Not Too Small to Dream Big

November 19, 2015 • United States

Jordyn McNeal has big dreams for children around the world. That's why she's spearheading the packing of thousands of Operation Christmas Child shoeboxes.

In some ways, Jordyn McNeal is like any ordinary 9-year-old girl. She loves the color pink, the movie “Frozen,” and doing arts and crafts. But she is, in fact, rather extraordinary.

“My dream is to make other kids’ dreams come true,” Jordyn said. “I want them to know that God loves them.”

Pack a Shoebox and Find a Drop-off Location Near YouThis Alabama girl is seeking to accomplish that by rallying people to pack 5,000 Operation Christmas Child shoebox gifts this year. Jordyn’s strategy includes sponsoring a Youth Challenge where she is inviting youth groups and schools to pack as many shoeboxes as possible. She is offering the winning group $1,000 to spend on youth events for those who can’t afford them.

As part of this goal, Jordyn hopes to inspire 10 to 20 churches to start an Operation Christmas Child program with their congregations.

Jordyn McNeal makes bracelets for Operation Christmas Child shoebox gifts.

Jordyn McNeal makes bracelets for Operation Christmas Child shoebox gifts.

Through letters, phone calls, and Facebook messages, people from the West Coast to the East Coast are getting involved.

But she is not only looking to others. Jordyn said, “I’m personally trying to fill 1,000 of the 5,000 shoeboxes, asking at stores, hospitals and dentists if they will donate things like toothbrushes, soap, and washcloths.” During each interaction she hands out her business card.

“Her dad and I would not have been that bold at her age,” said Jordyn’s mom, Erica McNeal. “It’s definitely coming from God and not her genes.”

Jordyn, DJ (left), and Averi (right) helped make bracelets to stuff into shoeboxes.

Jordyn, DJ (left), and Averi (right) helped make bracelets to stuff into shoeboxes.

Surprised and impressed by Jordyn’s initiative, most people agree to help.

Once she has gathered all these hygiene items, school supplies, and toys, she plans to host a huge packing party.

With each shoebox, she wants to add an extra personal touch. Jordyn is working to put a handmade bracelet in each of the 1,000 shoeboxes she packs. With the help of her friends Averi, 11, and DJ, 10, they have made 180 already and are working hard toward their goal.

Jordyn’s reason is simple. “When the children remember the bracelet, they’ll remember their shoebox and that Jesus loves them and takes care of them,” she said.

Love Projects
Big goals are nothing new for Jordyn. They are part of what her family calls love projects. “They are our family’s way of showing people that God loves them,” said Erica. She and her husband were both active in youth ministry and grew concerned with the sense of entitlement they witnessed. The wanted their family to be different so they set out to intentionally invest in others.

When Jordyn was little, this meant packing a few shoeboxes for Operation Christmas Child or buying diapers for the local crisis pregnancy center. But when she was six years old, the love projects took a new form.

Jordyn was sitting on her mom’s lap when she read on Facebook that a 15-year-old named Jenna had brain cancer. Jordyn asked what brain cancer was. When she heard her mom’s answer, she asked if she could send Jenna and her family to Disney World when she finished “taking her medicine” (the chemotherapy).

Erica told her that would take $12,000 and Jordyn immediately came up with 11 ideas to raise money, including a lemonade stand and having her mom write and sell a book.

“It took everything in my husband and I to not tell Jordyn ‘no’ about the Disney trip,” Erica said.

15117US-C-197Seeing her creative fundraising list, their hearts changed. They affirmed the idea and started a non-profit organization called Faith Like a Child to facilitate the fundraising process. During the next six months, Jordyn raised $11,500 to send Jenna and her family of six to Disney World. This year Jenna’s family is giving back by packing Operation Christmas Child shoeboxes with their church in Colorado.

“When I was 7,” Jordyn said, “I felt sad when I heard that shoeboxes were the first gift children receive.” So she came up with the idea of packing 1,000 Operation Christmas Child shoeboxes to bless children in need. Originally, her parents discouraged this idea because they were only six weeks away from moving, but then they decided they should go for it.

During those six weeks, Jordyn gathered more than 30,000 items from businesses and individuals in central Florida, which allowed them to pack 1,002 shoebox gifts.

“When the children remember the bracelet, they’ll remember their shoebox and that Jesus loves them and takes care of them.”

In April when Jordyn saw images on television of the Nepal earthquake, she started another love project. “It broke her heart to see so many people without the luxuries of a house, roof over their head, or food,” Erica said. She made 50 bracelets and sold them, bringing in $7,950. They donated this to Samaritan’s Purse to use in earthquake relief.

Jordyn said, “Every time I tell my mom my new ideas, she probably thinks, ‘Oh my, we just finished one. This is so much!’” But the Lord has always led Erica to support her child’s big dreams.

“She constantly teaches us more than we are able to teach her about who God is—how limitless, infinite, and powerful He is,” Erica said.

Miracle Child
Jordyn did not come by her compassionate heart by accident. “I think Jordyn’s heart is very sensitive to other people because of what she’s seen us go through,” Erica said.

Erica is a three-time cancer survivor. Originally diagnosed at 22 while she was a senior in college, her case baffled doctors. When it eventually went into remission through surgery and radiation, doctors warned Erica that she could only have two months to live if it ever came back.

Jordyn's mother Erica (at back) is a three-time cancer survivor.

Jordyn’s mother Erica (at back) is a three-time cancer survivor.

Four and a half years later and newly married, Erica feared the worst when it returned. It went into remission again, though, through surgery and radiation.

When it came back a third time, Jordyn was 5 years old. This time a new chemotherapy treatment sent Erica into anaphylactic shock. They didn’t realize she was allergic to mice, and there were antibodies from mice in the medicine. Despite the scary and dangerous reaction, the treatment nevertheless proved effective. Though it should have taken four to eight doses of chemotherapy to eradicate her cancer, Erica’s disappeared after just the one dose.

But cancer is only one of the challenges the McNeals faced.

“I’ve been pregnant four times with five children and Jordyn’s the only one that survived,” Erica said.

When Jordyn was 17 months old, her sister Kylie—born at 22.5 weeks—lived for only 80 minutes. After the miscarriages, the adoption of Jordyn’s brother Austin, and three failed adoptions, the family learned that Erica had a blood disorder that causes complications for both mother and baby during pregnancy and also triggers her cancer.

“Jordyn is our miracle child. In all reality, we don’t know how she exists,” Erica said. “It’s so exciting to think of what God will do through her.”

It’s National Collection Week! Find Out More.That’s as true for the future as it is for the present. For now, Jordyn seeks to duplicate herself as she contacts churches and businesses about participating in Operation Christmas Child. “To multiply or duplicate means to make more of,” Jordyn said. “In this case I’m making more of myself by reaching out to other people and asking them to help me with this love project.”

As more people catch her vision, more children will receive their first gift ever and discover the true meaning of Christmas—the hope of Jesus Christ.

“No one is too small to participate in Operation Christmas Child,” Jordyn said. “Little kids can dream really big!”