Located just north and west of South Africa, Namibia is one of the least densely populated countries in the world. It is named after the Namib Desert which means “vast place” in the Damara/Nama tribal language. This more than 30,000 square miles of sand strikingly borders the Atlantic coast.
It bears strong European influence because Germans colonized Namibia in the late 1800s. Following World War I, the nation was named South West Africa as it came under South African rule and its strict system of apartheid.
Many Namibians despised this cruel policy of segregation, and some fled to other nations as refugees. When Namibia finally gained independence in 1990, they ended apartheid immediately—four years before it was abolished in South Africa.
Today God is moving among the 12 different culture groups in this dry land. “Operation Christmas Child is coming to quench our thirst,” said Grace Shangheta, the project’s national logistics coordinator. “For Namibians, shoebox gifts are like water.”
Fourteen-year-old Adineygo received a notebook, some books, and a pair of socks in his shoebox, but his favorite item was The Greatest Gift, a Gospel story booklet Samaritan’s Purse distributes with the gifts.
“I haven’t heard of Jesus before,” Adineygo said. “I accepted Him into my heart today.”
Michelle, 11, said, “I prayed for socks because it gets very cold [here] by the sea.” To her surprise she found some socks with teddy bears on them inside her shoebox.
Her friend Juliana prayed for a new necklace as well as pens and pencils for school. Opening her shoebox, she found each of these items. “Jesus gave me the gifts,” she said.
A third friend Connie, 11, prayed for toys and also for clothes to help her with the cold summers in the southern hemisphere. She found a puzzle as well as a sweatshirt, hat, and gloves inside her gift.
Before finding these special answers inside their shoebox gifts, each of these girls prayed another far more important prayer—to receive Jesus as their Savior. This answered the prayers of many around the world who intercede for the salvation of shoebox recipients.
“You have to have a tough heart to live in Havana,” said 18-year-old resident Endenette Klaasen. In this informal settlement on the outskirts of the capital of Windhoek, many are unemployed. The fortunate operate small businesses out of their makeshift corrugated metal homes. No one has electricity or running water.
Here 60 children gathered in a local church for an Operation Christmas Child outreach event one Sunday afternoon. After a time of singing, Endenette shared the Gospel using a colorful resource provided by Samaritan’s Purse. Hearts softened to the Good News and almost every child accepted Christ as their Lord and Savior.
While angels rejoiced in heaven (Luke 15:10), a collective gasp went up in the room. Leaders pulled sheets off of two piles at the front revealing colorful stacks of shoebox gifts! Soon children were tearing into them with squeals of joy.
“It made me feel 13 years old again,” Endenette said.
That year, she received a shoebox—her first gift ever. Endenette opened it to find soap, pencils, a washcloth, cosmetics, and clothes. The gray t-shirt and blue jeans were her favorites.
In that moment, Endenette said she bonded with God. She had been wrestling with the question, “Who is this Jesus?” But through the shoebox gift, she began to have an answer. Today a believer and active in the church, Endenette leads outreach events for Operation Christmas Child.
Since she grew up an orphan, Endenette sees the body of Christ as her true family. Her mother died in 2004, the year before she entered first grade, and she’s never known her father. She used to question why the Lord took her mother. “But He strengthened me,” she said. “I left it all to God.”
Now in grade 12, Endenette said, “Jesus is my sole provider right now apart from the brothers and sisters in Christ He gave me.” But rather than focusing on herself, Endenette devotes herself to sharing the Gospel.
After children receive shoebox gifts, many are invited to participate in The Greatest Journey, the discipleship course developed for shoebox recipients. More than 55,000 young Namibians have participated. Volunteers from local churches are trained to teach these boys and girls how to follow Christ and share Him with others using colorful books from Samaritan’s Purse. But the course influences far more than the children themselves.
“I was far away from God, but [since] I got the training I am now near,” said Margaret A’Voabes, a teacher of The Greatest Journey in Mondesa, a town just outside the coastal tourist city of Swakopmund.
As boys and girls retell the Bible stories from class to family and friends, still others come to Christ. At the end of 12 lessons, children graduate and receive a certificate and their own New Testament.
Observing one such celebration in the capital suburb of Wanaheda, Bishop Sam Nambelela gave thanks for those supply the course materials: “May the Lord bless you. It is not easy for someone to take something out of their pocket to help people around the world who have nothing.”
“We must keep doing this because it is changing the world!”
But it is worth it to bring Living Water to the spiritually parched. The graduates’ teacher Sam Iimene said, “We must keep doing this because it is changing the world!”