By Susan LeDoux
This article is about Christmas — the real Christmas, not the over-hyped, over-indulgent, materialistic cacophony that begins even as I type these words in October. This is the season when Operation Christmas Child, a project of Samaritan’s Purse, an international relief organization, shifts into full gear. Packed among toys, hygiene items, and school supplies — all nestled in shoeboxes meant for children in devastated areas in the world — is the message of God’s love. While our children find toys and clothes under decorated trees, these children receive the best of all Christmas gifts — the Good News of their redemption through Jesus Christ and an opportunity to take the Greatest Journey of their lives.
The Greatest Journey is Samaritan’s Purse’s 12-lesson discipleship program where children learn what it means to follow Jesus and share their faith with friends and family. Indeed, entire villages have come to faith in Jesus through the children.
Beginning in late summer and early fall, donors begin gathering items to fill shoeboxes that will be gathered for shipment overseas during National Collection Week (this year, November 13-20). Churches, organizations, scout troops, even individuals have outdone themselves every year, so that last year, nearly 11.5 million gift-filled shoeboxes were collected worldwide, 9.1 million of those in the United States.
Donors may select the age group (2-4, 5-9, or 10-14) and sex of the recipient child or children, often sending more than one box. A donation of $9 helps defray the cost of shipping, and allows donors the opportunity to track their shoeboxes. Volunteers at eight major processing centers across the United States, check each box to be sure it does not contain candy or toothpaste, which could cause problems passing through customs of the receiving countries, used or damaged items, war-related toys, food, or liquids.
Volunteers in the receiving countries have shared stories about how the contents of certain boxes spoke directly to their children’s deepest needs or wishes. There was the boy, with feet severely damaged by fire, who would not part with his shoebox full of soft, thick sox. A twin accepted one of the last boxes being handed out at her church and found duplicates of everything inside. Another young man in Uganda wondered why he received a woolen scarf, of all things. Fortunately, he kept it and wears it during cold Buffalo winters in his new home. So many stories have proven that each shoebox is truly a gift from God directly to one of his children.
Maybe that is why volunteers like Karen Black testify, “I hear jaw-dropping stories about the positive and often life changing impact these shoeboxes have on people. Children and teens in third world countries, many who face unfathomable loss and trauma, are so puzzled and profoundly grateful that people in the U.S. would think about and pray for them.”
Operation Christmas Child is a blessing for our children as much as for the receiving children. Whole families get into the act. Black’s son, Caleb, said, “I love to fill Operation Christmas Child boxes because I get to be a part of something bigger than myself. It’s inspiring to hear stories of lives being changed.”
If you do not belong to a church or organization that collects shoeboxes, but would like to donate, visit Samaritan’s Purse website to find drop-off locations near you. https://www.samaritanspurse.org/operation-christmas-child/drop-off-locations/
If you would like to fill a “virtual” shoebox on line, go to https://www.samaritanspurse.org/operation-christmas-child/buildonline/