“It was a life changing experience,” is the way Delaynie Childers describes a summer Student Vision Trip to Tblisi, a city in what was formerly the Republic of Georgia.
The Coffee County 16-year-old was selected to go to the Eurasian country in the Caucasus region between Western Asia and Eastern Europe as part of a Samaritan’s Purse Operation Christmas Child Shoebox Distribution team.
The daughter of Charis and Michael Childers is a homeschooler who attends Open Door Baptist Church in Enterprise where she assists with the children’s ministry.
Childers and Operation Christmas Child Community Relations Coordinator Heidi Logsdon recently reflected on their roles in the international, non-denominational Christian relief and evangelism headed by Franklin Graham, the son of renowned evangelist the late Billy Graham.
Both are year-round volunteers for the Operation Christmas Child Program.
Childers got involved in the OCC program through a friendship with Logsdon’s daughter, Blakely, who has volunteered with OCC year-round for four years to include a Student Vision Trip to Madagascar, Africa, in July 2017. “We both are homeschooled and we met through archery,” Childers said.
Childers applied and was notified March 16 that she was accepted to join the Student Vision Trip July 9 through 16. She flew to Atlanta, Ga., where she joined three other team members on a flight to their destination via Washington D.C. and Dubai, located in the Persian Gulf.
In Tblisi, the trio joined the other 15 to 21 year olds and the translators who accompanied the team on each distribution event. The students were divided into two 12-member teams. “The experience was genuinely life changing,” Childers said. “It was an experience to try to put into words and you just can’t.”
The first distribution Childers went on was about 45 minutes outside of the city of Tblisi. Some 50 children attended the event. “They all sat there for the Gospel presentation just listening so intently and when they opened up the shoeboxes, their expressions were pure joy,” she said.
Childers said she was impacted by the expression on the face of a girl who had a stuffed animal in the shoebox she received. “I’ve never seen somebody so excited,” she said. “She couldn’t take the smile off her face. She hugged it with everything she had.”
Logsdon nodded in agreement. “I was in South Africa in June doing the same thing,” she said. “We had a distribution with about 200 kids in the room.
“Other children were peeking into the room,” Logsdon remembered with a smile. “We found out later that they had received shoeboxes the week before and were so excited to come back to watch their friends.
“We share the experiences so people understand that when they pack a shoe box they are being the hands and feet of Christ,” Logsdon said. “Each shoebox is a Gospel opportunity for a child. It will change their life.”
The shoeboxes Childers distributed had originated in Germany and contained hand knitted scarves and hand knitted stuffed animals. “That was really cool because you got to see how much love somebody puts into a box,” she said.
The mission of OCC is to demonstrate God’s love in a tangible way to children in need around the world and together with the local church worldwide, to share the Good News of Jesus Christ, Logsdon said.
Since 1993, OCC has collected and delivered more than 146 million gift-filled shoeboxes to children in more than 150 countries and territories. “For many of these children, the shoebox is the first gift they have ever received,” Childers said.
The shoe boxes can be filled with small toys, hygiene items and school supplies. Soccer balls are a shoebox filler that more than one child can benefit from. A toolkit with nails, screws, screwdriver and hammer is also appreciated. The only tools that can’t be included are saws or pocketknives.
Before receiving the shoeboxes, the children hear a Bible lesson. The children also receive “The Greatest Gift,” a booklet available in 80 different languages that shares 11 Scripture stories with colorful illustrations that introduce the children to Jesus Christ.
“Some kids tried to give the boxes back to us because they thought we were just there to take pictures of them holding the boxes,” Childers said. “And once they realized that they could keep them their whole demeanor would change completely.
“Once our translator talked to the children and they realized they had a way to communicate, the children opened up,” Childers said. “A lot of them knew English which was very eye opening. We just wanted to love them and hug them and give them their gifts. They were so grateful.”
Childers’ team did six distributions. The furthest trip was two and one half hours away in the mountains. “That was my personal favorite,” she said as she described skits and music depicting the life of Jesus that the villagers performed for their American visitors. “You could see the passion that they had and how much they enjoyed telling the story that they were sharing with us.”
After receiving shoebox gifts, the children are invited to participate in “The Greatest Journey,” a 12-lesson course of Bible stories and Scripture memorization. When they complete the 12 weeks, the children are given a New Testament in their language.
Part of the teen’s year-round ministry is being available to speak at area churches and civic organizations about the mission of the OCC, share their personal experiences and provide tips on what items to best fill the boxes with in order for them to be the most effective.
The Operation Christmas Child National Collection Week this year is Nov. 18-25. For information on scheduling Childers to speak, contact Operation Christmas Child Area Coordinator Barbara Westerbeck at firstname.lastname@example.org or via the Facebook page Wiregrass OCC.
Area collections sites:
Saint Luke United Methodist Church
201 Heath Street, Enterprise
Nov. 18–10 a.m. until noon
Nov. 19– 4 until 6 p.m.
Nov. 20—10 a.m. until noon
Nov. 21—4 until 6 p.m.
Nov. 22—10 a.m. until noon
Nov. 23—9 until 11 a.m.
Nov. 24—noon until 2 p.m.
Nov. 25—9 until 11 a.m.
Coffee County Baptist Association
603 East McKinnon Street, New Brockton
Nov. 18—8 a.m. until 4 p.m.
Nov. 19—8 a.m. until noon
Nov. 20—8 a.m. until noon
Nov. 21—8 a.m. until 4 p.m.
Nov. 22—8 a.m. until noon
Nov. 23—9 a.m. until noon
Nov. 24—1 until 4 p.m.
Nov. 25—7 until 9 a.m.