Shoebox Gifts Open Doors in Storm-Weary Acapulco
As Samaritan's Purse continues to work after Hurricane Otis, churches are reaching children and families through Operation Christmas Child and The Greatest Journey.
Children and many of their parents gathered together under the large cobertizo in La Barra de Coyuca. The young people of this small town just west of Acapulco recall, as if yesterday, the nightmare of Hurricane Otis. Even now, when it begins to rain or the winds pick up enough to shake their roofs, children relive the deadly storm of October 25th. Many families lost everything.
“I thought it was the end of the world,” said 11-year-old Henry. He hid with his mother and sister in their small bathroom as the wind destroyed their home. He was among the children in the community invited together by Yesenia Rodriguez to learn about Jesus Christ.
Just days after Otis hit, Yesenia and her husband, Ulises—in contact with friends and churches in Acapulco—drove the three hours south from their home in Toluca to help. They brought relief supplies, and even clothes and children’s toys.
They had come to assist the struggling communities near Barra and a neighboring village called Tercera de Enero. Ulises, a pastor, also came to help area churches crippled by their own losses. One way to help was by spearheading Operation Christmas Child outreach events followed by invitations to the 12-lesson discipleship classes of The Greatest Journey.
With joy, Yesenia opened her book to introduce the children to their very first discipleship lesson. It was just the week before that these children of La Barra de Coyuca received their own shoebox gifts at the nearby gymnasium. Its metal roof still lay twisted along the ground where it had been thrown during the storm.
A girl named Litsea, 11, attended that outreach event. She’d prayed to receive Christ, and now she was among the several dozen children attending the lessons with Yesenia.
The shoebox gift, which included a notebook, a toothbrush, a pink and blue penguin, and other things, had opened the door to receive The Greatest Gift—the Lord Jesus Himself. She was eager to learn more about Him.
As Yesenia presented the Biblical account of creation, describing all the beautiful animals and plants that God made in the beginning, the children drew pictures of exotic animals.
“I drew a shark,” Litsea said, describing to Yesenia and others what she had learned. The shark was an animal she hoped never to see in person, she said, even though she’d lived near the ocean all her life. She also shared details of the storm that had taken her family’s house. “I hid under the bed with my mom, my dad, my brothers, and our dog. When there was a break in the wind, my papa ran to bring back my grandparents. We all hid there until the storm passed.”
Samaritan’s Purse trucked in thousands of Operation Christmas Child shoebox gifts into Guerrera state in the days following the storm. Leading up to Christmas, local leaders trained more than 300 churches in how to conduct outreach events. Teachers of The Greatest Journey prepared to start classes from the surfside towns to the mountain communities in the surrounding Sierra Madres.
“I love Operation Christmas Child,” said Yesenia, a teacher of The Greatest Journey for more than five years. “I still remember, 13 years ago, receiving my own shoebox.”
Even more than a decade later, she still could recall the pens, pencils, toothbrush, and puzzle she found when she looked inside. She also received Jesus Christ that day.
“This ministry is important to me, because that was also that day that I raised my hand and prayed to receive Jesus Christ. That is why we are here today. That is why we came down from Toluca.”
Multifaceted Relief Response
Samaritan’s Purse has numerous ministry partners in Acapulco and the surrounding region. These churches have been essential in our initial relief response, helping our North American Ministries and Disaster Assistance Response Teams (DART) to connect with communities to assess and meet critical needs.
Our North American Ministries team has deployed more than 500 volunteers, many from Mexico City, to help more than 100 homeowners tarp damaged roofs. DART members have provided clean water systems to churches in nine communities and assisted dozens of local churches with roof replacement and repair. Thousands of shelter kits and home water filters were distributed through partner churches.
Many of these congregations have been partners with us through Operation Christmas Child for years and now continue reaching and discipling families in their communities through shoebox gifts and The Greatest Journey discipleship course. Through all these efforts churches are reaching into their still-hurting communities to introduce children to the greatest gift and one true hope, Jesus Christ.
Pastor Pedro Victorino at Fountain of Living Water church in Los Manantiales says the storm has opened paths that would have never been possible before.
“The storm did not surprise God. It was not outside of God’s plan,” said Pastor Pedro. “New people are coming to our church now, and they are becoming genuine believers. And God has been able to bless us through Samaritan’s Purse. We have kitchen cooktops now to feed more people. We have clean water. You have provided us with a new roof after the old one was destroyed. And now we are praying over these gift boxes, asking God to meet specific needs through them in each child who receives them.”
And those prayers are being answered in wonderful ways throughout the storm-rattled region.
“Seeing these people here helping my grandson reminds me that God is here to help us,” said Sebastiana, grandmother of a 6-year-old boy named Sebastian, during one gift box outreach event in another remote village.
The face of a 12-year-old boy named Miguel, an aspiring artist, lit up with a smile when he saw the artist notebook in his box. He immediately began drawing flowers.
Two 12-year-old twins girls each were amazed to find a medical kit and sewing supplies among their items. Yeni wants to be a doctor. Dyessamin is learning how to sew at school and needed her own materials.
“Yes. They are small things,” Pastor Pedro said. “But to a child who has lost everything, they are a way of introducing them to the love of Jesus Christ.”
Donate to Operation Christmas Child
Can sponsor the costs of sending one shoebox gift to a child in need.
Could help with processing and shipping two shoebox gifts to children in need.
Can provide local churches with training and resources to distribute shoebox gifts at outreach events.