It was just a humble shoebox full of small gifts. The Henson family had no idea it would change someone’s life thousands of miles away.
As WBRC News reports, it was 1999, and Kim and Jordy Henson wanted to teach their three daughters about the spirit of giving. Ever since Heather, Hope, and Holli were young, the family had participated in Operation Christmas Child, which sends small toys and necessary items to needy children around the world for Christmas, all packed in a shoebox.
Why shoebox gifts?Shoebox gifts are a way to demonstrate God’s love in a tangible way to needy children around the world, and together with the local church worldwide, to share the Good News of Jesus Christ.
The Henson’s filled their shoebox with gummy bears, crayons, a bouncy ball, and socks. They added a photo of the three girls and a note, then said a prayer and took it to a collection point. Dad Jordy told WBRC:
“Part of the lesson was to show the girls how blessed they are. As Americans, we’re just spoiled. You look at a shoebox and think, that’s no big deal. But it is.”
That was the last time they would think about that particular shoebox for almost two decades. Meanwhile, the Henson’s gift traveled to the tiny town of Peja, in Kosovo. The town had been destroyed by destroyed by war and Gresa Sahatciu’s family had only just returned to their home.
The schools and other buildings were only beginning to be rebuilt. Sahatciu, who was only 11-years-old at the time, was taken with her class to a half-built stadium for a Christmas surprise. She told WBRC:
“Santa came to visit, and he reached into a big box and picked a shoebox and handed it to me.”
It was the first Christmas gift Sahatciu had ever received. She ran home with it and unwrapped the shiny red paper while her family watched. She told WBRC:
“Honestly, I didn’t really understand what it meant to have a gift until that box came. I felt joy. I remember realizing that there were people out there who cared for others. To this day, when I think about it, I get goosebumps.”
Sahatciu wore the socks until they wore out. Her family looked at the photo and note from the Henson girls, but couldn’t read anything other than, “God Bless You.” Still, the small gift made an enormous impact on Sahatciu’s life. She told WBRC:
“It really touched our lives, especially mine. Nobody knew that we needed socks, but somehow God sent that message. To me, it was just the best thing in the world.”
As the years passed, Sahatciu’s life changed in many ways. She and her family were able to immigrate to the United States via the green card lottery. They settled in Florida, where Sahatciu went on to study law and marketing. She also got a job with Disney World and is now the resort duty manager at two of their hotels.
Still, she never forgot about the Henson’s shoebox gift. Several times, she tried to search for them online, but didn’t find anything.
Then one of Sahatciu’s co-workers mentioned volunteering with Operation Christmas Child through her church. That’s when Sahatciu remembered how she got her shoebox. She told WBRC, “I started crying and told her, ‘That’s me! I got one of those boxes!'”
Sahatciu began working as a volunteer with Operation Christmas Child. This year, she decided to try to find the Hensons again. She found an article about them on their church website and called to leave a message, explaining why she wanted to find the family and thank them for the shoebox gift. She was afraid they would she was crazy, but she was very wrong.
When the church secretary played the message for Kim, the mom was stunned. Kim told WBRC:
“I just tried to imagine how old she was, what this child must have gone through, and I couldn’t believe it. We’ve done so many boxes and I’ve never heard from anyone before.”
Back home, Kim and Jordy decided to call Sahatciu, who said she started crying as soon as she saw the Birmingham, Alabama area code pop up on her phone.
— WBRC FOX6 News (@WBRCnews) December 20, 2018
During that phone call, Sahatciu was finally able to tell her story and thank the people who sent the shoebox gift so many years earlier. She says the Hensons immediately treated her like one of the family.
For Kim, Sahatciu’s call couldn’t have come at a better time. Stressed out from planning Christmas and coping with a sick parent, Kim said that the story gave her, “a whole new perspective on the season.”
The trio made plans to speak again before Christmas and fly Sahatciu to Birmingham in 2019. Sahatciu told WBRC that her experience shows what a difference charity can make:
“Any gesture you make in life, it could be a smile, or a small box, you just don’t know what goes on in different parts of the world where parents are struggling to feed their kids. Little things mean so much in life. I am proof of that. You can make a huge difference in the world.”
It’s a lesson that the Hensons have learned as well. Jordy told WBRC:
“This is just a gift from God. Gresa is so sweet, and she’s been through hell on earth and just to see that what we do matters, it makes a difference.”