Children of Macedonia open Natchez shoeboxes packed with love
NATCHEZ — Elle Bentley was able to share the kindness of Miss-Lou residents with children more than 5,000 miles away.
The Natchez native and her husband, Tim, have been serving as Assembly of God missionaries for nearly six months in Negotino, Macedonia, a southeastern European country.
Macedonian children receive shoeboxes every year through Operation Christmas Child, a project which sends shoeboxes stuffed with toys, goodies and hygiene items to children around the world.
Since 1993, more than 100 million shoebox gifts have been collected for needy children in countries all over the globe.
Several churches in the Miss-Lou serve as drop-off locations for the operation during the holiday season before the boxes are shipped off to a distribution center in Atlanta and sent all over the world.
Elle and Tim didn’t know where the boxes were coming from until they went to pick up 3,000 shoeboxes to distribute to the children of Negotino.
“While there, we were informed that all of the boxes had come from the Atlanta warehouse, meaning that there was a very high probability that even a few of the boxes were from Natchez,” Elle said. “I was overwhelmed with what this small detail meant to all of the people who’ve given shoeboxes year after year, not knowing who received them or of the impact they truly made.”
The origin of the boxes wasn’t as important as what they contained.
Elle and Tim distributed the boxes within two weeks to school children and gypsy children who were unable to attend school because of their responsibilities.
“The shoeboxes really do make a difference in each life,” Elle said. “The shoeboxes have essential items like toothpaste and toothbrushes, combs, clothes, pencils and paper, but they also have fun things like paints and toys.
“When we pass the shoeboxes out, we give each child a small, cartoon pamphlet about Jesus and the meaning of Christmas.”
Elle and Tim filmed a video of them passing out the shoebox gifts to the children and sent it back to members of Assembly of God Church in Natchez, who all gathered during a service to watch the footage.
Pastor Scott Green said members of the church were excited at the possibility the boxes they helped pack months ago were the same ones Elle and Tim were passing out.
“It just made such an impact on the church to see that video,” Green said. “And it made the project that much more personal.”
The shoeboxes have been the largest compassion ministry Elle and Tim have completed during their six months in Negotino, but it won’t be their last.
The couple will remain in Macedonia for three years with the plan of returning to the United States in 2016 or 2017.
“Since we have plans to spend many years here, our daily highlights are comprised of language and culture learning,” Elle said. “Our desire is to plant children, youth and college ministries in all 21 Macedonian churches.”
Green said the mission Elle is fulfilling in Macedonia speaks to the type of person he has always known her to be.
“I’ve always known Elle to have a big heart for people, and she has always been committed to people first and serving God,” Green said. “Her calling into the ministry and going over to Macedonia is not a surprise to anyone. You can’t see her doing anything else.”