The distribution of a special shoe box gift is the culmination of a journey that began with a young girl’s desire to help people in need
The circumstances that brought 12-year-old Evilyn Pinnow and 5-year-old Brenda Valdez together in the Dominican Republic’s capital city of Santo Domingo may seem coincidental. Evilyn, though, knows better. In many ways, she has been preparing for the moment for six years.
Evilyn seems like a typical 12-year-old girl, quick to laugh and nearly bouncing out of her seat with energy, her vibrant blue eyes glinting with youthful curiosity. Dig a little deeper, and maturity well beyond her years is revealed, as evidenced by the words she wrote in her letter to Brenda, the Dominican girl who on Wednesday received a very special gift that has been the focus of Evilyn’s attention for the past four weeks.
“Hi. My name is Evilyn and I’m 12-years-old. I know we live far apart, but will you be my friend? I hope you enjoy the gifts, and that you understand the true meaning of gift-giving—Jesus, the ultimate gift. I want you to know that I love you, and that God loves you. He sings and dances over you. He and his angels rejoice over your every move. I wish you well as you journey through life. Love, Evilyn.”
The letter was inside the symbolic 100 millionth shoe box gift. For the past month, Evilyn has brought the box around the United States, encouraging donors and volunteers to help Operation Christmas Child reach the milestone of 100 million shoe box gifts collected and given since 1993.
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Evilyn and Brenda’s journeys leading to the day they met face-to-face have been vastly different. Evilyn grew up in Fort Atkinson, Wis., surrounded by quintessential Midwestern small-town America. Brenda’s mother abandoned her in the Dominican Republic, leaving for dead the almost lifeless, 5-pound, five-month-old baby girl.
At the age of 6, about one year before Brenda’s birth, Evilyn began to hear the prompting of the Lord, telling her to pray for the poor and the homeless. She began to not only pray for their needs, but also to ask God to show her how she could help.
Two years later—when Brenda was 1 and had been found and taken in by a woman who had two other children and makes only $75 per month—God used a Sunday school teacher to answer Evilyn’s prayers. As a prize for completing a Bible crossword puzzle, the teacher gave Evilyn a journal featuring children around the world. It was the Kids Praying for Kids journal from Samaritan's Purse, and sparked an idea that has burst into an inferno, igniting passion in the many lives that Evilyn has touched in the four years since she first read it.
"The journal gave me the idea, and God shaped it," Evilyn said. “I got the book and it all made sense."
The journal inspired her to start packing shoe box gifts for children in need around the world. She shared her enthusiasm for the project with friends, and quickly founded The Shoebox Club to get others involved. Four years later, the club has grown to about 80 members and packed over 2,000 shoe boxes.
Her involvement with Operation Christmas Child led to her being chosen as the ambassador for the 100 million shoe box tour. Evilyn has taken the special box on a whirlwind journey from New York to North Carolina, Milwaukee to Minneapolis, and Sacramento to Santo Domingo. At every stop, a new item has been added to Brenda's gift by people who have been deeply touched by Operation Christmas Child, from year-round volunteers to young adults who received Operation Christmas Child shoe box gifts as children living in far-flung countries around the globe.
Evilyn and the members of her Shoebox Club wholeheartedly believe in the power of prayer and believe that the Lord had Brenda in mind all along.
"Dear God...please give the biggest part of Your heart to this box and to the person that gets it," prayed Maren Nash, another Shoebox Club member, as Evilyn began her journey.
The journey ended Wednesday, when Evilyn's prayer was fulfilled in the form of a tiny little girl who loves to use sticks as microphones and preach to imaginary audiences.
Brenda is one of the tens of millions of children who have heard about God's love and gift of salvation through a shoe box filled with simple gifts. She is the girl who was chosen by God to receive the specific gift that Evilyn has carried from place to place and person to person.
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