"God Shows Up in the Mess"

March 5, 2014 • Colombia
Operation Christmas Child Colombia

A man at an Operation Christmas Child shoebox distribution witnesses how God works through unplanned events.

Dan Scott is on the creative team at Orange, a children and student ministry strategy organization. Recently, he went to an Operation Christmas Child distribution in Colombia.

Each morning and evening, our teams met together to pray over the day and hear stories about what’s happening through Operation Christmas Child. Pastors told us story after story about how items in shoeboxes have changed children’s lives.

I haven’t been able to forget one story in particular.

Operation Christmas Child Colombia

Even when planning goes awry, God seems to always provide at shoebox distributions.

An Operation Christmas Child ministry partner invited 20 kids to a “shoebox opening party.” She made sure that she had 20 boxes. She was asked her if she’d like a few extra just in case. But she said that she invited 20 boys, and 20 boys were coming.

Well, you probably know where this is going. One of the boys brought a friend.

There were 21 boys and 20 shoeboxes.

Operation Christmas Child has a policy for delivering shoeboxes. You don’t divide up a box. No matter if you’re one short—even if the one box is overflowing—you don’t take anything out of box. A person or a family packed that box with care, prayed over it, and sent it to a child. It’s the way they want it delivered.

So this woman went to the boy and explained that he could enjoy his time with the kids, but unfortunately she didn’t have a box for him. She promised she would run to the store and pick up some items for him after the party was over.

When the time came to hand out and open the boxes, one of the boys—unprompted—said that he didn’t need his box and gave it to the boy who didn’t get one.

That child, filled with gratitude, pulled a toy from the box and walked it over to the boy who gave up his box for him. Within moments, child after child took a toy or trinket out of their boxes and gave it to the boy who gave up his box.

That generous little guy ended up with more stuff than what was in the box he gave away.

And the woman was left speechless and very thankful to a God bigger than 20 shoeboxes.

And we were left in tears.

Leave Room for God

Operation Christmas Child Colombia

Distributions often take place in small community churches packed with children eager to receive gifts.

Every morning before we left the bus to head into the church to deliver some shoeboxes, our team leader gave us a plan: “There’s a list of names and we should have enough boxes.” And a caveat: “Or it could go completely different than that.”

Not every shoebox distribution is perfect. Local church leaders do their best to make them as organized as possible, but when you get a few hundred kids in a room together, it can get pretty crazy pretty fast.

There are kids clamoring for boxes.

There are not enough boxes for a certain age group.

Computers are not playing the right song.

Kids are coming late after the boxes have been passed out.

Operation Christmas Child leader are getting ready to distribute the boxes when the church starts handing out hot dogs and juice boxes.

There are a bunch of Americans snapping photos of kids while the Gospel is presented.

It’s messy. But all the mess disappears when you see the children’s excitement.

One pastor commented, “Of course it’s messy. And may it never be so slick and organized that you don’t leave room for God. God moves; God shows up in the mess.”

Operation Christmas Child Colombia

A lot of planning goes into distributions, with the community church making a list of children and families.

And He doesn’t just show up. He shows off.

A child praying for shoes and underwear discovered seven pairs of underwear in her size as well as a pair of shoes in her favorite color.

Winter gloves in Africa saved a boy from further burning his hands on the kitchen pot he had to move several times a day when it was scalding hot.

A child who desperately needed to walk received a box with orthopedic shoes.

A child received a box with a letter from the giver who turned out to be a long-lost uncle thought to be dead, and he rescued her out of poverty.

There is story after story of shoeboxes changing lives. It’s not just a shoebox full of stuff. It’s an opportunity for God to make Himself known to a child who desperately needs Him.

I just kept asking myself, where am I not leaving room for God to move in my life and ministry? We love our strictly programmed events with all the tiny details just perfect. But I echo the pastor.

May we never be so set in our own plan that we don’t leave room for God to show off.