The week before Thanksgiving, thousands of people from across seven countries are turning empty shoeboxes into gifts—filled with toys, school supplies and hygiene items—for children living in poverty overseas.
Through Operation Christmas Child, a project of international relief organization Samaritan’s Purse, volunteers are rallying with hopes of contributing shoebox gifts toward the 2016 global goal of reaching 12 million children in over 100 countries.
A list of drop-off locations and detailed information can be found at samaritanspurse.org/occ. More information can also be found at Facebook (facebook.com/OCCshoeboxes), Twitter (@OCC_shoeboxes), and Instagram (@operationchristmaschild).
Operation Christmas Child is a project of Samaritan’s Purse, an international Christian relief and evangelism organization headed by Franklin Graham. The mission of Operation Christmas Child is to demonstrate God’s love in a tangible way to children in need around the world, and together with the local church worldwide, to share the Good News of Jesus Christ. Since 1993, Operation Christmas Child has collected and delivered more than 135 million gift-filled shoeboxes to children in more than 150 countries and territories. For many of these children, the gift-filled shoebox is the first gift they have ever received.
MEDIA NOTE: For complete media materials including fact sheets and radio PSAs, visit samaritanspurse.org/occnewsroom.
Some questions and answers I prepared for a radio interview I did a few weeks back are below.
Q: Have you ever given out the shoeboxes yourself?
A: Yes, in Lima, Peru.
Q: What is Peru like?
A: Lima, Peru, is technically situated in the middle of a desert. There is a string of mountains between Lima and the ocean, and rain seldom makes it across them to the city. It’s hot and dusty. There is high unemployment, so people build their homes as they are able. In the poorer areas of the city there are unfinished homes, some missing windows or roofs, because people are not able to borrow the money to build them all at once. But the people are beautiful and friendly.
Q: What was the most memorable part of that trip?
A: The cooperation between churches of different denominations was impressive, but the most memorable thing was the smiles of the children as they received the shoeboxes. If you had put them all end to end, I saw miles and miles of smiles.
Q: What are some of the places where you handed out shoeboxes?
A: Two of the more interesting places were an orphanage and a small church with a dirt floor.
Q: What was the orphanage like?
A: Hogar de Cristo Orphanage in the Cercado area of Lima. This orphanage is the home of over 120 children. Nearly half have made their home there since the earthquake in Peru at the end of 2007.
In Peru, if a marriage ends in divorce, and the wife remarries, her new husband will put pressure on her to give up her children from the past marriage so she can have children for him. Some of those children end up on the streets with no one to care for them. There is a very inexpensive glue that is used to put the soles on shoes. Some of the children on the street buy that glue and sniff it. I don’t blame her. If I had been disserted by my parents at that age, I might sniff glue to. One of the children that I saw at the orphanage had been addicted to that glue, and it had messed up her mind.
When I sat down in the third row, I had not noticed a young girl sitting next to me with her attendant, but as I leaned back into my chair, she clasped my forearm. I noticed the older woman who was caring for her move forward to catch the young girl's hand. I realized that my arm was gripped by a child.
No translator was in earshot. I did not know how to communicate with her. I held her hand against my forearm, and I just looked into her eyes. Her big brown eyes seemed to reflect a beautiful light. I looked into her eyes and knew I did not have to call for a translator. She saw Christ's love when I looked at her. She knew why I was there and what I had to say.
I learned latter that this young woman probably will never be able to understand a presentation of the gospel. But, despite the fact that the notion does not set well with the theologian in me, I know she learned of Christ's love through a simple gift packed thousands of miles away.
As the boxes were being opened I stood at the back of the room. I noticed a girl named Yohana who was passing around a slip of paper to several of her friends seated near her. I walked closer and saw she was looking at a letter someone had placed in the box they had packed. A picture of a girl in a softball uniform named Maddie was stapled to the letter.
A lady on our team named Lliana from Orange County, California, walked over and took the letter. She began to translate the letter to the young girl. She read a few short details from the life of the one who had packed her box. About half way through the letter, the girl's face changed.
When the translator finished, the girl quickly but carefully folded the letter and put it in the corner of her box. It was as if she had decided that the letter was hers now, too precious to give to someone else.
I plan to include letters in all the shoeboxes we pack at our house from now on.
Q: What did you see at the small church?
A: We went to the Assambleas de Dios del Peru in Manchay this afternoon. This church is situated in the Pachacamac District of Lima. It never rains in this part of Peru. The land is rocky and dusty. The dust clings to your body. It seems you can even see dust in the air.
It stood out from the beautiful new, $300,000 Mormon church next door. This Assemblies of God church is little more than a shed with an improvised roof of tin scraps and loose boards. But don't let the humble appearance fool you; this church is the vangard of the Lord's army in this depressed area of Lima.
You could feel the power as the assistant pastor stood in front of the crowd of 60 or so children and plainly and clearly explained the gospel. He used a demonstration with clean and dirty water to show what Christ did for us on the cross. He puts chemicals into the water that make it appear filthy, like our sin does to us in God’s sight. He placed other chemicals from a red bottle into the water and identified them as the “blood of Christ.” The water cleared up almost instantly. He showed that all of the sin in our lives is made clean and clear for us by Christ when we trust Him.
I wanted to talk briefly to the Senior Pastor, I had a gift for him. I am a member of the local camp of the Gideons, and they had sent several personal copies of Spanish New Testaments with me to give away. I knew they had to go to this embattled pastor.
He had little time to talk because he was doing his job: seeing to the children God had placed under his spiritual care. He was very grateful for the New Testaments, and he hugged my neck in response. Shoebox gifts, some basic supplies, Christian literature and Bibles were delivered to the front lines of an intense spiritual conflict. May God deliver the Holy Spirit’s power to the members of that church in response to our prayers. It is humbling to see the face of God reflected so clearly in a little child's smile. It is awesome to see God's concerns etched across the furrowed brow of a pastor’s face.
Q: Was there anything else you remember?
A: There was this one boy who received a Mag-lite Flashlight in his shoebox. He looked at it funny, and then set it aside. I don’t think he quite knew what to do with it. I am engineer by education, so I like to tinker with stuff. I made my way over to him, introduced myself, and helped him open the plastic packaging. There were batteries in the package, so I showed him how to put in the batteries and then turned the flashlight on by twisting the top. He was excited to see the light. I took the flashlight apart for him, showed him the extra blub inside the handle, and then showed him how to put it back together. We must have played with that light for half an hour. He smiled and smiled.
It is wonderful to be a part of the things that happened in Peru that year. I had been blessed to make a difference in some children’s lives. Operation Christmas Child (OCC) sent 200,000 boxes to Peru in 2008, and I was glad to play a small part in that effort. But I also know that there are over 8.7 million children under the age of 15 in Peru. OCC only distributed boxes to 2.2% of these children. There is so much more to do.
Q: What can people do to help?
A: Pack a shoebox. I know of one 7-year-old girl who got the help of some people at her church and packed 41 boxes last year. I know of one couple who pack about 80 to 100 each year. Every box has a story, and every box counts. If you can afford to pack just one box, that could make an eternal difference in the life of a child.
Some of our older volunteers who can’t get out to pack boxes give money each year to help with the shipping and handling of these boxes. That is a valuable way to help.
You can also be a leader at your church or club to promote OCC. Promotional materials are available at www.samaritanspurse.org/occ. There are several large churches in the listening area that pack hundreds of boxes each year just because a member of that church decided to encourage others in the congregation to pack boxes.
You can also volunteer your time at a Collection Center or Relay Center where the boxes are packed for shipping and loaded into semi-tractor trailers. The packing boxes weight up to 45 pounds, so several strong men are needed at each center each afternoon and the last day of collection week. I know of one man who volunteers his forklift and his time to help.
There are also year round positions in media relations, church relations, community relations, collections center coordinators and other important functions of the ministry. I know of one woman who took a week of vacation from her work to help as a Collection Center Co-coordinator.
Volunteers make our ministry work, and our volunteers are the greatest. One member of the board of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association called OCC volunteers the best organized volunteer force in all of Christendom. I think he was right.
Q: When is National Collection Week again?
A: National Collection Week is November 14-21, and you can find more information at https://www.samaritanspurse.org/occ.
Q: If National Collection Week has passed. How can people still get involved?
A: The best way to get involved after collection week is by packing a shoebox gift at samaritanspurse.org/occ. It’s call Build a Box Online. This is a fun and convenient way to bless a child. You can select items to go inside a shoebox, upload a photo and write a letter to the child who will receive it, all on line.