Hope Arrives at Just the Right Time

October 13, 2015 • United States

A family in South Asia receives life-changing encouragement through an Operation Christmas Child shoebox gift sent from a couple in North Carolina.

Brian and Esther Rex lost everything. The tsunami of December 26, 2004, destroyed their South Asian home and all their belongings. Not long before that disaster, their first son had died in childbirth, and Brian’s family had disowned him because he became a Christian.

Hostile neighbors and even friends blamed each misfortune on their faith in Jesus Christ.

Still, Brian and Esther persevered. After living in a school for a few days immediately following the tsunami, a friend invited them to move to another location, a 12-hour journey away. The new start sounded appealing, but it also meant learning a new language and a new culture.

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Not quite a year after the move, Brian nearly gave up. With a bachelor’s degree in economics, the most lucrative work he could find was doing day labor as a painter. It was Christmas and he had no money to buy a gift for his 2-year-old daughter Fabiana.

“I thought God had forsaken us,” he said. “I just thought of killing myself.”

He tried to read his Bible and pray to convince himself otherwise, but he said, “I just threw my Bible thinking, ‘There’s no one in the world to help us.’”

That’s when there was a knock at their door. Esther’s uncle who was a pastor came with his arms full of Operation Christmas Child shoebox gifts, inviting his niece to take one for Fabiana. Before leaving to deliver gifts to other families, he prayed with the Rexes.

Opening the box, they were filled with joy! Inside they found a pink outfit for Fabiana along with dolls, kid’s books, notebooks, pencils, crayons, and clay. “Everything was perfect for her,” Brian said.

Click Here to Build a Shoebox Online

But the shoebox was far more than just a collection of gifts. Given in Jesus’ Name, it breathed new life in Brian. “Hopelessness went from me,” he said. He started reading his Bible every day again and asked God to forgive him for giving up on his faith.

Two Families Connected in Christ
Several months later during one of his daily times in Scripture, Brian read Luke 17 in which Jesus heals 10 lepers but only one returns to thank Him. Brian remembered that he had thanked God for the shoebox gift, but not the people who sent it. Going back through the shoebox, he found an address for William and Judy Deal. He brushed off his English and wrote them a letter—not even knowing what country “Lexington, NC” was in.

When it arrived at the Deal home, it wound up in a pile of junk mail because William thought it was a mass-produced letter made to look personal. By God’s providence, Judy opened it to find heartfelt thanks and an introduction to the Rex family. In closing, it said, “Please write us. You’re the only friends God has sent us.”

The Rexes and the Deals reviewed 10 years of memories when they met in North Carolina this past summer.

The Rexes and the Deals reviewed 10 years of memories when they met in North Carolina this past summer.

Two to three months later, a postman knocked on the Rexes’ door and surprised them with mail. The Deals’ letter was “as cold water to a weary soul” (Proverbs 25:25 NKJV). “We were comforted knowing that someone was there for us,” Brian said.

The Rexes began sharing the details of their everyday life with the Deals. Having been disowned by Brian’s family because of their faith, he said, “Nobody was there to tell us happy birthday, happy anniversary, or merry Christmas, so we shared everything with them.”

Brian saw the new relationship as a gift from God. He likened it to Jesus telling Mary and John from the cross, “Behold your son…Behold your mother” (John 19:26-27 NKJV). So William and Judy became Dad and Mom and Grandpa and Grandma to the Rex family.

“We never had any children,” Judy said. “We would have liked to, but years later God gave us a whole family.” Along with that came the privilege of naming Brian and Esther’s second child. William and Judy chose “Joseph” because their lives intersected at Christmas. Brian and Esther gave him the middle name “William” in honor of the Deals.

A Special Visit
As Judy began to tell their church, First United Methodist of Lexington, North Carolina, about their new family members in South Asia, it spurred fresh vision for Operation Christmas Child. The church eagerly packed more shoebox gifts.

While continuing to call and write to the subcontinent, William and Judy had the idea of bringing the Rexes to the United States to meet their American family—including the Deals’ church and community. To their surprise, the Rexes were able to get a visa the first time they applied. Officials approved it because they showed them a North Carolina newspaper article that featured the Rexes and Deals.

The Deal family worked with their church to organize a shoebox packing opportunity for the Rex children.

The Deal family worked with their church to organize a shoebox packing opportunity for the Rex children.

Brian, Esther, Fabiana, and Joseph boarded a plane for the first time and traveled to the United States, staying March 31–June 15, 2015. During their visit, the Deals showed them New York City, Washington D.C., daily life in Lexington, and the Operation Christmas Child Processing Center in Charlotte, North Carolina. Judy, who serves as the Operation Christmas Child relay center coordinator for Davidson County, wanted the Rexes to see the various stops a shoebox makes on its journey to a child overseas.

Brian spoke in four different churches about Operation Christmas Child during their visit, seeking to promote the Samaritan’s Purse project.

“It not only changed our lives, it changed their lives,” Brian said referring to the Deals. “We both together share what God has done, so people can see shoeboxes in a different way.”

You Can Fill a Shoebox
William stressed the importance of the opportunities we have to impact others. “I can’t go out like Billy Graham and evangelize the world,” he said, “but focus on what you can do—fill a shoebox.”

“It not only changed our lives, it changed their lives.”

This year, the tenth anniversary of Fabiana receiving a shoebox gift, she and Joseph had the privilege of being the givers. While visiting the United States, in the basement of the Deal home, they each packed 10 shoeboxes for children their age overseas. The gifts they packed had been donated by First United Methodist Church of Lexington.

As Judy sends them off with Follow-Your-Box tracking labels, the Rexes will receive an email notifying them where they were sent. In previous years, Judy has used the labels and discovered that her boxes went to bless boys and girls in various countries in Africa.

“Miracles happen through these shoeboxes,” William said.

“Miracles happen when we do what we can do and then God does what He can do,” he continued. “We’ve got to do what we can do and that’s fill a shoebox.”

You can build a gift-filled shoebox online right now.