It began with a shoebox and a small stack of gifts for a boy who might have never received a present before.
As she placed the items in the box for Operation Christmas Child, praying for the child who would receive it, Yvonne Valasek added a letter with some Scriptures and her address in Texas. She brought the shoebox back to Prestonwood Baptist Church, placed it on the growing stack and said a final prayer that this gift would carry God’s love to someone who desperately needed it.
Six months later, out of the blue, she found a letter from Uganda in the mailbox, from a Christian ministry there called African Hearts.
“I was so excited,” Yvonne recalled. “Someone got my box!”
Actually, there were several someones because in this humble home for boys there weren’t enough boxes for everyone. Touched by the letter and intrigued by the ministry, Yvonne read about the work of African Hearts, which helps orphaned and abandoned kids in some of the poorest slums in Kampala.
“I was so amazed and delighted to have a pen pal from Africa, but I had no idea that God had in mind so much more,” said Yvonne, Assistant Principal at the Prestonwood Christian Academy Lower School. Soon she was offering motherly advice to boys who had no families to guide them.
Yvonne already understood the power of a simple shoebox. She had traveled with a group of Prestonwood ministers to help distribute boxes for Operation Christmas Child, a ministry of Samaritan’s Purse, and still remembers the joy of handing a shoebox to a needy child.
But even more, she was moved by the way the Gospel was shared with the children.
Ross Robinson, a Prestonwood member who works for Samaritan’s Purse, was a part of that trip and understands how it affected Yvonne.
“It encouraged her, certainly, but what it led to for her has been life-changing,” said Ross, who at the time served as Minister of Missions at Prestonwood. “Unquestionably, she has one of the greatest hearts for the lost, and she has the drive to do something about it.”
The trip touched Yvonne so profoundly that she journeyed to the Amazon on a short-term mission trip, and she shared the news with her boys in Uganda.
They replied quickly.
“They said, ‘Miss Yvonne, if you can go to Brazil, you can come to Africa to see us!’”
But Africa was so far, she said, on the other side of the world. Still, she began praying about it, and the idea that seemed utterly impossible in January was a burning need by March.
“I just had to go to Kampala,” she said, “so I went in July 2006 and I met the boys who had received my shoebox. And my husband and I began helping them.”
Friends at Prestonwood sent money so the boys in Uganda could attend school and get an education that could free them from poverty while growing in their knowledge of God.
“In 2010, Engage Hope Ministries started (working in Uganda) and we worked with them and it just exploded,” Yvonne said. “And it all cycled back to that Operation Christmas Child shoebox.”
Prestonwood, Ross said, has played a critical role in Operation Christmas Child from the very beginning—an outgrowth of Senior Pastor Jack Graham’s close friendship with Billy Graham and his son Franklin.
“It’s the neatest thing,” Ross said, “and Prestonwood does it with such excellence.”
Published: November 17, 2016
Author: Michael Young
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