Reprinted with permission from The Good News newspaper
Man with a Shoebox
Yves Dushime’s smile is almost as large as he is.
“Let me hug you. I’m a hugger,” he said as he greeted me at the “Breakfast of Champions” get together on August 13th for area volunteers who devote months every year to Operation Christmas Child. He was there to share his story.
Operation Christmas Child is a program of Samaritan’s Purse, an international Christian relief and evangelism organization headed by Franklin Graham. Operation Christmas Child reaches children in countries torn apart by disease, famine, disaster, poverty and persecution with simple, gift-filled shoe boxes. Yves Dushime was one of these children, and he told the people gathered for this volunteer appreciation breakfast how one gift of a shoe box changed his life.
Every year in November, people around the world, in churches and various organizations, fill empty shoe boxes with a special “wow” gift, toys, school supplies, candy, hygiene items, etc. Filled shoe boxes from America eventually arrive in one of eight processing centers in the U.S. to be shipped overseas.
For very faith filled reasons, volunteers consider the contents of the boxes sacrosanct. Except for inappropriate items, the workers do not remove from, or add to, the boxes. And so it happened that the boy, whose feet had been badly burned and needed the comfort of soft covering, received a box full of socks. And the twin, opening the last box, found two of everything inside. It was no less miraculous for Dushime to find a scarf packed in his shoe box.
It all came about this way.
His family had fled Rwanda during the period of genocide, where neighbors killed neighbors just because they were of different ethnicity. He said that the 1994 Rwandan genocide took 1 million lives in 100 days. His family fled to the Congo, where Dushime was born on the ground, and then on to the Congo, Kenya, and finally Togo.
This smiling young man, this hugger said he once hated people
“I spent the first half of my life trying to figure out how anyone could be so evil, how anyone could kill children and women and men all around the country just because they were different from them. And this followed me in life. I didn’t trust people. I didn’t see the good in people. I hated people. My father was a pastor, but all the craziness around made me fear humanity. I didn’t trust anyone because of that.
“When I got that shoe box 10 or 11 years ago, it changed my life completely. Because I couldn’t imagine….how someone across the world, who didn’t know who I was, decided to send me this wonderful box packed with so many things I needed — and telling me I love you, Jesus loves you, God loves you and we’re praying for you. …That shoe box completely changed the way I saw humanity.”
When his family found refuge in Togo, his father resumed his role as a pastor and they joined a church. Witnessing about Jesus Christ was very difficult because the area was full of witchcraft and voodoo. The danger was real, and there were areas missionaries traveled to, and from which they never returned. Powerful witch doctors had a hold over the lives of the people …until the day 300 shoe boxes arrived. This was a huge deal, since most children did not own pencils or paper and could not even afford to go to school.
“To put it in perspective,” Dushime said, “if you guys heard there was somebody in the parking lot giving away free cars… that was the exact equivalent.”
It is hard for us to imagine getting excited about items we can easily purchase in the Dollar Store, but even the witch doctors brought their children to great shoebox giveaway. The gift that was the greatest, of course, was the Gospel message that Jesus loved these children.
“I remember my father just looking out into the crowd and he (said) ‘There’s absolutely no way we’ll be able to get these people back into church again. This is a captive audience. Before we hand out these shoe boxes, we’re gonna tell them about Jesus.’ And that’s exactly what he did.”
These people, who had never heard of Jesus, were amazed there was redemption for them, a chance to start again. As more people came to faith in Jesus, their church grew cramped and they eventually planted three more churches, some in those areas that witnessed the murder of missionaries. Now the most powerful witch doctor in Togo despised the Dushines, especially when his own son turned to Jesus and became a deacon in the church.
“He started approaching the church folks and he was asking, ‘I want to better my skill, my craft, my art. Teach me. Tell me what it is you people have that I don’t.’…We told him, ‘Man, we have Jesus,’ and I believe in that moment he hated us even more…He threatened to kill us.” But the Christians prayed for God to soften his heart, and a few months later, this most powerful witch doctor in the country, gave his life to Christ
“As soon as he gave his life to Christ, all the people he had threatened followed, and I don’t know if they were terrified about what he might do if they didn’t, but I believe these people looked at him and said, ’If this powerful man needs Jesus, so do we. And the entire community was changed as a result of the shoe boxes.”
If Dushime’s life was not enough to inspire the Operation Christmas Child volunteers to double their efforts this year, the story of the scarf touched every heart in the room. He held up a woolen plaid scarf and asked,” Can anyone tell me what this is?” and then, “Can anyone tell me where I lived?” People laughed, imaging the unbearable heat in a land so close to the equator. He said he tried to trade the scarf for a soccer ball a friend had received. No luck. He was stuck with it. But God had a plan for that scarf. It comes in quite handy now that he and his family live in Buffalo, New York.
“As I look back, I see this was God’s way of telling me… Yves, I know your past, I know your present, and I know your future. I knew where you were going before you ended up there. And I was waiting at the end of the line — a loving father, to keep you warm.”
Now Yves Dushime spends most of his time sharing his shoe box story, inspiring his listeners to become more and more involved in God’s continuing miracle, while also juggling graduate courses in global economy.
This joy-filled hugger ended his talk very simply.
“I’m here today to say thank you on behalf of the 126 million kids who have received shoe boxes so far. Thank you for the work you do. Thank you for changing my life. Thank you for giving kids and families around the world the chance to say ‘God we accept you.’”
If your church does not join in Operation Christmas Child, and you would like to fill a virtual shoe box, visit Build Your Shoebox Online! – Operation Christmas Child