by Lisa Carter

PANAMA CITY, Panama (BNc) — That was Larry Brady’s dream many years ago when he started sending wrapped Christmas gifts to some of the poorest children in Panama.  Today that dream has grown into over 7000 gifts!  This year they were given to children in the two largest children’s hospitals in Panama City, at a rehabilitation center, schools, churches, rural communities, and villages of indigenous people.

Sara Bills in Montgomery, Alabama, co-ordinates this enormous, year-long project.  Hundreds of individuals around the country help package gifts for children of all ages, sew adorable dresses, fill diaper bags with baby needs, pin shorts and t-shirts together for little boys, box the gifts when they arrive in Alabama, and send them to Panama in a shipping container.

My husband David and I are missionaries in Panama and have helped Larry Brady deliver these gifts for the past few years.   Many of our Panamanian brethren also help, and the days we spend together distributing the gifts is one of the highlights of the year for all of us!  It is complete joy to be part of the team that actually gets to see the children receive their gifts.

We sing and laugh with nurses in the children’s hospitals as we walk from bed to bed, making sure each child receives a gift.  We see children, suffering from cancer or severe burns, gently smile as they weakly reach for their present.  We have seen beaming grandmothers, watching their grandchildren receive gifts for the first time in their lives.  We see children running to greet our group when we arrive in remote, mountain villages.  We are entertained by school children who thank us with cultural dances and musical performances.   We smile proudly as we listen to children sing songs they have practiced especially for us.  We feel the excitement when the indigenous Indian children greet us wearing their finest traditional clothing.  After helping many little girls find cute dresses that fit, we see girls wearing those new clothes everywhere we go.  We witness the gratitude on mother’s faces when they get a new diaper bag filled with items for their baby.  Sometimes, it is overwhelming to spend 7-10 days seeing so many needs, but also so much happiness, from thousands of beautiful children!

To some people in the U.S. this may seem like just a fun project, but it is so much more.  Every gift represents the love of Christ, demonstrated through a Christian who took the time to show that they care.  Each gift also includes a Bible and a pamphlet about the churches of Christ in Panama.  Because of this, many families have visited the church in their area, opening the door for them to learn more about God and his plan for their lives.  As one of our dear Panamanian ministers said, “When we show people the love of Christ, they will want to know Christ.”

I hope that David and I will be able to participate in this wonderful experience many more times, because it really is true…“Fill a Box.  Touch a child.”