Guest tells how shoebox ministry changed his life – Commonwealth Journal's History

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Partly cloudy skies. Low 52F. Winds NNE at 5 to 10 mph.
Updated: September 13, 2023 @ 5:10 pm
Hermann Finch, second from left, with his wife Tari accept a “Finch Flyer” gift from Randy and Rita Ringner, coordinators for Operation Christmas Child.
Hermann Finch addresses volunteers at the Operation Christmas Child kickoff held Saturday.

Hermann Finch, second from left, with his wife Tari accept a “Finch Flyer” gift from Randy and Rita Ringner, coordinators for Operation Christmas Child.
Hermann Finch addresses volunteers at the Operation Christmas Child kickoff held Saturday.
It might be difficult to believe the power that a single shoebox worth of items has on a child, but when that child comes from a place of poverty, that shoebox might be the tipping point to a whole world of opportunity.
Take Hermann Finch for example. The man who was born and lived his childhood in Zimbabwe said that receiving a shoebox gift from Operation Christmas Child changed his life.
Finch told his story Saturday at the Operation Christmas Child kickoff held at Victory Christian Fellowship. The kickoff celebration is the official start into what is the main collection and packing period for volunteers who put together boxes for children in countries around the world.
The shoebox ministry, conducted by the national organization Samaritan’s Purse, relies on volunteers from churches around the U.S. and 10 other countries.
It was announced by area coordinators Randy and Rita Ringner that last year 10.6 million boxes were put together nationwide.
The volunteers of the Lake Cumberland area were responsible for 15,443 of those. For the current year, they said the local goal is to put together 16,500.
But while it’s exciting to hear those larger numbers, Finch said it was important for volunteers to remember that every small act helps.
“Starting small is key,” he said, discussing how even smaller churches can contribute based on their resources.
For example, if a church promises to donate 10 boxes and succeeds, the next year they can set a goal for 15 boxes.
“If they can do one shoebox, at least one, it’s fine. It’s up to them what they have,” he said.
Finch told the crowd about how that one shoebox shaped the rest of his life after having received it while in the sixth grade. He talked about how he and his siblings grew up facing several challenges – not having a lot of money, having a father who was gone a lot for his work, and having his mother spend a lot of energy on both taking care of her children and trying to find work to help feed them.
While Finch attended school, his attendance was sporadic. Sometimes he couldn’t afford the school uniform or clothes in which to attend. Sometimes, when he could attend, he didn’t have the money for breakfast or lunch. And sometimes, he would not have food at home, either.
“Sometimes you only eat once a day,” he said.
Not to mention never having received a present. Many kids like him never got gifts on their birthdays or at Christmas, because their families had to make the choice between giving those gifts or to afford sending them to school.
“I was one of those children growing up not receiving any shoebox gifts or any gift from anyone else,” he said. “… But in all these hardships in life, God was working in the background.”
Even if he couldn’t attend school, he said he worked hard to keep up his studies.
Still, it was discouraging when he missed school, he said, because he would not only miss his studies, he would miss being with his friends.
However, one Friday afternoon, his teacher read out a list of names of people in his class who had to stay after school. Finch joked about being afraid he was about to be punished for skipping school by being given extra work, such as picking up trash around the schoolyard.
But instead, he and his classmates were told they had been selected to receive gifts from “friends from America.”
He and his siblings were invited to attend a church the next day, where they saw a program, heard a message from a minister, then received the gift of a shoebox.
“We were just overwhelmed with joy and excitement just to see what’s inside these shoeboxes,” he said, but his sister wouldn’t let him open it until they got home, so their mother could watch them.
Inside, he found a book along with a bunch of toys – the first toys he had ever received.
And while the gift itself was wonderful, it was the message he received while at the program that connected him to God.
From there, Finch attended a Christian camp and became baptized, earned a group of supportive friends and church leaders who helped him through some of the worst times of his life, and then, when he was older, he said he was with a church that offered two full-ride scholarships to a college in Michigan. He was fortunate to receive one of those.
These days, Finch is working on his PhD at Asbury Theological Seminary, and he and his wife Tari (whom he married around a year ago) have plans to give back to their home country.
They currently work with a church in Nicholasville called All Nations.
“But we have plans in Zimbabwe,” he said. “What we have seen, there are so many challenges with the youth these days.”
That includes young men and women who are unemployed, who are getting involved with drugs, or “some just don’t have a sense of purpose,” he said.
“We want to have a youth development center where we can train them on vocational skills,” which will include things like furniture making, or having his wife teach in her field of marketing and graphic design.
Giving young people skills – and perhaps a purpose in life – will hopefully help them get out of poverty and better able to care for their families.
Plus, the plan is to spread the word of God through these works.
“Even for my wife, but also personally, youth ministry is in my heart, because it’s through the youth ministry that I got to learn more about God, to connect with friends, and people gave me hope.”
One aspect of his own youth – and one he didn’t mention during his talk to the audience – is the fact that his father passed away when he was 12, and then his mother when he was 14. It was his friends from his youth group that brought comfort to him during that time, he said.
“Being an orphan, continuing with school and continuing with ministry, having these big plans can be a challenge, and I know that some of my friends weren’t able to make it, just because of the grief and the challenges of losing a parent. But I feel like with the youth ministry, I had people around me as mentors and fellow friends who helped me to build me up and make me who I am today.”
It all began with the shoebox gift, and the love he felt from complete strangers who lived a half a world away.
“The impact that the (shoebox) ministry is making is an ongoing impact, with children receiving the shoeboxes in different countries. It brings comfort to them,” he said. “We’ve seen in countries where they’re facing hardships, just to see someone loves you calms you down, makes you feel loved, makes a difference in your life and attitude.”
That’s why he took a special moment to thank the volunteers who work for Operation Christmas Child, and encouraged others to get involved.
“There’s a need for volunteers, they need more people to help, whether it’s in the production centers, the local church, praying, giving. All those small things, people can do. For the ministry to continue growing, we need more volunteers.”
Operation Christmas Child collects items like toys, small sporting equipment, shoes, toiletry items and school supplies and bundles them up within shoeboxes that are then sent out all over the world.
In Pulaski County, there are three drop-off centers: Beacon Hill Baptist Church, Sardis Chapel Church, and Eubank Baptist Church.
National Collection Week is from November 13 through November 20.
For more information, contact Ringner at 606-875-1908 or ritaringner@gmail.com.
Carla Slavey can be reached at cslavey@somerset-kentucky.com
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