Local missionary saw Operation Christmas Child’s impact firsthand

Operation Christmas Child

Billy Perez (right) knows how important the simple shoeboxes of gifts from Operation Christmas Child are after spending over two years as a missionary in Honduras, where he delivered thousands of them to families. Local organizers such as Bobi Swope (left) at First Baptist Church of Marble Falls help keep the shoeboxes coming and prepare them for shipment around the world. The two removed their masks for the photo, but replaced them as First Baptist Church of Marble Falls follows COVID-19 protocols. Staff photo by Daniel Clifton

It’s a shoebox packed with a few gifts, school supplies, and a toothbrush and toothpaste. What good does Operation Christmas Child really do?

“It makes a big difference to the kids in Honduras that get them,” said Billy Perez, who spent 2½ years in the Central American country before recently returning to Marble Falls and First Baptist Church. 

In January, when the red and green boxes arrived in Honduras, Perez and a crew hired buses and crossed the mountains to pass them out. The small items inside were only part of the gift.

Operation Christmas Child is a mission outreach program through Samaritan’s Purse. People donate items to fill the shoeboxes. The boxes are packed and collected, usually at a church, in November. 

“Then, they go from (Samaritan’s Purse) by train, plane, or ship to countries around the world,” said Bobi Swope, an Operations Christmas Child coordinator with First Baptist Church of Marble Falls, one of the collection sites in the Highland Lakes. “When they get to a country, we use local people to deliver them. They may go by bus or by burro or just about any other way to get to the kids.”

Perez, wife Inez, and their children lived in Gracias, Honduras, as missionaries. He and the other missionaries delivered the boxes to surrounding villages, but the rented buses could only travel so far. Local families help take them into the most remote communities.

Perez also delivered an accompanying Gospel study to schools one day a week for about four weeks. The adult illiteracy rate in Honduras is around 80 percent. Schoolchildren educate their parents. 

“So, when we share the Gospel with the children, they go home and read it to their parents,” Perez said. 

When he handed out Operation Christmas Child boxes, Perez followed up with local pastors. When the lessons were over, many of the children found their way to church with their parents in tow.

“With the one box, it’s not just the kids we’re reaching but parents and families,” Perez said.

While the boxes didn’t arrive in Honduras until after Christmas, the timing was actually perfect, Perez said. In Honduras, at least where he and his family ministered, school begins in early spring and runs until November due to the coffee growing season. 

Inside each box are school supplies such as pencils and notebooks. Quite ubiquitous and inexpensive items in the United States, but in Honduras, where the daily average wage is less than $10, purchasing school supplies can be a financial burden on a family.

“A 99-cent box of pencils, that’s easy for us to buy here in the United States, but to a family in Honduras, it’s a sacrifice,” he said. 

Another thing Americans take for granted are personal hygiene items such as toothpaste and toothbrushes. Perez shook his head while thinking of the children whose parents would tell them to pull their teeth at a young age so they wouldn’t cause them pain later in life. In rural Honduran villages, dental and medical care is rare. 

When Perez took the Operation Christmas Child boxes to villages, he hired a physician to travel with him.

“During the year, we’d hear things, hear about kids and their parents not feeling well or having problems,” he said. “So, I’d take a doctor with us to check on them.”

The biggest surprise inside the box for the children is often a toy, especially a soccer ball, Perez said. If a few school supplies are hard to come by, a soccer ball is gold. 

“You wouldn’t believe how excited they’d get over a soccer ball,” he said. 

Perez said that the boxes and their contents might seem simple to those helping pack them for delivery, but to the Honduran families, the gift can open doors.

“And, they can’t believe it’s free,” Perez said. “But it’s just like the salvation Jesus gives us. This is free. These boxes, they make a difference. I’ve seen it.”

Operation Christmas Child shoeboxes can be dropped off at the following Highland Lakes locations:

  • First Baptist Church, 901 La Ventana Drive in Marble Falls
  • Chapel of the Hills Baptist Church, 19135 Texas 29 East in Buchanan Dam
  • First United Methodist Church, 301 E. Graves St. in Burnet
  • Pittsburg Avenue Baptist Church, 709 Pittsburg Ave. in Llano

daniel@thepicayune.com

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