Small gesture, big impact
The best gifts come in small packages, and for Rebekah Rollston, they come in a shoebox.
After spending eight days on the rural San Blas islands of Panama delivering 1,500 gift-filled shoeboxes to indigent children, Rollston has seen the impact of a small gesture of kindness.
Rollston traveled with 16 Americans ages 16-20 as part of a team with Samaritan’s Purse, an evangelical Christian organization that works worldwide providing emergency relief, community development, education and medical missions. The program, called Operation Christmas Child, delivers shoeboxes filled with toys, candy, hygiene products and school supplies to some 8 million children a year living in developing countries.
“Operation Christmas Child reaches needy children and tangibly shows them the love of Christ,” said Rollston, who will begin her junior year at Milligan College in the fall. Majoring in biology, she plans to attend school to work as a physician’s assistant.
The boxes are assembled by individuals and churches around the globe, delivered to one of six distribution centers in the U.S., and personally delivered by groups such as Rollston’s. Rollston first learned about Operation Christmas Child through Boones Creek Christian Church, where she is a member. The church packs shoeboxes for the program each year. Despite the program’s name, distribution occurs throughout the year.
“It’s a way for us to give them Christmas presents and tell them about Jesus’ birth,” said Rollston, who was able to deliver her own box to a 9-year-old girl named Betsy on the island of East Le Tigre.
“I really felt like God was calling me to give it to her,” said Rollston. “I included a picture, and she really loved that.”
The delivery teams also share a gospel message with the children before distributing the boxes by hand.
“We used a book called El Mejor Regalo, which means ‘the greatest gift,’” said Rollston. “The book shared the message of Christ.”
The San Blas islands, also called the Kuna Yala islands, are inhabited by the Kuna people, who migrated to the islands during the Spanish invasion of Central America in the 16th century. They speak both the native language, Dulegaya, and Spanish. Missionaries from multiple Christian denominations have brought a message to the area, and protestant and Catholic churches exist on most islands.
Distribution took place at these churches, and the team traveled by motorized canoes to a different island each day, returning at night to one of the few hotels on the island of Nargana.
“It was the most amazing trip I’ve ever been on,” said Rollston, who has also done missions in Mexico. “There’s poverty all over the world, but I’ve never been in a place where people lived in (bamboo) huts.”
The plane that took the team from Panama City to the islands was too small for Rollston to stand up in and only had 25 seats. Rollston said the plane landed on a dirt runway.
Despite the primitive conditions, Rollston said she would love to do a trip like this again and plans to give a presentation to her church.
“We have a lot of youth involved at our church, and definitely, I’ll recommend it to them,” she said.
Rollston, who has studied Spanish at Milligan, said she tried her best to communicate with the children both with and without the help of translators.
“We had a communication barrier, but it didn’t block us from having fun,” she said. “You can communicate in so many ways other than speech.”
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MILLIGAN UNIVERSITY is a Christian liberal arts university in Northeast Tennessee whose vision is to change lives and shape culture through a commitment to servant leadership. The university offers more than 100 majors, minors, pre-professional degrees and concentrations in a variety of fields, along with graduate and adult degree completion programs. To learn more about Milligan University, visit www.milligan.edu or call 800-262-8337.