Shoebox recipient from 1999 shares how the ‘bright red paper’ box changed her life

Shoebox recipient from 1999 shares how the ‘bright red paper’ box changed her life

By Grace Thornton
The Alabama Baptist

Kim Henson’s first reaction was confusion — but her confusion quickly turned to straight tears.

About a year ago she was just dropping something off at her church on a Monday morning when the receptionist told her she had a voicemail.

“I said, ‘Here at the church? How?’ and she said, ‘You just need to listen to it,’” Henson said.

The receptionist hit play and what spilled out of the phone at Shades Mountain Baptist Church, Birmingham, was the voice of a young woman with what she called a “strange request” — she was trying to find the family who had sent her a shoebox through Operation Christmas Child about 18 years ago.

“I got tears in my eyes,” Henson said.

Henson had packed that box in 1999 with her three young daughters and tucked a photo of the three of them in with the socks, toys and other small items in the box.

“We’ve done shoeboxes since before they were born, but it was a huge project for them growing up. I always put a picture of our family in the box,” Henson said, noting that she and her husband, Jordy, have also had a son since that photo was made.

That year she wrote, “God Bless You! Love, Heather, Hope and Holly Henson, Birmingham, AL, U.S.A.”

And for 18 years Gresa Sahatciu clung to that photo.

As a young girl Sahatciu lived in the apartment above her father’s watch shop in Kosovo — until the war turned them into refugees.

“When they came back after two years the city was destroyed and the school was in shambles,” Henson said.

It was December then and Sahatciu remembers being crowded into a gym where someone began distributing Christmas shoeboxes.

“She said she remembered running home squealing with delight to show her sisters her bright red paper shoebox,” Henson said.

The thing Sahatciu treasured the most were the white socks with lace — something her parents couldn’t afford to buy her. When the Hensons called the young woman back — she now lives in Orlando — she told them she couldn’t believe someone out there knew she needed socks and cared enough to share their socks with her.

Sahatciu said as a child she had never received a gift like that before so to her it was “the best thing in the world.”

She wore them every day — and carried the picture with her as she grew up. Years later, after her family relocated to Orlando through the immigration lottery, she periodically googled the Hensons’ names, but kept coming up with nothing.

“After coming to the U.S., I made it my mission to find the Hensons so I could thank them for making such a difference in my life,” Sahatciu said. “I never knew people could change your life with a shoebox and a pair of socks. They gave me hope and made me a better person.”

But then one day in November 2018 she decided to give it another try — and she discovered an article about the Henson family posted by Shades Mountain Baptist.

Henson said it was an amazing connection.

“God had His hand in it the whole time,” she said.

The Hensons wanted to meet Sahatciu so they flew her to Birmingham earlier this year, spent time getting to know her and introduced her to their Sunday School class at church.

“She’s an incredible young lady. We were able to share with her and send her home with a Bible,” Henson said. “I told her, ‘Gresa, you were prayed over a long time ago. We prayed specifically [for] the little girl who would get it and it was you — God had a plan … He knew that one day we would meet you.’”