Some communities in the Marshall Islands are so isolated that the only way to reach them is by boat. On Lib Island, boats can't even anchor safely due to a dramatic 300-foot drop-off.
Lib runs on solar power, which means no refrigeration and cooking must be done over a fire. The island has little commerce, as most residents fish or farm coconuts for their oil. Children are not required to attend school, and most stop their education after grade 8 because there is no high school on Lib.
Yet Samaritan's Purse made this remote place a priority in 2019. Lib was one of the initial stops for Operation Christmas Child in the Marshall Islands — a country comprised of more than 1,000 small islands and 29 atolls, or ring-shaped reefs surrounding a lagoon. The Marshall Islands were among the first of the Pacific Islands to receive shoebox gifts as part of an initiative launched by Samaritan's Purse President Franklin Graham to distribute gift-filled shoeboxes to 1,000 Pacific Islands in the next five years.
Our Operation Christmas Child team partnered with missionaries Katie and Scott Suderno who have lived in the Marshall Islands for about four years. They helped deliver shoebox gifts to boys and girls on several islands, including Lib, by using their Bowman sailing yacht.
“Operation Christmas Child has been the highlight of my year because we've had so many kids respond,” Katie said.
Katie shared that after the distribution on Lib, many children stayed and played for hours with the fun gifts they found inside their shoeboxes. The children don't often receive gifts and were thrilled to discover toys like a jump rope, Slinky, and yo-yo.
The children were also excited to hear the good news of Jesus Christ during the outreach event and to read The Greatest Gift gospel booklet they received with their shoebox. For some, this gospel booklet was their first time to have Scripture in their own language.
Katie is grateful for how Operation Christmas Child opened doors for gospel ministry. “The program is amazing,” she said. “The way the gospel was presented was so easy for the children to understand.”
More than 1,000 children on the Marshall Islands prayed to receive Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior during outreach events.
“The power of the Holy Spirit was definitely with us,” Katie said. “It's not just a shoebox. We're talking about souls being saved, communities changing, and, in our case, an entire island being impacted for the Lord.”
Several churches are already leading The Greatest Journey, and the kingdom impact and gospel reach will continue to increase as children learn how to grow in their relationship with God.
Hope for the Islands
Franklin and Jane Austin Graham and their son Edward participated in Operation Christmas Child outreach events on the island nation of Kiribati, another stop that's part of the Pacific Islands initiative. Tarawa, the capital of Kiribati, was the first island they visited. Tarawa is where Jane's father fought during World War II with the 2nd Marine Division.
As jobs are hard to come by, parents struggle to provide for their families, and many children on Tarawa live in extreme poverty.
Terauango, a youth and Sunday school coordinator for a local church, said he was very emotional watching boys and girls receive their shoeboxes during the outreach.
“Most of their parents are not working and cannot offer any gifts at Christmas,” he said. “I hope this will encourage them to come to church and hear the gospel. I am so thankful to Samaritan's Purse to offer these gifts to the children.”
Church leaders and parents on Saipan were also grateful for the shoebox gifts, especially as they are still struggling to recover from the devastating Typhoon Yutu that destroyed thousands of homes in November 2018. Saipan is the largest of the Northern Mariana Islands, a U.S. commonwealth in the Western Pacific.
“So many kids need to know the love of the Lord. There's so much hurt and pain,” said Beth Nuñez, a principal at a local high school on Saipan.
Beth's husband is the pastor at Grace Christian Church, which was hard-hit by the typhoon. Although the homes of many families in the congregation were damaged or destroyed, the church partnered with Samaritan's Purse as a distribution point for relief aid.
In the weeks that followed the storm, Samaritan's Purse worked with local churches to provide critical emergency relief supplies to 6,000 households on Saipan.
Beth said Operation Christmas Child was a special way to bless children still traumatized in the storm's aftermath. “We want to shine His light into their hearts and tell them there is hope beyond the pain they’ve experienced.”
Churches in the Pacific islands — and churches all across the globe — share the hope of Christ through Operation Christmas Child outreach events.
Please pray for children throughout the Pacific Islands. Pray for the boys and girls who are participating in The Greatest Journey. Pray that children, families, and communities will be transformed by God's love.
(Editor's Note: This is used with permission, and the original was published HERE.)