Man who got gift as child in Africa spreads word about Operation Christmas Child

When Désiré Nana was 8, living in poverty in Burkina Faso, West Africa, he received an unexpected gift — his first present ever.

Now 25 years old and a college student in Tulsa, Oklahoma, Nana is in Ohio this week, spreading the word about the Operation Christmas Child shoebox gift he received that changed his life.

“Growing up in a poor family, I did not have access to toys,” said Nana, whose parents in the family of nine struggled to simply feed everybody. When he walked three miles each way daily to and from school, he often searched for discarded food along the way.

“Receiving the Christmas Child shoebox, it was my first gift, first of all,” he said. “It was my first gift ever, and it meant a lot to me. It was a blessing for me.”

Not only was it a gift, but it also came “from somebody I don’t know — that was something that really touched me a lot,” he told the Journal-News. “That day, I not only received a box, but I also received opportunity to read the Gospel, that God loved me, that Jesus loved me.”

The box contained a green toy car and a light-up yo-yo. He had never been in a real car, and for a boy growing up without light or electricity at home, the illuminated yo-yo was amazing, he said.

Four years later, he started a ministry in his neighborhood that began with two other children and grew to several hundred youth.

Christmas Child, in operation more than two decades, “is a non-profit organization that we put together shoebox gifts with things like toys, hygiene items, school supplies,” said Elan Keeler of Oxford, a volunteer for the program. “They’re sent around the world to places like war-torn areas and children in need around the world.”

“There are a lot of people in this area who support Operation Christmas Child, and they have an interest to come and hear his story,” Keeler said.

People also will be taught how to pack shoeboxes. To find out how to do that online, people can go to and look for the area about how to pack a shoebox. People who send shoeboxes can also have their boxes tracked so they can learn to what country their box went, Keeler said.

Here are places where Nana will be speaking:

  • Saturday, 7 to 8 p.m., Cobblestone Community Church, 4191 Kehr Road, Oxford.
  • Sunday, 2 to 4 p.m., Christ's Church, 5165 Western Row Road, Mason

National Collection Week will be Nov. 12-19. Some of the collection sites include:

First Baptist Church of Hamilton, 1501 Pyramid Hill Blvd., Hamilton;

Fairfield First Baptist, 1072 Hicks Blvd.,, Fairfield;

Cobblestone Community Church, 4191 Kehr Road, Oxford;

St. John Church, 9080 Cincinnati Dayton Road, West Chester; and

Impact Church, 645 Oak St, Lebanon.

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