Rengesuul Yobech sat in the shade of a spacious open-air gymnasium at Peleliu Elementary School in Palau on a sweltering late-February afternoon earlier in 2020 before the COVID-19 pandemic swept the globe. The school’s 76 students were assembled there, eager to receive gift boxes at the first Operation Christmas Child festive outreach event to take place on the western Pacific island nation. The sight of the excited children reminded him of his own childhood growing up in Ngiwal, an isolated seaside village on the northeastern shore of Palau.
“I remember when I was a kid that the military would come at Christmas and bring every child a gift,” Rengesuul said. “We were so excited. The whole village would come alive. And that is the same feeling I’m feeling right now as I’m seeing the kids getting ready to receive their gift boxes. But this is even better because Operation Christmas Child comes not just with gifts but with the Gospel. These kids will now have the opportunity to follow Christ as they grow up.”
Rengesuul is the Operation Christmas Child International Field Representative for the Pacific. He is helping to carry out Franklin Graham’s bold initiative to deliver gift-filled gift boxes in Jesus’ Name to every child on 1,000 Pacific islands—more than half a million kids—over the next few years. The campaign began in 2019, reaching more than 65,000 children during its first year.
Rengesuul first became involved with Operation Christmas Child shortly after Typhoon Yutu slashed through Saipan, where he now lives, and destroyed thousands of homes in November 2018. Samaritan’s Purse quickly partnered with local churches in the U.S. commonwealth to provide critical relief supplies. Rengesuul helped distribute the emergency resources that reached 6,000 households. Operation Christmas Child arrived soon afterwards to bless children who were still traumatized in the storm’s aftermath, and Rengesuul saw God mightily at work in the lives of many young people. He remembered one boy in particular.
“A boy at the event told his mother that morning that he needed soap,” Rengesuul said. “And the soap he needed wasn’t just regular soap, it was a special kind of soap. The mom said, ‘We’ll wait until we go to gift box event and then go to the store.’ When he opened his gift box the very soap he needed was in the box. He held it up and shouted, ‘Mom, I have the soap I needed! We don’t have to go to the store!’”
Rengesuul came away from the event observing that “Operation Christmas Child is like a two-handed Gospel,” he said. “It comes with the right hand to meet people’s physical needs and on the other hand it meets their spiritual needs.”
From that moment, Rengesuul, who has worked in Christian ministry for over 20 years, was hooked and became more involved with Operation Christmas Child and its efforts to reach every child in the Pacific.
“Within Micronesia there are so many outer islands and some of them don’t have access to clean water or to healthcare,” he said. “The vision of Operation Christmas Child is to reach every island in the Pacific, regardless of how remote, with the Gospel. And that’s what we need here in the islands. That’s something I can get behind, pray for, and even go myself to be a part of.”
But Rengesuul was especially eager to bring gift boxes to his native Palau. About a fourth of Palauans claim to be evangelical Christians but Modekngei—an indigenous religion unique to Palau—still holds a tight grip on many.
“Most people in Palau know about Christ, but they don’t follow Him,” Rengesuul said. “And in Palau, so often children are pushed aside and the focus is on the adults. Operation Christmas Child and The Greatest Journey emphasize children. They are just as important to Christ as adults. We need to teach children about Christ. They are the ones who will carry the message of the Cross into the future. That’s why we are here in Palau. We want all the children of Palau to have the opportunity to hear the Gospel, receive Jesus Christ into their lives, and build their lives upon the solid rock of His Word.”
Two days after witnessing the first gift box festive event on Palau, Rengesuul returned to Ngiwal, which has a population of less than 300, to see kids in his childhood village receive gift boxes.
“Not all of the children here receive gifts at Christmas or on their birthdays,” he said. “So, for many of them this is really very exciting and wonderful.”
Rengesuul watched as 53 children from the village gathered beneath the shade of an outdoor community pavilion and listened attentively as the Gospel was presented to them by Grace Kabino-Kyota, a local leader with Operation Christmas Child who lives in Ngiwal. Nearby, several rows of appreciative parents and grandparents sat in the hot sun on makeshift benches and also listened as Grace explained how Jesus is God’s greatest gift and led the children in a prayer of salvation. The kids then cheerfully opened their gift boxes and discovered an abundance of fun toys, school supplies, and hygiene items that immediately produced wide, delightful smiles and lively conversations as the kids proudly showed off their new treasures to one another and to their families. Later that afternoon, over 30 of the children then participated in the first Greatest Journey discipleship class taught on Palau.
Rengesuul was overwhelmed by what he saw that day.
“I want to thank Operation Christmas Child and Samaritan’s Purse for coming so very far away to Palau. We are a very small country with only around 20,000 people, but yet they took their time to come to be a part of what God is doing in Palau,” he said. “And I want to thank all of the people who packgift boxes. Thank you for your time, your resources, and your prayers. Your sacrifice and your commitment to Operation Christmas Child are not in vain. You are touching many lives. I know you are touching the lives of children here in Palau. God is doing a great work through you.”