I collected baseball cards as a kid. Piles of ’em. Thousands of ’em, one 15-card pack at a time.
Once I’d opened the wax wrapper, sorted the cards by team, and culled out the ‘doubles,’ I would keep them in shoeboxes. My room became home to a pile of shoeboxes akin to what’s left behind from a terribly indecisive shoe buying experience.
In fact, I still have a healthy-sized crate in my basement with about a dozen baseball-card-stuffed shoeboxes my wife has patiently supported me keeping through four house moves. Every once in a while, I’ll grab one of those boxes and sift through the stacks of cards, remembering childhood legends like Mike Schmidt and George Brett – and non-legends with terrific names like Biff Pocoroba and Buddy Biancalana.
I spent hundreds of hours collecting, sorting, reading, and trading these cards. Playing with those treasures in my stacks of shoeboxes is among my finest memories from my childhood.
In February, I created a new, lasting shoebox memory. I took part in a remarkable trip to Peru with Operation Christmas Child to deliver shoeboxes filled with treasures in the form of basic necessities like a toothbrush and soap, typical school supplies such as crayons and pencils, toys like small stuffed animals, and even the occasional letter.
The children who received them ranged in age from 4 to 14. They looked just like my kids, only with a little darker skin – and a lot less of the things we take for granted. Like toys. Or, clean clothes. Or, in some cases, water. In one village outside Peru we visited, they are fortunate to have water for about a three-hour window each morning.
But, boy, are they ever thankful when a bunch of gringos like myself come to see them armed with shoeboxes packed with gifts of love from people who they’ll likely never meet. Every shoebox is presented as a small demonstration of Christ’s love, and Samaritan’s Purse ensures each box is shared in the context of the gospel message.
Our family has been packing shoeboxes for years, with my 11-year old daughter Macy leading the charge. We have a great time picking out items together – stuffing as many as we can into a shoebox. It’s such a simple, yet profound, way to serve others together as a family. In all the boxes we’ve sent, we’ve never included a letter. But now, after witnessing the reaction of children who received boxes with letters in them, we won’t miss the chance to send a special message with our next box.
My favorite letter was from 10-year old Lilly in California, a message which landed 4,000 miles away in the hands of 12-year old Diego. “I hope you enjoy this special present … I picked (it) out especially for you, so I hope you like it. Also, my Mom and Dad helped me do the picking. I pray that Jesus will love you and take care of you. You are such a courageous warrior and a child of the living and only God. So with my love I’ll give this card to you. Love, Lilly”
After reading Lilly’s letter, Diego immediately asked me through a translator if he could send Lilly a letter back at the address she provided: “Thank you so much for this wonderful box, Lilly. May the Lord protect you always, every day of your life I enjoy every gift you have given to me. I would like to meet you personally some day. Lots of love, Diego.”
As we enter into the season of giving, a simple way to help show your kids the value of serving others in the name of Christ’s love is to pack a shoebox together as a family. Plus, for every donation to Focus on the Family in November, Focus will donate a cuddly toy lamb to put inside an Operation Christmas Child shoebox.
And when you’re finishing packing your shoebox together, don’t forget to include a short letter to your child. Your family’s words of affirmation from the other side of the globe mean more than you know.