Saturday, June 9, 2012

Opening Doors with Shoeboxes

Here is a story I found at Samaritan's Purse about how God is working in India to open doors that are shut tight. This story is not new.... but it still stirs the heart.

Since 1993, more than 5 million Indian children have received gift-filled shoe boxes through Operation Christmas Child.

Sometimes Jose remembered the life he used to lead. He had been a respected businessman who sold carpets made from coconut skins. Friends frequently visited his home. Fellow Christians encouraged him in his faith.

Now he felt isolated and weary, as he struggled to show God’s love to the people of Kottayam, a predominately Hindu village located on India’s south coast. He knew this was the place where God had called him, but the community remained skeptical of his efforts. He knew why other Christians had been hesitant to come here.

But the Lord continued to increase Jose’s love for the people of Kottayam. He started working in a slum, ministering to those deemed untouchable by the Hindu caste system.

“I stayed in the area, sleeping in people’s homes and eating with them,” he said. “I got such a great burden for those people.”

Other Hindu residents were hesitant to accept Jose and his family. No one wanted to rent a house to him and when meetings were held at the church, Hindu leaders stood outside yelling and making so much noise that those gathered could barely hear what was spoken.

For seven years, life continued on this way.

Then members of India’s Operation Christmas Child National Leadership Team approached Jose and several other pastors in the area. They said the region would be a great place to distribute gift-filled shoe boxes sent by Christians in America. The gifts would give pastors a unique opportunity to share the Gospel and show God’s love in a tangible way.

When Hindu families saw the gifts their children had received, many asked Jose: “How can these people, who do not know us, give us these kinds of gifts?”

He said the answer was found in Jesus Christ—God’s greatest gift—and invited them to learn more through Operation Christmas Child’s 10-week discipleship program.

The congregation began to grow.

“People are coming to his church because they realized that this man has not come to destroy their community, but to help them,” said Solo K. Philip, one of India’s Operation Christmas Child regional coordinators.

In fact, when residents learned that several people were planning to harm Jose and his family to force them out of the village, the community came to his aid.

“They told this group not to attack him,” Solo said. “They said, ‘We don’t have any problem with this pastor. He’s so kind and cooperative and our children have learned so many moral things from him.’”

The attackers backed down, and Jose continued his ministry. Parents now bring their children to the church each week to learn about Jesus and His teachings.

Operation Christmas Child continues to make this kind of impact throughout India. In 2007, Operation Christmas Child, through a foundation grant, commissioned an independent consulting firm to survey government officials, parents, community leaders, and Christians living in India about the impact of the program. What they found was that the program gave pastors and church leaders an unprecedented key to open access in resistant areas throughout the country. The research also indicated that it enhanced visibility, credibility, and stature of pastors and Christian workers and had a lasting impact on children who received gifts.

“There are a lot of social and humanitarian activities going on in India, but this is a ministry that raises up the next generation for the Lord,” Solo said. “It just starts with shoe boxes and through that builds relationships with the people.”

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