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Christmas shoebox changed the life of ETSU student from Ghana

Contributed • Dec 21, 2019 at 9:00 PM

JOHNSON CITY — As he finished putting gifts inside his shoebox that would soon jet around the world to a needy child, Kojo Abakah knew firsthand the potential impact.

He had received an Operation Christmas Child shoebox himself in Ghana, West Africa, which ultimately led him on a journey to pursue his dream of becoming a pharmacist at East Tennessee State University Bill Gatton College of Pharmacy.

In November, Abakah worked with others in ETSU’s Christian Pharmacist Fellowship International chapter to fill 66 shoeboxes as part of Operation Christmas Child, a project of Samaritan’s Purse, an international Christian relief and evangelism organization headed by Franklin Graham. Since 1993, more than 168 million Operation Christmas Child gift-filled shoeboxes have been distributed to children in more than 160 countries and territories.

Abakah will never forget the day he received his box as a 12-year-old.

“All of a sudden there were big trucks moving into the school,” recalled Abakah, now a third-year student at Gatton College of Pharmacy. “The first thing they (workers with Operation Christmas Child) did was to tell us about Jesus, and after that they started distributing the boxes.”

For a child raised in an impoverished community, he couldn’t wait to show his items — a yo-yo, toy cars, a washcloth and pencils made in the USA — to his friends and family. But there was more to the gift than just physical items.

“Today, I don’t have the box with me, but I have the message that they gave me, which is Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so.”

Despite his poverty and inability to attend school until he was 9 years old, Abakah had an incredible passion and drive to succeed in his studies.

“I went to school every day — walked three miles in and out, whether food or no food,” he said. “Even when it is raining, I still walked to school.”

Abakah credits his mother for his early interest in healing the sick through medicine.

“When I was growing up, my mom put herbs together to help other people. She didn’t go to school, but she knew exactly what herbs to put together. So I wanted to take what she does, develop it, make it better for the people, and so that’s why I got into pharmacy.”

Ultimately, after coming to Tennessee for college, his mission for health care lined up with the ETSU pharmacy school: serve the rural and underserved.

“Seeing how many people are helping me achieve my goal, I am motivated to work hard,” said Abakah. “It’s not going to be easy. It hasn’t been easy, but I’m encouraged from the support that I’m receiving from everybody. ... I’m pushing and pressing on to achieve that goal of becoming a pharmacist and going back to Ghana and helping my people.”

Contributed to the Times News