From March 26 – 30, 2012, five Life Care Centers of America associates travelled to Peru as Operation Christmas Child ambassadors. The group worked alongside teams from Samaritan’s Purse, distributing gift-filled shoe boxes to children in schools and churches. Life Care’s ambassadors served on two teams reaching several communities in the area around Lima.
Both groups were touched by the poverty in the dusty climate. Shanty towns line the gray hills, inhabited by squatters looking for work wherever they can find it. Most neighborhoods don’t even have running water.
“I knew that Peru was basically a poor country, but I was not prepared for how extremely poor the majority of the people are,” shared Tina Generally, registered nurse at University Park Care Center in Pueblo, Colo.
Despite the poverty, the ambassadors found that the people were generous, putting on skits and dances for them, cheering their arrival as if they were rock stars and even giving them soda to drink.
“The genuine response of the churches was overwhelming,” said Tillie Grant, activity assistant at Life Care Center of Red Bank in Chattanooga, Tenn. “Everyone appreciated the small gifts and was willing to give of themselves for us.”
“The first distribution, you’re like, ‘Oh, this is just stuff,’ but you should see their eyes,” said Mark Niemeyer, executive director at Life Care Center of Altamonte Springs, Fla. “This is stuff that they just don’t get.”
Even the toothbrushes, combs and flashlights had the children smiling and laughing. One little girl sitting on a chair was so excited about her box that she kept lifting her tiny feet off the floor.
Boxes with personal letters were hands-down the favorite, especially with photos of the givers and addresses the children could use in corresponding with the families overseas.
The Love of God
It was the love, though, that made the biggest impact on the children.
The ambassadors were thrilled to bring smiles to the kids’ faces, letting the children climb up in their laps and teaching them one-on-one how to use the items in the boxes.
The teams also experienced some miracle moments. Sometimes, members thought they had run out of boxes but then found more. At one church, the children (who are also poor) gave up their opportunity to receive boxes so that their unchurched neighbors could experience God’s love. And at another distribution, a little boy with foot problems received a pair of perfectly fitting orthopedic shoes in his box.
The ambassadors also got to visit one of Samaritan’s Purse’s Greatest Journey classes, where children learn the story of Jesus and how to be disciples. The joy on the kids’ faces was evident.
“These kids have nothing to consume,” said Niemeyer. “But you give them the word of God, and they consume that.”
“Last year, as I packed my own shoe box, I never realized the ripple effect of a single shoe box with a special note and how it could change children’s lives and certainly the families of these children,” Grant added.
The trip had a deep impact on the lives of those who went on the trip as well.
“It was a gift from God to me at a time when I could really use it,” said Jan Smith, secretary in Life Care’s Facility Financial Services department at the corporate office. “Through the trip and seeing their culture and the poor and needy, I see more of a need in being open and sharing Christ with others.”
“I’ll pray for these kids and where I’ve been,” said Tanya Mazzolini, director of Corporate Accounting at the corporate office. “It puts a place in your heart for these kids and that country. It puts a face on it.”