Who would have thought that a shoebox would be a game-changer in this young girl’s life? This hopeless and poor orphan from Honduras met Jesus literally, in a shoebox on a Christmas season.
Yuri Lopez faced the reality of life at a young age. She got separated from her siblings including her twin, at two years old. She moved to 14 different orphanages in Honduras growing up. She experienced living without water and electricity. If they were lucky enough to have three meals a day, it would just be tortilla and salt. This was her life even during seasons when Christmas was just around the corner.
Kids around the world are excited for Christmas because of the gifts they are eager to receive. Yuri was an exception. She had not received even a single Christmas gift until she turned six. She received her first-ever gift from Samaritan’s Purse. Samaritan’s Purse, a Christian humanitarian organization, gives out shoeboxes to kids worldwide every Christmas through Operation Christmas Child. The boxes contain toys, school supplies, and hygiene kits.
“I remember screaming as loud as I could! Wow! this is just incredible! For the first time, I can say I have something as my own.” Yuri explained what she felt upon receiving the gift. She even slept with it for weeks, even for months. It was like a teddy bear which she kept with her most of the time because she did not want anyone to touch it.
But what made the shoebox extra special was the picture of a young girl who prepared the gift and a card which said, “Jesus loves you and I love you too.” She kept this box for a long time because she felt that this sweet girl was like part of her family.
At the age of 13, she had to stop going to school. The orphanage’s finances were not enough to sustain her educational expenses. She was assigned to work in the kitchen to help prepare meals for 120 kids every day. She was crushed. One Sunday, she left the orphanage and went to the mountain. She was angry at God and was hopeless. She no longer found any purpose for existence. “I felt that I would just cook for the rest of my life,” she said. Something bothered her. She wanted to get an answer for her questions about life. “If you are real, show it to me. Show it to me because I don’t see you here.” She addressed this challenge to God.
As usual, she had the shoebox with her. She opened it. The first things she saw were the picture of the little girl and the card with the note that she was loved by her and Jesus. “In the midst of pain, in the midst of struggling, when I felt that God was really far away from me simply because I was an orphan. He was always there for me. That day, I embraced God’s love.” She tearfully recalled that precious moment. She felt the reassuring love of Jesus for her when everything seemed to fall apart. She accepted Jesus as her Lord and Savior. Simply put, she “met Jesus in a shoebox.”
She instantly knew that Jesus had a plan for her. She held on to that hope. He indeed had a great plan for her! It was in 2005 when she met her adoptive family from Dayton, Tennessee. She became a varsity soccer player and acquired a full scholarship in the U.S. as well.
After more than a decade, she became a soccer coach. She coaches kids as young as six. She not only teaches them the love for the sport but also shares her love for Jesus. “To use that gift of soccer to be able to share the Gospel to so many kids, I feel that that’s the call God has given me. I want to impact as many kids as I can so that they can know Jesus.”
We have a few more weeks left before Christmas. Yuri and her soccer players are most likely busy again preparing Christmas shoeboxes. Preaching the Gospel through these gifts is what motivates her to pack as many boxes as they can. “Whether it is in the soccer field, whether it is in packing shoeboxes, I want to make sure that I use every second of my life to continue making disciples. God’s plan for me is bigger than what I can ever imagine.” This is Yuri’s purpose in a nutshell. May another lonely, hopeless child in another part of the world “meet Jesus in a shoebox on Christmas.” For Christians, may we make it our goal to enable a person to meet Jesus through our loving, uplifting words and acts. May someone meet Him today and not just on Christmas through us.