God’s Perfect Timing in Honduras

October 19, 2023 • Honduras

God used Operation Christmas Child shoebox gifts to bring joy and hope to families devastated by fire.

Operation Christmas Child

Guanaja is one of Honduras’ three picturesque Bay Islands, located 44 miles off the north coast of the mainland in the Caribbean. One of its cays is home to the densely packed tiny town of El Cayo: population 5,300. It’s known as the Venice of Honduras because of a series of winding canals that run alongside many of the coral island’s narrow streets and alleyways.

El Cayo is often referred to as the Venice of Honduras because of its striking canals.

On Oct. 2, 2021, numerous bucket brigades used water from those canals to battle a devastating pre-dawn fire that roared through El Cayo, turning the popular fishing and tourist destination into an inferno. Over 200 homes and businesses were damaged or destroyed. El Cayo doesn’t have a firefighting service, which allowed the blaze to burn out of control for several hours. The conflagration was finally doused when the Honduran Air Force arrived and dropped massive amounts of water on the island. Although no one was killed, hundreds of residents were left homeless.

  • A raging fire destroyed over 200 homes in El Cayo on October 2, 2021.

Operation Christmas Child had long planned to host a festive outreach event on El Cayo, but logistical difficulties in reaching the remote island proved problematic. Julia Bonilla, the shoebox team general coordinator for the Bay Islands, had been praying for Guanaja since Hurricane Mitch devastated much of the area in 1998. She joined Samaritan’s Purse in 2011 and began praying that shoebox gifts would one day be handed out on Guanaja and that the Gospel would be shared with the region’s many children. It broke her heart to see so many in the once family-oriented island falling prey to drug and alcohol abuse through the years. Children, she believed, were the key to change.

“I pray that the island of Guanaja will turn to the Lord,” she said. “To achieve that, we start with the children. If these children turn to God, the next generation will be different.”

‘God’s Timing is Perfect’

In 2020, transportation difficulties were resolved and a date was set for a shoebox outreach to take place the following year in November at Iglesia Bautista del Cayo (Key Baptist Church) in El Cayo. As final preparations were being made, the October fire incinerated the island. The shoebox event a few weeks later at the church—which was untouched by the flames—couldn’t have come at a better time.

Pastor Rigoberto Mejia (left) prays with the Peña family, who placed their faith in Jesus Christ after their children received Operation Christmas Child shoebox gifts at Key Baptist Church in El Cayo, Honduras.

“God’s timing is perfect,” Julia said about the outreach in which 120 children participated and received shoeboxes—and heard the Gospel. Many of the boys and girls prayed to receive Christ and were discipled through The Greatest Journey. “God knows everything in advance. He knew exactly when this was needed most,” Julia continued. Key Baptist pastor Rigoberto Mejia agreed. “The children and their parents were so grateful. They were desperate. They had lost everything. I thank Operation Christmas Child for coming and helping these children regain hope.”

‘The Gifts Brought Them So Much Joy’

Hector Sevilla Peña, his wife Yohemy, and their three children lost their home and all of their possessions in the fire and were thankful for the shoebox gifts.

“We lost everything. We weren’t able to save anything,” Hector said. “My children were so happy when they saw the gifts and the toys because they got back a bit of what they had lost. The gifts brought them so much joy.”

  • The Peña family walks to their apartment.

When church members saw the uplifting impact of the shoeboxes, it inspired them to do more. They bought backpacks, sandals, and other items for the kids that would help them return to school. Hector said the extra presents were a blessing. “The church gave them things that we couldn’t afford to buy. We thank God.”

But the biggest impact of all was made by the Gospel. Hector and his family placed their faith in Christ and now are active members in the church.

“In this family’s life, God has done big things.”

“I used to do things my own way,” Hector said, “but now I think differently. I say to my wife, ‘Let’s do things God’s way.’ That’s our plan, to serve the Lord devotedly, with all of our heart.”

Pastor Rigoberto also has noticed a change in Hector and his family. “This family is an example of people who have believed in and felt the love of God,” he said. “God is the one who changes lives, and in this family’s life, God has done big things.”

A Spiritual Cleansing

God is also doing big things throughout Guanaja since the fire, which Julia sees spiritually as a cleansing. The result is fewer drugs on the islands and more people turning to the Lord.

“More children and their parents are coming to church now,” she said, since the fire and the November 2021 outreach event and several others that have taken place throughout the Bay Islands since then. “Samaritan’s Purse has made an impact in the Bay Islands. I thank God for all the people who do their part by sending a shoebox that brings so much hope to each child.”

  • Julia Bonilla has been praying for the people of Guanaja since Hurricane Mitch devastated the area in 1998.

Pastor Rigoberto concurred. “We have seen a big impact in the parents as a result of these events,” he said. “Before the parents would not make their children come to church, but now the parents bring their children to church.”

‘Everything is in God’s Hands’

A few of the homes and businesses on El Cayo have been rebuilt, but many others are still under construction. Hector and his family are renting an upstairs apartment on the island from his uncle and have started a small business downstairs, selling snacks and other food items while they work to rebuild their own home. No matter what happens next, Hector is thankful for not only how God rescued his family from the fire but how He has blessed them in the days and months since then.

Hector checks out the progress on their new home that is being built.

“Everything is in God’s hands,” Hector said. “He has provided for us. We have faith in God and will never waver.”

Please pray for the people of El Cayo who have lost so much and for our Operation Christmas Child teams as they continue to minister throughout the Bay Islands.

You can bless other communities like these by packing a shoebox! National Collection Week is coming Nov. 13-20 when over 4,500 drop-off locations will be open across the country.

Hector, Yohemy, and their children trust God for their lives after all they have experienced.

Operation Christmas Child Through Operation Christmas Child, Samaritan’s Purse is sharing the Good News of Jesus Christ with millions of boys and girls in more than 100 countries each year. Many of these children have never before received a present or heard the true meaning of Christmas—until they open a gift-filled shoebox from a person like you. Some people are not able to give the $10 per shoebox we request for shipping and related costs. By adopting a shoebox, you can partner with them to deliver the Gospel and help "bring salvation to the ends of the earth" (Acts 13:47, ESV).

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Adopt a Shoebox: $10 | Adopt a Carton of 15 Boxes: $150