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Stories and Advice from Shoebox Distributions in Malawi

On this blog I mostly write about packing, shopping, crafting, etc. for shoeboxes, but I thought it'd be encouraging to share some distribution stories, plus I love to get more ideas and feedback on things to include from first hand reports.  Since I've never been on a distribution, I send questions to those who have.

My name is Debbie Pottorff and I’m the Church Relations Coordinator for the Big Bend / Tallahassee Area (Florida / P.R. Region) My husband, John, and I have been married for decades now and have 5 grown children (complete with grandchildren, children-in-laws, and “bonus” grandchildren).  We’re still both working full time but since the kids are gone (out of the house) our lives would seem a bit empty without our shoebox kids.  John is the leader of the Main Drop-Off location in our Area and since our Area Team is relatively small, we try to help out our Area Coordinators in other roles, as best we can.  We truly believe in the OCC mission, the Great Commission and Matthew 1:8  “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth."  For us, this is the way to live!   Our Area Team has a facebook page:  OCC Tallahassee/Big Bend FL that we'd love to have anyone to "like" and follow and we have a monthly email newletter that can be accessed throught the fb page.

>>When & where did you distribute shoeboxes? 
I was invited to go on a Harvest Vision Trip to Malawi in May of 2018 and I definitely
brought back far more to share than I had expected from this adventure.

>>Please share a little about your trip and the distributions and about how many kids were at the distribution(s) you attended? 
When we arrived in Malawi, we were divided into three teams.  Each team consisted of about 10-12 Connect Volunteers and OCC staff members, plus 2 interpreters and 1-2 members of Malawi’s National Leadership Team. During our stay, each team attended 5 different Outreach Events (Distributions) and one The Greatest Journey Event.  My team’s Outreach Events were to schools and churches and had anywhere from 95 – 200 children present.  The Greatest Journey Event was to one of their weekly classes at a church and was attended by about 25 enthusiast students.

>>What's your favorite memory? 
The favorite memory about my trip is what “My Story” and my presentation to share with groups and churches in my area will be about:  Spiritual Warfare.  My team’s very first Event was to the first graders at Mziiza Primary School.  We were given this brief description of the location. The community surrounding the school is heavily influenced by a traditional occultic religion that focuses on worship of the spirits of the dead.  Ritual ceremonies are held in the graveyards and much of the practices are kept secret, known only to members.  Children are initiated into this secret society at a young age, sometimes forcibly.” A similar description was also given for a few other locations in our Team packet so we didn’t think much of it. 

Following the typical Outreach event (consisting of music, a gospel presentation, introduction of the Greatest Gift, passing out & opening of the shoeboxes, interaction with the children, and a time of prayer with the Pastor & Directors) we loaded up on the bus and went just around the corner where, unknown to us, we were escorted to a row of chairs in the front row of a circle that was beginning to form.  At first the circle was only a couple of people deep but as all the children from the school and most of the adults from the village continued to arrive, the circumference appeared to swell to about 4-6 people thick.  Soon the women started a singing chant that was then accompanied by drums and eventually the first two “spirit dancers” arrived.  The village chief was translating (or giving a description of) what was happening at first but later ceased.  These “spirits” were not friendly and the stories surrounding them were far from heartwarming.  Still, not quite sure what we were experiencing, our collective feeling was “uncomfortable” to say the very least.  We witnessed about 4 or 5 of these different demonstrations and looking around the circle I noticed a group of little 5-6 year old girls, from the school, with looks of sheer terror on their faces.(It must have been at this time when I realized this was a very real happening and I wasn’t at a Disney World performance.)  Fast forward a few demonic demonstrations and I look over at the girls again.  One little girl has opened up her GO box and taken out her brand new blonde Barbie and she and her friends are now oblivious to their dark surrounds and playing with her new toy that was packed, with love, by someone who wanted to share the hope and love found in Jesus Christ with these children.  Allelujah!

I do want to point out that the older children in the Mziiza Primary School had received shoeboxes last year and many were given the opportunity to take part in The Greatest Journey.  And, for those that completed the course, not a single one has returned to the graveyard rituals.  The presence of Operation Christmas Child in this area has also resulted in families turning to Christ and leaving behind the magic and witchcraft which are dominant in this community.  There is heavy spiritual warfare for the souls of these people. Please pray for these children and their families.

God has definitely shown me that spiritual warfare is real and I intend on using this experience to make sure my fellow shoebox packers remember to pray and join in the battle for the souls of children (and their families) all over the world.

>>What item(s) did you notice the kids really enjoying and/or needing? Maybe something you'll be adding to or emphasizing more in your packing it the future?
It would be very hard to pick one item that most of the children enjoyed or seemed to need. I will say that at one event you’d ask them what they got in their box and almost all of them would simply hold up their flip flops.

And, while I would always advise people to pray over your box and if you feel led to pack an item (not on the inappropriate list)…just do it but if you’re trying to decide on what type of ball to pack and not feeling led in any certain directions, pack a soccer or other round ball. I spent a lot of time with the older boys and most of them had never seen nor heard of American football. Then when you’d try to explain it was a football they’d try to play with it by kicking it. I’m sure they’ll eventually figure out a fun use.  The other interesting gift was a ball & glove.  (And I would never encourage against these because they are BIG items in Central & South America.) The boys in Malawi weren’t quite sure what the glove was.  One guy finally decided the glove was a hat.  Through our interpreter (named Hope) I did explain that the glove went on his hand but then when Hope tried to show him how, he had never put on a mitt and tried showing him on the wrong hand.  Children are very resourceful so I’m sure all their gifts will be put in use but just keep in mind that soccer balls seem to be universal.

 >>Is there anything you personally won't be packing as much in boxes in the future based on what you saw?
There isn’t an item that I won’t be packing in the future but I will try to emphasize to others to please remove the packaging when possible (we had a hard time even with our box cutters and scissors!) and please try to make sure to send “working” items.  I’m not saying it has to be “top of the line” quality but at least make sure the noisemakers make noise and the yo-yo does more than just yo (make sure they spin freely).

 >>Is there anything else you'd like to share with fellow shoebox packers?
Please, please, please don’t get hung up so much on the gifts inside the box that you forget about the bigger purpose:The mission of Operation Christmas Child is to demonstrate God's love in a tangible way to children in need around the world, and together with the local church worldwide, to share the Good News of Jesus Christ.

REMINDER: this advice is just based on one person's opinion based on their personal experience in one country.  This is not official from Operation Christmas Child whose guidelines are the only thing incumbent on us to follow and are based on thousands of distributions in dozens of countries over many years and based on feedback from local partners as well as customs regulations.  These regulations are different for different sending countries, so be sure to check out the rules for your own country/region (OCC USAOCC CanadaOCC UKOCC AUOCC Japan, etc.).

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