Rev. Franklin Graham and Christian music legend Michael W. Smith delivered Operation Christmas Child shoeboxes over the weekend to school children in Guam and Saipan, kicking off a five-year distribution campaign to reach every boy and girl (half a million) on 1,000 Pacific islands.
After delivering Operation Christmas Child shoeboxes stuffed with gifts to 125 children at Grace Christian Academy in Garapan, Saipan, on Friday, Graham, his wife, Jane, and Smith arrived at Life in the Son Christian Fellowship in Tamuning, Guam, on Saturday to help personally hand out more eagerly received gifts to students.
God, not Santa, the Deliverer of all that’s good
Graham was excited and grateful for the opportunity God gave him to help deliver and watch 90 children rip open their boxes crammed with dolls, soccer balls, stuffed animals and other toys before sharing the best gift of all – God’s Word.
“There is so much joy and happiness,” Graham expressed in a Samaritan’s Purse report – before heading to the Hope for Guåhan Festival on the U.S. territory island of Guam on Sunday. “It gave us an opportunity to present the gospel.”
Marco Caser – who heads up the children’s ministry at Life in the Son Church with his wife, Nicole – was overjoyed by the event because many of the kids receiving shoeboxes are unchurched, so this was the first time many of their parents in attendance heard the gospel message.
“I’ve never experienced anything like this,” Caser shared. “I’m super thankful for the people behind Operation Christmas Child and The Greatest Journey for allowing our island to have these resources. It gives us confidence to know that these kids are really going to be impacted by the Gospel.”
Grace Christian Academy principal Beth Nunez said most of her 294 students come from unbelieving homes.
“Our students are from South Korea, Japan, China, the Philippines, and various island nations,” Nunez pointed out. “When you’re giving out shoeboxes and teaching The Greatest Journey here, you are ministering to Asia. I want people back in the States to know that what they are giving to – whether financially to Samaritan’s Purse or by packing a shoebox – is really touching people’s lives and demonstrating God’s love to them. It’s powerful to see.”
Graham visited two dozen kids during their Greatest Journey discipleship program class for shoebox recipients after the distribution and encouraged them to memorize Bible passages and learn how to share their faith.
“I pray that God will use each one of you to be a preacher and a soul winner who tells others about what God has done for you,” the president of Samaritan’s Purse and the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association (BGEA) told the young disciples before heading to the Marianas Festival of Hope at Saipan’s American Memorial Park to present the Good News of Jesus Christ later that evening.
Restoring hope, sharing faith
Michael W. Smith arrived for the final distribution on Saipan, where more than 10,000 shoeboxes were previously delivered to children affected by 2018’s devastating Super Typhoon Yutu that wiped out thousands of homes and left many residents without food, shelter, and clean water.
“This is my first visit to Saipan,” Smith shared. “It’s awesome to be here and meet these beautiful people. We in America are spoiled [because] we lose sight of the way most of the world lives, [so] hopefully, this will show people the need there is around the world for kids to hear the gospel and how a simple shoebox can change somebody’s life.”
The trip also held a special place in Jane Graham’s heart: Her father was one of the U.S. Marines who stormed the Japanese-occupied island during 1944, surviving a sniper's bullet to the hit that shattered his leg.
This made the visit that much more memorable for her husband, as well.
“Having my father-in-law serve here means a lot to me,” Graham expressed. “He shed his blood on this island. If his generation could go to the Pacific, crawl on their bellies fighting hand-to-hand combat to defeat the Japanese, then we can come here with Operation Christmas Child and go island to island to island to present the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and that’s what we’re going to do.”
So far, more than 65,000 children have received shoeboxes as part of the Pacific Island Initiative, with 20,000 of them having already graduated from The Greatest Journey, meaning more than 400,000 more still need to be touched by the Gospel of Jesus Christ.