Azima and a Teddy Bear

Azima & Teddy Bear

In times of sorrow and grief when I needed to be reminded of God's love, I would clutch my shoebox close to my heart and pray.

These words have been life-changing to me: “I might not know you, but always know that Jesus loves you and so do I.”

A 12-year-old girl from America wrote that sentence on a note inside the shoebox gift I received at age 14 in Cameroon, a country where West Africa and Central Africa intersect.

I prayed to God that night—it was one of my first times talking to God—to thank Him for my gift. That night, I also asked Jesus into my heart, based on the note and what I had heard during the shoebox distribution.

The words the girl had written helped me to believe that Jesus loves me and nothing can change that. The only verse I knew at the time, John 3:16, came alive to me: “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.”

In times of sorrow and grief when I needed to be reminded of God's love, I would clutch my shoebox close to my heart and pray.

The same month I received my shoebox, one of my closest friends died of malaria. That night, I went through my shoebox over and over again, looking at the items and seeking comfort. Eventually, I fell asleep with the shoebox in my arms. That happened a lot.

My siblings and I did not have an opportunity to go to church because my father was against that. In Cameroon, religious superstitions heavily influence people's lives. My father was concerned that bad things would happen to our family if we went against the local traditional beliefs.

My aunt, a Christian, moved in with us when I was 9, five years before I received my shoebox. She would always tell us stories about Jesus. When I was 14, she snuck me and my three sisters out of the house and took us to church. The more we knew about Jesus, the more we wanted to know. I realized that the stories my aunt had told us about Jesus were true.

After that, my sisters and I routinely snuck out of the house to attend church services. It was at that church that I received my shoebox gift. I hid the gift from my father, fearing that I would be punished for having it because I had gotten it at church. Nevertheless, I was thrilled to receive the gift. I had never received any gifts in my life, and I had never before seen many of the items, such as a teddy bear and a diary that had a little lock and key. I kept the handwritten note locked in my diary and looked at it often.

Two years after receiving my shoebox, I dedicated myself to teaching the children in my church how much Jesus loves them. That year I also saw my father come to know the Lord. It started when he caught my sisters and me secretly praying for his salvation.

He demanded to know, “What is it about this God? No matter how much I stop you all from going to church, you just keep believing. You just keep serving Him. You just keep going to church.”

My aunt kept sharing with him about the love of God. He went from actively opposing us going to church to saying nothing about it. A long time later, he called us together. I thought we would get in trouble for having gone to church again, but, standing in front of a Bible, he asked us to pray. When we prayed, that's when I knew that, truly, God had reached him.

I want to say thank you to everyone who is part of Operation Christmas Child—God is using you mightily to reach out to not just a child but to an entire family like mine. The power of one shoebox is that God used it to change our lives.

I want to give other children that gift. When I pack shoeboxes, I make sure to include a note in each one that tells the child that “I love you so much, and Jesus loves you so much more.”

Azima as a child Azima with her teddy bear and note

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