My name is Sakiusa Rokovasa Vakadewatabua, Jr. But I go by Zac.
I grew up in Fiji, a nation consisting of over three hundred islands in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. The International Date Line cuts straight through my country, meaning that Fiji is the first to see every new morning and the first to usher in each new year. We are literally at the very end of the earth.
Childhood on this island country was different from what you might expect. Yes, Fiji is rich in clear blue waters and constant warm temperatures, but my four siblings and I grew up playing with sticks and stones. Often kids in our neighborhood played rugby, the national sport of Fiji. Except no one could afford a ball. Instead, we played with empty soda bottles, even after someone inevitably got hit in the face.
I come from a long line of pastors, from my great-grandpa to my grandpa to my father to me. My family lived right next to the church where we served, positioned near the river which proved a constant battle with flooding during rainy season. Routinely my father and the men of our congregation trekked downriver to fetch pieces of the church’s structure that had swept away.
I admire my parents for remaining so faithful throughout every hardship, always relying on God for our every need. I am blessed that God ordained to meet me at such a young age during a revival camp meeting in my grandmother’s village where I gave my life to Jesus Christ. Throughout my life, God continues to remind me of His faithfulness.
One profound reminder of His love was through Operation Christmas Child.
My mom organized a weekly prayer group for the children at our church. This specific Monday afternoon when I was nine years old, she oversaw a special outreach event to present the Gospel to the children in our community. She already told me that there would be a surprise at the end, but as her son, my name would be the last one called just in case they ran out. All day at school, I prayed earnestly, “Please let my name be called!” Even at the event, I anxiously waited as my mom started declaring names, first calling the kids invited from the community, then those who regularly attended our Sunday School. But soon the celebration in the room drowned out all of my worry. Infectious joy burst from my friends and in my own heart as they received their Operation Christmas Child shoebox gifts.
Finally, with the last shoebox gift in hand, my mom called my name.
Excitement shot me forward to retrieve my very own shoebox gift. Pulling out toys, school supplies, all of these colorful items that kept coming out of my shoebox—I didn’t have these things before! They were all new to me.
I still remember that fresh smell of new coloring books. To this day, when I go to bookstores, just smelling the new books takes me right back to that outreach event in Fiji. Colored pencils made the black and white pictures of Bible stories come alive. For the first time in my life, I had real toys like a jump rope and small cars, for which I would diligently recreate racetracks in the mud around my house after rain washed them smooth again.
But the jaw-dropping item that most reminds me of God’s love was a bright yellow yo-yo. I’d only ever seen this kind of toy in stores before, and I always had to leave them behind because such things were financially out of reach. Now here it was in my shoebox, a special gift just for me. That yo-yo meant more to me than simple plastic and string. It was a tangible gift from someone around the world, given in faith, to remind me of God’s love.
Going through my shoebox gift, one Scripture God brought to my mind was from Romans 5:8, “While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” I was a Christian before, but I know how impactful this moment was for me. We are all undeserving of God’s grace. But someone was filled with that holy grace and spent their time, their money, their resources just to pack this beautiful gift for a child at the ends of the earth. Somebody around the world thought of me.
After God opened doors for me to move to the United States years later, He called me specifically into youth and children’s ministry at my local church in Kansas. Soon after I started my position, I rediscovered Operation Christmas Child. Our youth group participated every year, and now the task of leading the project fell to me. Ecstatic, I drove our church van to the store to buy shoebox supplies. I told my church about how I received one of these Operation Christmas Child shoebox gifts, and the news caught fire! For the kids in my youth group, this put a real face to the mission they were doing and gave them a renewed drive to serve the Lord. Watching these kids pack over a hundred shoebox gifts as an outpouring of God’s love to others around the world, I was so overwhelmed that I cried with joy.
To demonstrate God’s love tangibly through those gifts, what a simple way to share the Good News of the Gospel. As a recipient, I know firsthand the eternal impact. Can you imagine a young child receiving a gift for the first time? That faithful act carries the weight of their joy. Can you imagine the prayers that bring that shoebox gift to the ends of the earth? I remember one child in my youth group praying over the shoebox gifts, “Thank you for what I’ve been blessed with that I may bless other kids.” That’s when it hit me that these kids, young as they might be, have a profound understanding of what it means to show God’s love.
Before long, our entire church was on fire for the ministry. One family came to me with a box filled with yellow yo-yos, ready to start the discipleship journey for other children just like me. Children have that effect on families and communities on both sides of the shoebox. Items as simple as coloring books and yo-yos can open children’s hearts, and if those children continue going to the church that made them feel loved by God, then that opens the door for entire families to hear the Gospel. This is what sets me on fire for the ministry of Operation Christmas Child. We are bringing God’s love and Gospel even to the ends of the earth.
Being a part of someone else’s discipleship journey is incredibly humbling. Whether through pouring into the children I serve here in Kansas or through packing a shoebox gift for someone around the world—I know that God blesses such faithful ministry because of my own testimony. Packing a shoebox gift may look like a little thing, but the impact is profound. It’s the fingerprint of God. My shoebox gift shaped me and continues to shape millions of lives all around the world. What a way to receive the Gospel message!
I encourage you because a new morning is coming. The ends of the earth are waiting for the life-changing message of the Gospel. Together, the very children we raise can launch another child’s discipleship journey and transform communities around the world. Let us bring them the Good News.
To learn more about how you can get involved with Operation Christmas Child, visit us at samaritanspurse.org/occ.