Are you familiar with the image featured above? Most people are this time of year. It's an Operation Christmas Child box! The idea is that you pack a box filled with toys, hygiene items, and school supplies to be sent to another country where a child will receive your package along with a chance to hear the Gospel and go through a discipleship program afterwards.
Depending on which way you look at it, the name can be somewhat of a misnomer. Here in the States and in other countries, we push to get these boxes in to the distribution centers around Christmastime, but the reality is that the children may not get them until spring or summer.
So why do we choose this ministry of Samaritan's Purse? There are a few reasons:
- Samaritan's Purse's headquarters are where my in-laws live. My in-laws have church friends who work there and Justin and I have friends from college also employed at "The Purse". I love to hear all their encouraging stories about what God is doing around the world. My in-laws usually volunteer every year at the OCC warehouse and since we usually come up here for Thanksgiving, we try to serve as a family even if it's just for a few hours. From what I have seen over the years, Samaritan's Purse desires to do things efficiently and with a humble spirit believing the Lord is in control of their efforts to provide disaster relief and spreading the Gospel.
- Many of the children that receive these boxes have never received a gift to call their own. Please don't translate this into, "Oh, those poor kids ought to get all the commercialized, material stuff we have access to here!!!" The leaders that hand them out (usually national workers, not Americans) have no idea what is in the box when they hand it out, but God provides exactly what the child needs. Even though the box is a small gesture, it can be the very thing that brings spiritual comfort to a child and shows them God has not forgotten them. The whole OCC concept is built on the Gospel premise -- being offered a free gift from God that we do not deserve, but that will change our lives permanently if we accept it. The physical shoebox gift, is a way to open hearts to the spiritual gift.
- It's a family-oriented way to teach multiple lessons about gratitude and the sovereignty of God. Many families take their children to a store and let them pick out gifts for a child in one of the age ranges provided. They get an opportunity to pray for the box, the Gospel being shared, and the child who receives it; they get excited thinking about where their box might go. It teaches stewardship of the resources God has entrusted to us for His purposes. I'll explore this topic more in depth, in Part 2.
- In general, they don't tinker with the Operation Christmas Child boxes. The first time I volunteered we were told explicitly not to take anything out the boxes unless it was something that wouldn't pass customs (like food) or had liquids that could leak out and destroy other boxes. I'll be the first to admit, it's hard to abide by that rule when you see one child's box full of fun toys and candy and another child's box full of flashlights, batteries, and a hairbrush. However, along with that rule, they told us a story of one child who received a box full of socks. Now, we might look at that box and want to take some of them out and replace them with a soccer ball or some lollipops, but that child had fervently prayed for socks for his brothers and sisters. He cried tears of joy when he received that box stuffed full of socks. I heard a similar story yesterday about a boy in Africa who got snow gloves. He was so happy because his job in the family was to work with hot coals. People pray over these boxes and the volunteers must trust God with the outcome.
- You are more connected to a ministry when you invest not just your treasures, but your time. Even as I have said OCC is worthwhile, it can very easily turn into pat-on-the-back, do-goodism. It's way too easy for people in America to feel good about giving our money and our stuff and miss the whole point of the ministry. It's about recognizing God's bigger plan as you serve alongside others. Anyone can volunteer -- yesterday I worked with people from ages 18 to 80! Many of those people come at considerable expense year after year. This year, Samaritan's Purse launched a way for individuals and groups to schedule volunteering online. The lady working next to me at the processing center said that she and her husband were on two computers and two phones the minute it launched this year to get slots to volunteer. The way she described it, you would have thought she was trying to get rock concert tickets!