Placing a shoebox in the arms of an African child, one Winnipeg woman says, "I don't think that they had ever received a gift before."

Kris Harder has been involved with Operation Christmas Child for some time now, and it started with simply packing some shoeboxes. 

"Then I became a church project leader. A woman, Lynette, came to our church to speak about Operation Christmas Child, and I just happened to connect with her after the service. They were looking for someone on their team here in Winnipeg."

Harder excitedly joined the team and has been apart of OCC shoeboxes ever since. She attends Riverwood Church Community in Winnipeg.

"I love the ministry and I wanted to get involved a little more and that's when I started."

That was roughly five years ago and she volunteers her time year-round to help other groups and churches that are looking for help with packing shoeboxes. 

A Trip to Africa

"It was a couple of years ago that I went to Senegal with the team to distribute shoeboxes and I was fortunate enough to go with my daughter," she says.

At the time, Harder's daughter Kaylee was 21-years-old and the experience was too short, in her opinion. Harder commented that her daughter would have stayed.

Kaylee handing out shoeboxes in Senegal, Africa.Kaylee handing out shoeboxes in Senegal, Africa. (Supplied)

"It was a wonderful time, not just to do it with her but to see the impact shoeboxes have firsthand was incredible."

Harder recalls seeing droves of children gather under a shelter. 

"We went outside the city and when we got to the school where we were going to hand out shoeboxes, there were at least 200 kids."

As this was the country-side in Africa, some children had walked a far distance to experience something great, even though what that was was unclear. 

"When the teachers were speaking to the children about how much Jesus loves them, they were sitting there just in awe."

These children had come from all over to simply hear some good news. 

"They didn't even know they were getting shoeboxes. At the end of the service, when the teacher asked if anyone wanted to give their lives to Jesus, about 95 per cent of the children raised their hands."

Kris Harder and her daughter Kaylee in Senegal, Africa, handing out shoeboxes.Kris Harder and her daughter Kaylee in Senegal, Africa, handing out shoeboxes. (Supplied)

All of this was before the kids knew they were getting a shoebox filled with fun and necessary items. Harder talks about the reaction the kids had when a shoebox was placed in their arms. 

"It was almost like they were surprised. I don't think that they had ever received a gift before, at least that was it looked like to me," says Harder. "So when we were handing out shoeboxes it was almost like, 'Do I really get this?' The children even started sharing with each other."

With so many people in isolation due to the pandemic, not just in first world countries but everywhere, Harder says it's even more important now that children receive these boxes of hope. 

"Let's just say I saw seeds being planted that day. Shoeboxes are just a way of connecting with churches and schools."

The boxes are more than just items, they are a bridge to connect and share God's love according to Harder.

"A shoebox is showing them love and that these children are not forgotten. It shows that people around the world are thinking about them and that God loves them and has not forgotten them."

CHVN is partnering once again with OCC to collect shoeboxes at St. Vital Centre from Nov. 19-21. You can also pack a box online with CHVN here.