboxes: school supplies. She said her school was different, and only 25 female students are chosen each year to attend this school of 200 girls. The government pays for their education and all supplies. This is not the case for most children, Naomi said, and that’s why it is important to give school supplies.

She will be able to finish high school there and then go to university. She plans to study medicine. Knowing this brought me hope because when I visited Senegal in 2013 and helped distribute shoebox gifts, I was overwhelmed by the need of the children. Knowing this one beautiful girl would have these opportunities was so encouraging.  It also helped me understand how she could travel to the U.S. 

With all the advances in technology, Naomi and I have ways to stay in touch, including Skype and Facebook. I am so thankful to have met her. The love of Jesus glows and shines through her. She said she is the only Christian in her school; all the other students are Muslim. 

Operation Christmas Child shoeboxes are a powerful way of communicating the love of God and creating opportunities to share our Christian faith.

As we drove home, my mom and I kept thanking God for this amazing opportunity.

I kept pinching myself to make sure it wasn’t a dream. The visit was a small glimpse of what heaven will be like when we are all reunited as those who love Jesus and love our  neighbors—a full expression of the Great Commandment.

Read more about Naomi and Kathryn's meeting in the CBC news article Operation Christmas Child shoebox donor, recipient finally meet