For our last Operation Christmas Child shoebox distribution event of this trip to Colombia we drove up the mountain again—this time higher than ever before. Our team estimated we reached about 7,000 feet of elevation. We noticed that the higher we climbed the more impoverished the neighborhoods seemed.
Crude rural houses, hardly more than shacks, hug the winding road with little more than a foot or two to separate them from the traffic of buses, tiny yellow taxis and overloaded motorcycles carrying several passengers that constantly dart between the other vehicles.
We had our own moment-by-moment Gran Adventura as our bus passed oncoming buses with only a few inches between us. Several times our driver made a wrong turn and had to back down a steep road past another bus. One particularly hair raising moment involved backing up beside a truck loaded with propane gas tanks that we cleared, after several tries, by two inches. It also began to rain on the trip up the mountain. We all prayed the rain would stop to accommodate this outdoor distribution, and the sun was soon shining again.
Besides being face-to-face with the locals as we continually passed mere inches from them on the road, we also enjoyed the sight of a llama being led on a leash.
Finally, we approached the school where the children were sitting on the cement courtyard in their school uniforms—even though it was Sunday afternoon--waiting for the program to begin. Sadly, the heavy metal gate in front of the school was lined with children looking in who could not invited in to receive boxes. This was not only heartbreaking, but we knew it had the potential to become a dangerous situation.
The rain began again, and the organizers decided to move the children inside to several classrooms. While this made the gospel presentation more challenging, the rain helped disperse the crowd outside the gate and may have been a means of protecting the children.
Our team divided, and several of us went to each classroom. I went into one with children aged 5-9. The desks had been pushed against the perimeter of the room, and most of the girls sat at the desks while the boys sat on the floor.
There were no seats left, so I plopped down on the floor beside a sweet little boy who had a hole in the back of his uniform shirt. I noticed many of the children’s uniforms were in poor condition and, at least outwardly, they appeared more needy than the children we’d seen in the past two days.
I sat cross-legged as my new little friend immediately lay down and put his head in my lap. I rubbed his back as I watched it rise and fall with his even breathing. And in the midst of the chaos of that room I took some time to pray over him, asking God to allow him to grow into a godly man with great spiritual strength.
The decision was made to take the girls out to another room, and we were left with a floor full of boys aged 5-9.
A sea of little faces looked up at our interpreter, Juan, as he led the children in a gospel lesson from The Wordless Book, using the large colored pages to tell the boys the good news of Jesus and explain that He is the greatest gift of all.
Then it was time to distribute the boxes. It amazes me how patiently the children sit waiting in line for their turn. Some of the boxes were bigger than others or had fancier decorations on them, but I heard no complaints from any of the boys.
Finally, each boy had a box, and waited expectantly to hear “uno, dos, TRES…” the signal to open those gifts. Then came the shrieks—louder than any I’d heard at the previous four distributions. These boys were over the moon excited!
I sat beside my little friend, Andres, who’d never left my side. His mouth was in a perpetual “Oh” shape and his eyes glistened as he took out every treasure—probably twenty different items--and lined them up on the floor beside his box. Only then did he begin to examine them one by one. He touched each item carefully, almost reverently—in apparent disbelief at the bounty spread in front of him.
As I looked around me, I saw this scene repeated, with nicely-filled boxes blessing these needy boys. I wanted to stay in this spot for hours and play with these little guys, but we were being beckoned to leave quickly because of the rain.
Before we left, we were able to pray for the ministry partners who worked to organize this distribution. We had to leave, but they will not. They will continue their work here on this mountain in Colombia.
God allowed me to see their vision and be challenged to follow Him in ministry as they follow Him. Together, by God’s grace, we can join Him as He makes disciples.