Operation Christmas Child is an outreach project of Samaritan’s Purse Ministries that was developed in 1990 to demonstrate the love of Christ to needy children through giving at Christmas. Pastor Franklin Graham, son of the late Billy Graham, heads up this ministry with an appeal to Christians each year for volunteers and gifts.
The basics of participating in the program are: 1) Get an empty shoebox, 2) Decide on a boy-or-girl-themed box and fill it with inexpensive goodies, school supplies, small toys, etc., and 3) Take it to a designated pickup location where it will later be distributed to various parts of the globe.
Volunteers pack, load, and pray over every box that comes through, knowing that God will bless each child who receives one. Since there is no way to determine which part of the world a box will land, it may be that a child who lives in the desert receives a pair of gloves or that a slinky makes its way into the hands of a boy who has never had a toy of his own. Volunteers who oversee the physical distribution of these boxes to each child are available for questions and, many times, to translate the messages tucked inside from their givers. The purpose is plain: be the hands and feet of Jesus to the least of these and, in doing so, plant the seed of love.
There are critics of OCC, those who say that the gifts are useless junk and that handouts are humiliating and not supportive of the local economy; there are also the ones who see it as a conversion tactic. This type of charity, they say, does not give people the independence to purchase low-cost gifts for their own children and promote autonomy. While there are many organizations worthy of our attention and finances, such as building wells or providing sustainable sources of food, it is worth remembering how you felt as a child when receiving a Christmas gift.
I am not here to debate the politics of each charity, but I do believe that something special happens inside a child when he or she opens that box and realizes that everything inside is just for them. To feel they are valuable enough that others cared enough to give—isn’t that realization important enough? Without being able to interview every recipient of a shoebox past and present, we will never know the true meaning of this experience for each child.
I would be willing to bet the farm, however, that there has been and will be a huge smile on many little faces when they lift the lids of their boxes. Who knows? That slinky may become a little boy’s escape from reality when his tummy is empty or maybe, just maybe, those gloves will protect some little hands from callouses and blisters a child should not have to endure. Regardless of how you give this Christmas, pray for God to use it in His own way.
He’s awfully creative sometimes.
For more information on Operation Christmas Child or to build a shoebox online, click here!
Featured Image by DiEtte Henderson