A pre-schooler drew a picture for her grandpa that said, “I’m glad you’re not dead”, and a teacher received a Christmas card from a student that said, “You’re the second best teacher I ever had”. Innocent gifts like these are sure to make people smile.

Many communities on the prairies participate in a gift giving project called Operation Christmas Child, where shoe boxes are stuffed with goodies and sent to children around the world. It’s a project that has been going on for a long time, and a young man named Ty remembers being 7-years-old and stuffing a shoe box filled with toys and treats, along with a photo of himself with his name, age and address printed on the back. That shoe box was sent to Joanna, a girl his age in the Philippines, who gratefully kept the boy’s photo as a keepsake.

Eleven years later Joanna searched for his name on social media, submitted a friend request, and the two teens started to get to know each other on line. To make a long story short, four years later the couple got married on Ty’s parents’ ranch, and the wedding guests were asked if they would pack an Operation Christmas Child shoe box and bring it to the wedding.

That shoe box filled with gifts impacted both the lives of the giver and the recipient in a big way, but all heart felt gifts given by children touch the lives of those who receive them.

A teacher remembers a student who asked her a question every day about herself: favourite colour, food and so on. At the end of the year he put twenty of her favorite things in a giant gift basket. The teacher said it was so incredibly sweet, she will remember it forever.

Though gifts may seem insignificant, they become valuable keepsakes and the children who gave them become adults who have compassion and empathy for others. Compassion and empathy are game changers in our world.

The term “game changer” has become a popular catch phrase. In sports it’s used when a shift of momentum occurs and changes the outcome.

Unfortunately, research shows that today’s teens are 40 percent less empathetic than they were 30 years ago. This lack of empathy goes hand-in-hand with bullying, self-absorption and less compassion for others.

Encouraging children to send shoe boxes to less fortunate children, teaches them to have empathy for others. Encouraging young people to do meaningful community service, also develops higher levels of empathy and compassion.

Something as simple as encouraging children to give or make gifts for family, teachers and friends will help them learn how to be generous and thoughtful, and it will take the emphasis off of their own wish list and teach them how much fun it is to give. Now that’s a game changer!

This quote summarizes it well: “Never believe that a few caring people can’t change the world. For, indeed, that’s all who ever have.” Often we see such people honoured with awards to commemorate their contributions to society.

During this Christmas season, my family and I would like to wish you a Merry Christmas as we celebrate the most worthy game changer on this earth, Jesus Christ. May your Christmas be filled with thoughtfulness, compassion and empathy for others.

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