“Does this stuff really matter?” I said to myself as I sat in the upper deck of Gwinnett Arena on the north side of Atlanta on the last day of the Catalyst Conference. Up to this point, it had been a great few days of listening to impactful speakers, learning best ministry practices, fellowshipping with other leaders, and enjoying God’s presence in dynamic worship. But now, they were going to bring out this person to talk about how Operation Christmas Child changed their life and how we should get involved.
“Really?” I thought. “Did getting a shoebox with a few small gifts in it really change your life? The toys were probably lost or damaged in the first few days anyway. Did they have to promote something like this here where people are going to feel guilty if they don’t participate?” I honestly wanted to just tune it out and read through my packet as I waited for the next speaker to come on stage. But then something happened. As this young woman began to speak and share her story there was an amazing authenticity to her experience that touched my heart. (You know, it’s really hard to fake genuine emotion). I began to see how simple acts of service, when mixed with the gospel message, can have a radical impact on people’s lives! As scripture says in Romans 2:4, “Or do you think lightly of the riches of His kindness and tolerance and patience, not knowing that the kindness of God leads you to repentance?”
Here was her story. She started out talking about what it was like to grow up in one of the poorest areas of the Philippines in extreme poverty. The poverty was bad but what was more damaging was the hopelessness and lack of worth she felt. “I distinctly remember coming to a point where I did not feel that anyone loved me. I honestly felt like my life didn’t matter and that I was dirty and worthless,” she said. “But then I received an Operation Christmas Child shoebox and it had these beautiful new toys and clothes in it. I couldn’t believe that these were mine, that these gifts were for me. As great as these gifts were the thing that changed my life was the note in the box and hearing about God’s love for me. I can’t explain to you how impactful this was for me at that time in my life to know God loved me and that I had incredible value,” she shared through tears. “I know it seems like such a small thing but it really did change the course of my life.”
I found myself unbelievably moved by her story. Just a few minutes earlier I was wanting to check out and dismiss what she was saying, but now I was in tears. I thought about how many times we want to do “big” things for God but sometimes it’s just being faithful in the small things that is important. I thought about all the people I pass everyday that I have an opportunity to encourage, bless, and show kindness towards.
At the end of the day, God takes our “two fish and five loaves” like he did in Matthew 14:19 and he uses our small efforts to multiply blessings to others. This story is seen over and over again in scripture. God takes a small jar of olive oil and some pots to provide hope and resources to a widow. God takes another widow and a small meal to feed her family and Elijah for months during a drought. Jesus takes the efforts of a few fishermen who cast their nets into the sea after a night without catching a single fish and catch so many fish the net breaks.
The lesson from this Operation Christmas Child story? There are several:
Don’t underestimate the real needs of people right around you and around the world. People need hope.
Don’t underestimate the difference genuine kindness and service can make.
Don’t underestimate the difference the simple communicating of the gospel can make. II Corinthians 11:3. We make it too complicated many times.
Don’t underestimate the difference small things can make.
Don’t underestimate the difference YOU can make.
I’m so excited that this year Renovate Church Austin will be able to live out our core value of service by partnering with Samaritan’s Purse (SP) to send our own shoeboxes to children around the world. I love the way SP captured this vision on their website, “No matter who packs the boxes, from three former U.S. presidents to the family down the street, each gift-filled shoebox represents the joy of one more child who has been reached with a tangible expression of God’s love.”
So in answer to the opening question, “Does this stuff really matter?” Yes, more than we probably realize.
Dave and April