Operation Christmas Child (OCC) is part of the Christian organization Samaritan’s Purse. OCC partners with the local church worldwide to share the Good News of Jesus Christ and demonstrates God’s love in a tangible way to children in need by gifting shoeboxes filled with school supplies, hygiene items, and small toys.
In February 2020, I was privileged to travel to El Salvador as part of a shoebox distribution team. I brought with me a box I had packed at home to give personally. I’d thought and prayed often about the boy in the 10-14-year-old category that I had decided to give my box to and asked God for wisdom as to what should go inside.
I was excited, but also scared that I wouldn’t recognize the boy God wanted me to give it to. I hoped He’d make it clear with a flashing arrow or a trumpet in my ear.
At the shoebox event in San Salvador, the capital of El Salvador, I stood at the back of the open-air church and waited to be led to my seat. My heart pounded and I wondered if I would be taken to the right with the boys or to the left with the girls. I was led to the right.
I sat down and four boys with shy smiles and big, brown eyes looked back at me. I tried the few Spanish phrases I’d learned earlier that morning, but thankfully the boy sitting next to me jumped in with broken English. With Jose’s help, I learned each boy’s name, favorite subject in school, and how old they were. All the boys were 11-years-old, except Jose, who was twelve.
I immediately felt drawn to Jose. He wore a bright red t-shirt that one of my boys back home might have worn. Engaging and confident, it was evident his friends respected, admired, and even looked up to him.
When it was my turn, I walked up to the front of the church to collect the boxes I would give out to my row. A smiling young woman handed me four boxes and I immediately thought there’d been a mistake. These boxes were for younger boys, not for the boys I had sitting in my row. I looked around for different boxes, but quickly realized there were none.
There was no flashing arrow or trumpet blast, but I decided to give my shoebox to Jose anyway. It seemed like the right thing to do. Jose gave me a hug then sorted through its contents with a quiet calm. I’m not sure what I expected, but certainly something more dynamic—anything to confirm I had given my box to the right boy.
The last time I saw Jose he was with his friends playing soccer. He waved and then he was gone.
Soon after the distribution, doubt began to creep in. Had I made a mistake? Had God intended my box for a different boy? Had I been impulsive? Impatient? Misguided? I felt anxious and unsure.
Without even realizing it, my need for a physical sign made me like the Pharisees and teachers of the law who, in Matthew 12:38, also demanded a sign from Jesus. Jesus rebuked them. Instead of reprimanding me, however, God met me in my doubt.
The Lord graciously reminded me of Thomas, who wouldn’t believe until he’d experienced the holes in Jesus’ hands and side. I travelled to El Salvador with similar demands. I wanted to see God at work my way. I wanted arrows, trumpets, and cries of elation, but what God asked of me was to have faith.
Before my trip, the issue of gangs and poverty in El Salvador had weighed heavy on my heart. Unknown to me at the time, Jose’s distribution would be the only one we’d have in San Salvador where gang membership, deprivation, and their resulting hopelessness grow abundant.
I don’t know anything about Jose’s life. I don’t know if he has parents, what his house is like, or if a gang will pursue him one day. I certainly don’t know how God will use my shoebox in his life. But, what I do know is that Jose was prayed for and I gave him the box because it “seemed right.” I can trust that God will use it for His purpose and glory in Jose’s life.
When I gave away my shoebox, I had responded to the Spirit’s quiet nudging in faith. It was only afterwards, when I tried to fit God into my own expectations that doubt and worry crept in. I’ve learned that I must let go of the idea that I have of God and just believe He is God. And that sometimes He speaks in a quiet whisper and not in a storm.
Written by Tamara Kramer