What can God do with a shoebox?

September 16, 2018

Da Bebe in her traditional pagna dress.

By Elizabeth Greenlee

With National Collections Week for Operation Christmas Child around the corner, I thought this would be the perfect time to share this beautiful story of how God’s love and gospel is being spread here in Togo through these shoeboxes!  I have been praying for so long for God to give me the opportunity to go on a distribution to see how these boxes are impacting people’s lives first hand or to see a distribution first hand while here in Togo.

Yesterday God answered my prayer in a way I hadn’t considered, He allowed me to meet this sweet Christian woman whose daughter received a shoebox about three years ago. Here is their story and a little gift for all those shoebox packers and volunteers with this ministry:

Today three missionary ladies, who are serving together with us at the hospital, and I went to Kpalime (pronounced Paleemay) a town about 35 minutes south of our hospital and mission station.  Saturdays are market days there, which means vendors come out and set up their booths full of fruits, vegetables, fabric (oh how I adore the fabric selection here!), tupperware,  pots and pans, clothes, school supplies, and so many things I’m not quite sure what they all are. They even sell knitted hats, which they do wear by the way. So if you ever worry about packing a winter hat in your shoebox, don’t. They actually get cold here and wear winter coats and hats!!

Shopping here takes a long time as you weave through long narrow streets and alleyways filled with vendors looking for the best looking fruit and veggies for the best price or any other supplies you might chance across. If you see it today you need to buy it today because it most likely won’t be there next week.  Between the crazy and sometimes noxious smells, loud noise, moto traffic coming in and out of the market streets, the hot sun and humidity, and constantly having to be on guard and aware of your surroundings, these market days can be physically and mentally exhausting! Despite all of chaos, it is still such a fun way to venture out into the community and meet so many different people, some who have come to the hospital before and are now a part of this amazing ministry here in Togo.

After a long day of trying to find all the supplies I needed for the week, we came across this tiny fabric booth that just caught my eye.  It had the sweetest flower-patterned fabric that I thought my seamstress could turn into an adorable little play dress for Maeve, who, by the way, needs more skirts than you’d expect since she plays so hard and gets them so dirty and stained in this red clay mud here. I wouldn’t have it any other way though. She is happy as a clam and enjoying her life here which does this mama’s heart good!

After purchasing a pagna of fabric (which is about 2 yards and costs roughly $3.50) my friend Christine looked over and got all excited and started speaking with the Togolese woman working at the fabric booth.  She introduced me to her and said “this woman has an incredible story I need to share with you!” After talking with this sweet woman with an incredibly contagious laugh and smile, I learned that her daughter had received a shoebox about 3 years ago!

I couldn’t believe it! God gave me a little gift here and an answer to my prayer!

Her name was Da Bebe and her daughter’s name is Sharon. Sharon is 13 years-old now, and had received a shoebox at the age of 10.  What makes this story particularly praiseworthy is that Da Bebe is a Christian woman who God is using in incredible ways to minister to the people in her community.

She runs a pregnancy crisis center for young moms and pregnant woman, all in the name of Jesus.

When she was pregnant with Sharon she had many complications due to diabetes and was eventually sent to our hospital up in Tsiko where she stayed for two months.  Sharon was born prematurely and, at under 2 pounds, was the smallest baby ever born in the hospital!  Sharon was named after the missionary nurse who still works here and teaches at a nursing school co-located with the hospital. Sharon, the nurse, had cared for the mother and baby over those scary couple of months in the hospital.

And here’s where OCC comes in. At the age of 10 Sharon received an Operation Christmas Child shoebox from her local church.  She told her mom she wanted to open it back home and share it with the neighborhood children.  So she gathered the local kids and did just that!  Afterwards Sharon started inviting children to come to her home and listen to bible stories.

Three years later what started as a small gathering turned into a large gathering of over 110 kids coming to play and hear God’s word!  It also gave root and new vigor to a children’s camp ministry there, which had been previously interrupted due to a lack Togolese teachers willing and able to run it! Hundreds of kids are coming to Christ every year as a result of the work that God did through a single shoe box and this miracle baby born at our own Hopital Baptiste Biblique! 

The Old Man in The Airport

February 12, 2018

“Honestly, you can’t blame anyone for the condition of this place,” I tried to console myself. I was hot, hungry, exhausted and more than a little cranky. I had, after all, been sitting on that hot pavement for more than 4 hours without so mcuh as an announcement on the overhead speakers. The airport was just a few miles from the epicenter from a recent earthquake. International aid workers corwded ever square foot of the half-collpased airport. You could tell because they all had their credentials on their sleeves and hanging by lanyards around the necks. I hadn’t heard anyone speak English since I said goodbye to my team earlier that morning.

By noon, the terminal was stiflingly hot and humid. We all stunk. The whole airport smelled like a lockerroom. I could tell most of the aid workers, gripping tightly to their boarding passes and passport and sweating through the apparent uniform of the day, khaki short sleeve button up shirts and wide brim hats, hadn’t been able to bathe in days. I kind of stood out, wearing a blue t-shirt and loose khaki pants with surf mocs. I took a shower, a very cold, gravity-fed shower the night before, but I still stunk just as bad as everyone else.

I was trying to block out the chaos and heat by getting into a new book, but from a distance, I could see a Haitian man, in a suit, weaving his way through the crowd toward me. I pretended not to notice him until it became obvious that he was trying to get my attention.

“Excuse me sir,” he smiled warmly. He exuded the calm confidence of a politician, “are you going to Miami?”

I think it took me a moment to respond, taken a little off guard by the English fluency.

“Yessir, can I help you?”

I still was really uncertain of my surroundings. I’d spent the better part of the last two weeks in the aftermath of this earthquake struggling fruitlessly to find anything familiar about the beautiful Haitian culture and the amazing people that called it home.

“My father is over there,” he pointed to the oldest person, probably in all of Haiti. “Can you help him get to his car in Miami when you get to the airport? They will be waiting for him outside the terminal.”

The old man looked friendly enough, he smiled with a toothless grin from a distance, raising his black plastic bag that he was using for a suitcase. He was wearing a blazer and a tie with mismatched slacks and black leather shoes shined to a high gloss.

I shrugged, “I don’t know. I guess I can.”

“May I?” he grabbed my copy of God’s Smuggler, a gift I’d received from my gradnma only a week before I had left for Haiti. He opened the front cover and began scribbling down his name, address and phone number.

“Are you a believer, sir?” he asked me. His eyes felt like they were probing my very soul.

“I am.”

“Then, when you return home to your church, send them greetings from their brothers at the Baptist Bible Church in Port-au-Prince. Tell them that we know that they are praying for us, and tell them that we lost more than half of our congregation, but we are filled with joy and hope because of their prayers.” He punctuated his sentence by shoving the book back into my hands.

I could feel a tear start running down my cheek.

His face softened, “are you okay?”

I tried to smile. I wiped the tear and summoned the strength to answer without choking up.

“It’s been an emotional couple of weeks.”

He nodded like man who had knew sorrow.

He motioned for his father to come over. He seemed concerned by the solemn looks on our faces. Pastor Jean and I both quickly recognized his discomfort and smiled intently.

He didn’t speak a word of English and I only knew a few phrases in Creole.

He said goodbye and moved past the ticket counter, and the pastor was quickly lost to us in the sea of aid workers and UN troops. The old man, whose name I can’t remember anymore, held tightly to my backpack as we wove through the surging crowds. When we got to our gate, the flight had been delayed 3 hours, so we found a place to sit, and waited. I must have become engrossed in my book, because at one point I looked up, and the old man was gone.

I was entrusted with ONE THING and I blew it before even boarding our plane. I stood upon a chair to look around the terminal for the old man. As I was looking one direction, felt a tug on my leg. it was the oldest living man in all of Haiti, and he was holding two warm, skinny, foil-wrapped sandwiches, both at least a food long, and handed me one, proudly. To this day, I cannot figure out where he got the food. That place was a circus, but I did not see any place in the half-collapsed terminal where weird hot sandwiches were being sold.

He grinned as if to say, “looks who’s taking care of who.”

I’d never seen a sandwish quite like this one, though. It appeared to have slices of deli ham, some kind of melted white cheese, wilted green onions, cabbage (I think it ws cabbage), and, of all things, ketchup.

It was almost 3 o’clock in the afternoon, I hadn’t eaten anything all day, and what I had been eating was mostly dry tuna from cans for the last few days, so I enjoyed it anyway.

Minutes later, I spotted a vendor seeling cold bottles of coke. I bought two, gave one to my new friend, and we sat silently until our flight boarded.

Somehow, this old man got first boarding privileges and argued with the person colelcting boarding passes that, since I was with him, I also got to share the privilege of boarding first. So I boarded first.

All I can remember from the flight was showing him how the seat belts worked and how to aim the air vent away from his head when he got cold.

Once we got off the plane, I had to figure out how to get him to his ride, who I was assured would be waiting for us, and would know us before we knew them, and timing it right so that I could make my next flight in less than an hour, which meant I had to go through customs and immigration first.

I took the old man to the immigration line. He reluctantly walked to the booth with his Haitian passport in hand. The old man seemed to be frustrated and was pointing excitedly at me. I can just remember thinking “please stop pointing at me”. At that poitn, the INS officer motioned for me to come talk to him too.

“Do you know this man?” the INS officer asked, obviously exasperated.

“I just met him in Port-au-Prince. His son asked me to stay with him and make sure he made it safely to his ride outside.”

The INS officer spoke to the old man in Creole, then addressed me again.

The agent explained the situation: “He wanted you moved to the front of the line with him. I have been trying to explain that you go through a different line if you’re and American, but since you have another flight to catch, I’m just going to let you through so you can help him find his ride.”

I was humbled. The old man somehow knew how to work the system better than I did.

Within minutes, we were outside the Miami terminal, two really big, Haitian-American men walked up to him, took his bag and took him by the arm. One of them smiled, shook my hand and said a thickly accented “Thank you.” The old man appeared to know who they were, and they appeared to know who he was. He smiled and waved.

That was the last I saw of the old man, but I think about him and his son, the pastor who lost more than half of his congregation in that 2010 earthquake, often.

This is just one of the hundreds of examples of how God strategically places us, in strategic positions, to help one another. And how He somehow can make our blessings to another person become a blessing to us. It’s how God works things out for those who trust Him.