Posted on : Wednesday March 26, 2014
Photo courtesy of Blue Ridge Baptist Association.

A Green Elf hat was a big hit as children opened Samaritan Purse shoeboxes in the Dominican Republic. Photo courtesy of Blue Ridge Baptist Association.

By Sharon Mager, BCM/D Correspondent

HAGERSTOWN, Md.–Eighteen volunteers from six churches: South End Baptist Church, Frederick; First Baptist Church, Hagerstown; Faith Baptist Church, Knoxville; West End Baptist Chapel, Hagerstown; Summit Trace Church, Frederick and Trinity United Methodist Church, Frederick,  participated in a Blue Ridge Baptist Association sponsored mission trip earlier this month to the Dominican Republic. The team partnered with Samaritan’s Purse, to share the Gospel with about 1500 children and distributed Christmas shoeboxes. They travelled to various villages, one near the Haitian border. Peter Guadaloupe coordinated and led the trip. He and his wife attend New Life Christian Ministries in Hagerstown.

Thom Smith, pastor of First Baptist Church, Hagerstown, said over a thousand kids raised their hands to make professions of faith in Jesus. Each child received a discipleship guide with scripture in his own language and discipleship materials.

Following the Gospel presentation, the team had the privilege of handing out the shoeboxes filled with small gifts. While Smith was amazed the eager response of the children, what floored him was when a child open a shoebox and Smith saw his own business card fall out. The child was opening a shoebox that Smith himself packed.

“I had chills going up and down my spine. Out of the millions of shoeboxes out there, what were the odds of me seeing a child open a box I stuffed? I was so stunned,” Smith said. The child not only treasured the gifts in the box, but even the actual business card.

Smith said the children valued every gift they received. Smith said they especially love sports memorabilia, ball caps, toy cars, stuffed animals. Smith said they were thrilled with pencils and papers. Some schools don’t have enough pencils so teachers break them in half and each child uses a half of a pencil. To own several whole pencils was thrilling. The children weren’t sure how to use yo-yo’s and paddle balls but caught on quickly, Smith said. They were also perplexed at bubble gum – why spit it out?  They loved puppets.

“I’ll never look at the shoeboxes the same way again,” Smith said. In fact, he went back to his church and suggested using the VBS offering at FBC Hagerstown to be used for Christmas shoeboxes and have the children stuff them during VBS. The shoeboxes could then be stored until time to ship them.

Ken Stalls, pastor of South End Baptist Church, said the highlight of the trip for him was also the response of the children.

“They were the most appreciative and attentive children that I have ever worked with.  They would lock in on every word spoken and would immediately respond to whatever you asked of them. They took in God’s Word like sponges. To see so many of them respond to the message that we shared with them was one of the high points of my life.  The trip was most definitely God-ordained and God-blessed,” Stalls said.

“It was a fantastic trip,” Smith said. “I went there thinking about their poverty and us living so well…they have nothing. I was sitting there seeing so much poverty. Pictures don’t even do it justice but by the end of the week I was convinced that they are the rich ones and we’re the ones in poverty.”

People were joyful, Smith said. Children smile though they must walk miles each way to get to school. They are required to wear a clean uniform each day. No one can afford to buy more than one uniform so they must wash it and dry it each day.

Though they’re poor, there are very few beggars. Most sell their wares.

Smith said God blessed the trip, the children, and the mission team itself, knitting their hearts together to serve Him.

“I saw 18 individuals get on that plane and one team get off,” Smith said.