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Gift-filled shoeboxes bring joy to needy children worldwide

Gift-filled shoeboxes bring joy to needy children worldwide

By: Chris Menees Messenger Staff Reporter

Gift-filled shoeboxes bring joy to needy children worldwide | John Jones, J.K. Jones, Peru, Operation Christmas Child, Samaritan's Purse, gift-filled shoeboxes

SPECIAL DELIVERY — J.K. Jones (right) of Troy recently shared in the excitement as children in Peru opened gift-filled shoeboxes he and others on volunteer distribution teams delivered with Operation Christmas Child.
By CHRIS MENEES
Messenger Staff Reporter
An ordinary shoebox will never look quite the same to J.K. Jones of Troy.
He has seen firsthand the joy that shoeboxes lovingly transformed into gift-filled packages can bring to underprivileged children in South America.
And his life will never be the same either.
Jones recently had the opportunity to personally deliver shoebox gifts to less fortunate children in Peru as part of a volunteer distribution team for Operation Christmas Child — a ministry of Samaritan’s Purse, an international Christian relief organization headed by Franklin Graham, the son of evangelist Billy Graham.
Operation Christmas Child encourages people to pack shoeboxes with small toys, school supplies, hygiene items and personal notes. The gifts are collected in November and then hand-delivered to children in more than 90 countries suffering from war, disaster, poverty, terrorism and disease.
Jones — a member of Troy First Baptist Church and a volunteer area coordinator for Operation Christmas Child — was invited to participate in the early-February distribution in Peru by a regional director for the program.
“This trip changed my life for the better. I am wonderfully brokenhearted,” Jones said. “I am brokenhearted because there is so much to do. I feel wonderful because I had the chance to do something.”
Jones’s involvement with Operation Christmas Child actually dates back to 1993 when he first packed a shoebox while living in Knoxville. His future father-in-law pastored the church where he was a member and the church participated in the project. He moved from Knoxville to Perry, Ga., and then to Brewton, Ala., and in the process involved the churches he attended in both places in shoebox collections.
When Jones — the 39-year-old son of Kenneth Jones and the late Doris Jones of Troy — moved back to his hometown in 2001, he began to build support to involve Troy First Baptist Church in the shoebox collection. He said it was easy because the church was “very interested and supportive.” The church became a drop-off location for the Obion County area in 2002 and then became a place for other drop-off centers to bring their shoebox shipments in 2005, with Roadway Express shipping boxes directly from Troy FBC to Samaritan’s Purse in Boone, N.C.
After years of involvement in the Operation Christmas Child program, Jones said he feels very fortunate to have been invited to participate in his first-ever distribution in a foreign land.
“It is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and I was very lucky to be invited,” he said, adding that his family — including wife Katherine and 4-year-old daughter Elizabeth — and his employer — Siegel-Robert Automotive — were all very supportive.
In Peru
Jones said his team distributed boxes in the poorer areas outside Lima, Peru, a coastal city that is technically a desert. He said Peru is a developing nation with a population of 28 million, including 8.7 million younger than age 15.
“The terrain is rocky and barren. People cannot get home loans because of irregular income, so they build as they are able,” he said. “Most of the homes and buildings are not yet finished. Much of the area does not have running water and water is brought in by truck.”
The gift distributions were coordinated by a national leadership team in Peru. Jones explained that a team in each country where shoeboxes are distributed organizes the distributions, which enables Operation Christmas Child to work with effective local churches, orphanages and missions groups that are most in need of help. Samaritan’s Purse has a long history of working with national churches.
“The local believers need our help and they can follow up with the children,” he said. “The churches often grow by many members after a distribution and they are able to disciple children who place their faith in Christ.”
The national leadership team also gets the shoeboxes through customs, handles government regulations, finds transportation and handles most of the logistics. Jones said the team in Peru is “one of the best in the world” at doing so.
“Peru is a cooperative country, but they require us to give an account for each shoebox that enters,” Jones said. “They wanted an address this year for each child who received a box so they can check to make sure the boxes do, in fact, get to children. Pray they would stop requiring this so that distributions could go smoother next year.”
He said the Peru distribution included about 10 teams comprised of 12 to 14 members and each team had two translators. Altogether, they distributed 5,245 boxes during the trip.
“The team I was a part of distributed 550. We were only able to send 200,000 boxes to Peru this year. That means we only could distribute boxes to 2.2 percent of the children in that country,” Jones said. “There is so much opportunity in each of the countries where we send boxes.”
Many churches and organizations in Obion County participate in the packing and collection of shoeboxes for Operation Christmas Child each November, but Jones said there is no way to know right now if any of the boxes collected locally were among those he personally delivered in Peru.
“To keep shipping costs low, we cannot keep track of the places each box is shipped to, but there are plans and experiments on a bar-coding system which may enable us to do that soon,” he said.
Sharing the gospel
In addition to gifts, each shoebox includes a booklet that gives much of the detail of the gospel. It is clearly presented in the language of the children who receive the shoeboxes.
“One team saw an older child sitting cross-legged on a curb over three blocks from one of their distributions. She was reading the book,” Jones said.
At each church where team members gave out boxes, the pastors gave clear presentations of the gospel in a culturally-relevant way that the children could understand, according to Jones. Many of the children who attend those churches were able to invite friends who do not go to church to come to the distribution.
“The local churches are really able to use those boxes as an opportunity to share the story of what Christ has done for us with children inside and outside their congregations,” he said.
Jones said many of the children in Lima are from broken homes. He explained that sometimes when a couple divorces in Peru, the father feels no obligation to the children of the marriage. The mother will often go on to marry another man and she then shuns the children herself. These children can end up on the streets, caring for themselves. He said some of the children sniff a type of glue used to join soles to the bottoms of shoes; as a result, they become addicted and often do permanent damage to themselves.
“We passed out shoeboxes at the Hogar de Cristo Orphanage, where some of the children had been rescued from the streets,” he said. “This orphanage is the home of over 120 children. Some of them were not mentally developed. They were older, but we gave them shoeboxes because they had the minds of children. Some of those children had brain damage from the glue-sniffing.”
Jones said when the presentation started at the orphanage, he had noticed a young girl sitting next to him with her attendant. As he learned back into his chair, the girl clasped his forearm. He noticed the older woman who was caring for the girl moved forward to catch the young girl’s hand.
“I realized that my arm was gripped by a child — a child in a young woman’s body,” he said.
With no translator within earshot, Jones did not know how to communicate with the girl.
“I held her hand against my forearm and I just looked into her eyes,” he said. “Her big brown eyes seemed to reflect a beautiful light. I looked into her eyes and knew I did not have to call for a translator. She saw Christ’s love when I looked at her. She knew why I was there and what I had to say. I learned later that this young woman probably will never be able to understand a presentation of the gospel. But, despite the fact that the notion does not set well with the theologian in me, I know she learned of Christ’s love through a simple gift packed thousands of miles away.”
Many people who pack shoeboxes often include personal notes or photos. Jones said he noticed letters being read and passed around by the children in Peru.
“I noticed one girl named Yohana who was passing around a slip of paper to several of her friends seated near her. I walked closer and saw she was looking at a letter someone had placed in the box they had packed. A picture of a girl in a softball uniform named Maddie was stapled to the letter,” he said.
“A lady on our team named Lliana Salazar from Orange County, Calif., walked over and took the letter. She began to translate the letter to the young girl. She read a few short details from the life of the one who had packed her box. About halfway through the letter, the girl’s face changed. When the translator finished, the girl quickly but carefully folded the letter and put it in the corner of her box. It was as if she had decided that the letter was hers and not something she wanted to share.”
Jones said he will now be sure to include a letter and a photo in each shoebox his family packs. He will also worry less about what gifts to pack, explaining that there is no wrong gift for a shoebox.
“I saw a child in 80-degree weather with a toboggan on his head. He was flipping it around in the air. He loved it,” Jones said. “I also enjoyed seeing a girl wear and show off a pair of winter gloves. You would have thought she was Michael Jackson with all of the kids looking at her gloves.”
A memorable experience
Jones said the most memorable experience of his Peruvian journey occurred when his team went to the Assambleas de Dio del Peru in Manchay. The church is situated in Lima’s Pachacamac District, where it never rains. The land is rocky and dusty, with dust that clings to the body and is visible in the air.
In stark contrast to a beautiful new Mormon church next door, the Assemblies of God church is little more than a shed with an improvised roof of tin scraps and loose boards, according to Jones. “But don’t let the humble appearance fool you. This church is the vanguard of the Lord’s army in this depressed area of Lima,” he said.
Jones said during a ceremony, those attending could feel the power as the assistant pastor stood in front of the crowd of 60 or so children and clearly presented the gospel. He used a demonstration with clean and dirty water to show what Christ did when He went to Calvary’s cross. He placed chemicals into the water to make it appear filthy and then put other chemicals from a red bottle into the water, identifying them as “the blood of Christ.” The water cleared up almost instantly.
“He showed that all of the sin in our lives is made clean and clear for us by Christ when we trust Him,” Jones said. “It was the most powerful moment of the trip for me. Shoebox gifts and Christian literature were delivered to the front lines of an intense spiritual conflict.”
Editor’s note: Operation Christmas Child is currently developing teams that will work year-round to promote the program in a four-county area that includes Obion County, according to Jones — who also said he would welcome the opportunity to speak about the Peru trip at some area churches. Anyone interested in volunteering for the promotional program or in arranging for Jones to speak at their church is asked to call Jones at 335-1749.
Staff Reporter Chris Menees may be contacted by e-mail at cmenees@ucmessenger.com.
Published in The Messenger 2.21.08

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