Every Sunday afternoon, Wendy Ramnarina drives on the narrow, bumpy road up Cotton Hill in Trinidad, calling for the children to come to Sunday school.
“Come Sabrina! Come!” she shouts to one little girl. Wendy’s warm smile and familiar voice let the children know that it’s time, so they race across the tall grass, swerve between the palm trees and head toward the large mango tree near the house where they meet each week.
After receiving Operation Christmas Child shoe box gifts, about 20 children and a few of their parents gather underneath the stilt home of Sunday school teacher Claudine Latchman and open up The Greatest Journey discipleship booklets to learn about Jesus Christ. They don’t have a church building but are thankful for some shelter from the afternoon rain and for the old pews that have been given to them.
“I like The Greatest Journey because of the stories, games and colors,” 8-year-old Akila Latchman said. “I learned that God made everything, and that He is the only one who can save me. If God wasn’t here, I don’t know what I would do.”
A total of 120 children are using The Greatest Journey in Cotton Hill, a Rastafarian and Hindu area where many of the families perform animal sacrifices. The youth who live there usually don’t finish high school, and teenage pregnancies and drug and alcohol abuse are common. Wendy and the other teachers hope the kids will remember the Bible lessons they teach them and share the truths with their families at home.
“It has affected their lives in so many positive ways,” said Wendy, a ministry volunteer with Operation Christmas Child in Trinidad. “We now have three Sunday schools, so it is definitely effective.”
The first Sunday school started three years ago after Wendy and another ministry volunteer, Rhea Hussein, handed out gift-filled shoe boxes in the area. The initial response from the community was inspiring.
“That day, God gave us a vision for a Sunday school,” Wendy said. “He wouldn’t give us a distribution with over 100 children just to send them back to their normal lives.”
Burdened with a passion to share Jesus Christ with the kids and their families, Wendy quit her job as a computer teacher and began volunteering full time with Samaritan’s Purse. Ministry partners in Trinidad have been starting Sunday schools like the ones in Cotton Hill all over the country, and according to Wendy, “When you build a Sunday school, you build a church.”
This was just the case in Thompson Gardens and Hardbargain Village, communities where two young girls received shoe boxes and accepted Christ.
Seventeen-year-old Serlene Mohammed was at the very first Operation Christmas Child distribution in Trinidad in 2000. That day in Thompson Gardens, she heard about Jesus, accepted Him as her Savior, and then wanted to come back for a Bible study every week. Eventually, her mother, Susan, started to come with her.
“I think that God used Serlene to bring me back to the Lord,” Susan said. “Since I accepted Christ, my family has changed; my life has changed.”
Now, almost 10 years later, that small Bible study Serlene and Susan attended has become Christ Harvest Church, which is just down the road from where the first distribution happened. Mother and daughter team up to teach The Greatest Journey there to about 30 kids every Sunday.
“I think it will reach them and teach them that Jesus is the way,” Susan said. “I doubt that they will forget, because when I was small I went to Sunday school and I didn’t forget it. I believe they will become great men and women of God.”
About an hour southwest of Christ Harvest Church, The Burning Bush Assembly is being built in Hardbargain Village. Church member Philip Hong Ping is helping with the work since his business is construction, but if it wasn’t for his daughter Felisha, he probably wouldn’t be there today. She received an Operation Christmas Child shoe box gift nine years ago, when she was 8. She invited her dad to church, where he prayed to receive Christ.
“God has changed my life tremendously,” Philip said. “Sometimes God breaks you up and makes you over. I had a makeover.”
The entire Hong Ping family has been involved in the church plant—building, painting, and inviting people to services and to shoe box distributions. Their testimony has shown Daniel Kumar, pastor of The Burning Bush Assembly and volunteer national coordinator for OCC, that it only takes one family’s commitment to Christ to change an entire community.
“The shoe boxes give us an opportunity to get into lives, get into homes,” Daniel said. “It’s all worth it if we connect with one family, because it can have a spin-off effect in the neighborhood.”
According to national church leaders, Operation Christmas Child and The Greatest Journey are the building blocks of churches around Trinidad. Racial and religious prejudices have been broken, thousands of children have heard the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and many of them are giving back by handing out gift-filled shoe boxes and teaching The Greatest Journey in Sunday schools.
Did they expect these programs to make such a difference in their country? Daniel responded, “At the beginning I didn’t know what to expect … I feel humbled to know that so much can be done through Operation Christmas Child and The Greatest Journey. So much can be achieved.” ©2011 BGEA
The Greatest Journey is a discipleship program developed by BGEA and Samaritan’s Purse for children who receive shoe box gifts through Operation Christmas Child. The Greatest Journey lessons guide children through a study of who Jesus is, what it means to follow Him and how to share this exciting message with others.
After children complete the program, they are presented with a personalized certificate and a special New Testament. Last year, more than 188,000 children took the course and more than 86,000 accepted Christ as Savior. You can provide The Greatest Journey discipleship program to one child for $6, or an entire classroom for $90. Get involved at greatestjourney.org.