About 6 months ago I received a phone call that would change my life forever. “Hi, this is Suzy, I was calling to ask you if you wanted to be my traveling companion on a “Vision Trip” with Samaritan’s Purse to Riohacha, Colombia? We leave in 2 months.”  I had never met Suzy, but through her son talking with my husband, she knew it was a dream of mine to go deliver Operation Christmas Child shoeboxes in a third world country.  I wish I could say I said yes right away, but for whatever reason I was reluctant to go.

One night I couldn’t sleep and I was wrestling with God about this when Mercy Me’s song ‘Here I Am Send Me’ came into my head and I knew what my answer was. I thought everything was going to be perfect because I was doing what I was supposed to. Well, the trip started out kind of rough; a very long delay in Seattle, arriving in Miami at 1:30am only to find out that my hotel room was given away (having to share a room with a stranger from the OCC trip that I met the next morning) and accidentally throwing away (and not being able to retrieve) all my spending money in the Colombia airport due to sleep deprivation! Really God? I thought I was supposed to go. They say sometimes the unexpected things are what you remember most about a trip. Thankfully, those weren’t what had a lasting impact on me.

The first one was that, although I thought handing out shoeboxes would be my favorite part of the trip, it wasn’t. We were privileged to take part in the ‘Greatest Journey’ graduation. This is a 12-week program that the children can sign up for that is taught by trained teachers from Samaritan’s Purse.  We got to hand each child their diploma and their first New Testament in their language.  Before the ceremony began they were getting ready to act out the story of the Good Samaritan, complete with a real donkey.  A boy who was in the play kept looking in the crowd and we thought he was just being shy. We found out later that he was looking for his family. You see before he began the 12-week program his home was filed with violence from his father who beat his mother. As this young boy started to learn about Jesus he went home and told his family what he was learning. After a while the beatings stopped and all his family was there to see him graduate, even his father. After the ceremony we were taken into a “classroom” and we heard many stories of angry young boys showing up and through the love and grace of this teacher instructing them about Jesus their lives were changed. There wasn’t a dry eye in the room.

The second one was at the shoebox distributions. I always thought that the kids knew about the gifts, but they don’t. They are given an invitation to come hear about Jesus. They come, some walking miles in at the heat and humidity, to hear a message, listen to music and see a drama. It’s kind of like VBS on steroids. After everything is done, someone gets up and tells them that Jesus is the greatest gift given and there are people all over the world who love Jesus and love them and want to give them a gift. Then the shoeboxes that were hidden under a tarp are unveiled and the screaming and excitement starts. I couldn’t believe that they had come not expecting anything.

At the end of the trip, I still never learned exactly what a “traveling companion” was from my new friend, Suzy. I never carried her suitcases or did her laundry, but I saw first hand the impact a simple shoebox has on a whole family.

Colombia-Image

– Amy Willis

If you would like to participate in Operation Christmas Child, boxes will be available in the lobby at both of our campuses from October 21 – November 12. Deadline to return boxes is November 12.