My life felt gray. But when my shoebox came, it was full of colour.
Growing up in Malawi, I loved playing make-believe. That’s what my siblings and I did because we didn’t have any dolls or toys. We would go outside after it rained and mould the clay-type soil into figures. I used to have pretend clay tea parties with those. But you couldn’t play without getting muddy.
When I received my Operation Christmas Child shoebox gift at age 6, it contained my first real toys—including not just one doll, but two! Having two dolls to play with was perfect because that meant that I could pretend the dolls were having conversations with each other. I played with those dolls so much that I wore them out.
At the time, I was just happy that someone had given me gifts. It was obvious they had put a lot of thought into what a child would like to receive. The box was wrapped with this beautiful Christmas paper. It was so beautiful that I waited to unwrap it until I was home later that day so I could take my time. Other kids were tearing into their gifts, but I wanted to appreciate the gift and everything about it, including its wrapping. A picture book was my favourite thing in my shoebox. It had such bright colours and pretty settings. It spoke to my imagination. More than that, it was mine. It was a high quality, hard-cover book—the first book I ever owned.
Before I was born, my parents left Rwanda to seek refuge in Malawi. I have never been to Rwanda, but I experienced the Rwandan culture, language, and traditions at home. Outside our home in Malawi, it was a different world. That set me apart. I felt like I was a part of both worlds but that I didn’t completely belong to either one. I had to play roles in both worlds to meet other people’s expectations.
I grew up in a Christian family but thought of religion in terms of rules. There were certain specifications to abide by concerning dress and behaviour. I didn’t have a connection or a heartfelt relationship with God. I went to church because that’s what I was supposed to do, but I didn’t feel anything. I went through the motions. The shoebox helped me realize that God is for children, too, not just adults.
When I heard the Gospel message at the shoebox presentation, I knew the Bible stories. I had grown up learning them. But there was such joy and excitement in the sharing of the message. I wondered why they were so excited. I became curious, and I thought, “This Jesus might be someone I want to get to know.” I continued to learn more about Him, and at age 11, my relationship with Jesus truly began.
At age 14, I resettled in Michigan with my family. My two brothers, sister, and I still talk about how fitting our individual shoebox gifts have been to our lives and personalities. I think that God designed our shoeboxes specifically for each one of us. I received a toy microphone in my box, and now I sing in the choir of a Rwandan church in Michigan. Before, I had wondered what was so exciting about church. Now there is a passion to my worship. My singing is truly joyful because I’m singing for God.
I speak in schools and churches, encouraging people to pack shoeboxes, for Operation Christmas Child. I tell people that this little gift of a shoebox changed my life. I want to thank all the people who have a sincere dedication to this ministry of packing shoeboxes, to empower them to continue in their ministry because they are impacting so many children in ways they can’t even fathom.