“The Greatest Journey is a miracle in Namibia,” said Grace Shangheta, national logistics coordinator for Operation Christmas Child in the southern African nation of Namibia. “It has changed the lives not only of children, but of families.”
It all starts with a shoebox gift, given in Jesus’ Name. Boys and girls hear the Gospel and receive Operation Christmas Child shoeboxes lovingly packed with toys, hygiene items, and school supplies by people in 10 different nations around the globe. Afterward, many are invited to participate in the 12-lesson follow-up discipleship program Samaritan’s Purse developed for shoebox recipients called The Greatest Journey.
This course teaches children how to follow Christ and share Him with others through Bible stories, activities, and memory verses. Grace said, “Through The Greatest Journey, they learn about the Word of God, [and] how to spread this Good News to many nations and to the nation of Namibia.” More than 55,000 of the country’s children have participated in the course since it began there in 2011.
“It starts with the box, but The Greatest Journey is really the backbone of this whole program,” said Jimmy Nel, Operation Christmas Child’s national discipleship coordinator for Namibia.
“I enjoy teaching the teachers,” said Jimmy. “It’s like a thirst is quenched in them” when they participate in The Greatest Journey training. The materials—including a student workbook and teacher handbook—are much-needed resources for churches in Namibia. They guide teachers in how to present lessons in a child-friendly way.
“I enjoy teaching the teachers,” said Jimmy, “It’s like a thirst is quenched in them.”
Grace said, “Wherever we go and do trainings, people are always saying ‘This is the answer that we’ve been looking for. We have run out of ideas on how to teach children. We have gone through programs, but then the programs are not sustainable.’”
In addition to instruction on how to use the course books, The Greatest Journey teacher training shows volunteers how to write their own lessons from Bible stories. This equips them to continue teaching children long after they complete the 12 lessons.
“[The training] is really refreshing the teachers, bringing hope to them, fulfilling that passion they have for children,” Jimmy said. “They tell us, ‘I now have everything.’”
At the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Mondesa, a town outside the coastal tourist town of Swakopmund, The Greatest Journey classes are hosted every Saturday afternoon at 2:00 p.m.
There Christine, 11, trusted in God partway through the course. “I learned about when Jesus was crucified,” Christine said. “I accepted Christ because He died for our sins.”
Edmond, 13, also accepted Christ as his Savior during The Greatest Journey. “I was changed because Jesus helped the crippled walk, the blind see, and is the Son of the Living God,” he said.
A three-hour drive to the east, in the Babylon suburb of Windhoek, Willemine Shiningua teaches The Greatest Journey alongside the dirt road in front of her home.
When her student Polly, 9, received her shoebox gift, her favorite item was a doll. Afterward, she began attending The Greatest Journey and soon accepted Christ into her heart. “I’m learning the Bible,” Polly said.
Her classmate Monica, 10, also received a shoebox gift and enjoyed the pink teddy bear she found inside. With her heart opened by this expression of God’s love, she began to learn about Christ as she attended the discipleship classes Auntie Willemine hosted. “I accepted Jesus,” she said. “When I learned He died for my sins, it was very painful on my heart. I wanted to give my life to Him.”
Wanaheda, a suburb of the capital, is named after the four cultural groups that live in the area: the Wambo, Nama, Herero, and Damara. It represents just a sampling of Namibia’s 11 tribes. Here the Full Gospel Church of God hosted a graduation celebration for 12 students who completed The Greatest Journey course.
Tugamena, 14, remembers getting her shoebox gift and enjoying the pens, pencils, puzzles, soap, and toothbrush it contained. Since participating in The Greatest Journey, she said, “I learned that we all sin, but only God can wash our sins away.” This led her to accept Christ.
She shared what she learned in the course with her friends Shabina and Shuni and both became believers. “They are so happy that they’re born again,” Tugamena said.
John also accepted Christ during the discipleship course. Through his witness, his mother, father, and aunt all also trusted in the Lord. His favorite part of graduation was getting his certificate and Bible.
One of their classmates, Precious, 9, also talked about what she gleaned from The Greatest Journey: “I learned Jesus was crucified for our sins.” During the ceremony, Precious recited one of their memory verses, “I can do everything by the power of Christ. He gives me strength” (Philippians 4:13, NIrV).
After the graduation celebration, Tjimbii, 9, said, “I am so happy!” As a result of the 12-lessons, “I learned to love God and love one another,” he said. “If you see someone in a ditch you should help that person.”
Their 21-year-old teacher, Sam Iimene, loves these children and the opportunity he has to teach them the Word. He said, “We must keep on doing The Greatest Journey because it is building the body of Christ. It is helping the world see there is a Savior, Jesus Christ.”
“The ministry of Operation Christmas Child and The Greatest Journey program has given me so much hope and courage that things are not going to stay [the same] forever,” Jimmy said. “We will definitely see a changed and a God-fearing generation that [is] faithful to their communities, their families, their wives and their husbands, and faithful to God.”