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26 October 2012

Giving gifts to children in need

Giving gifts to children in need

Samaritan’s Purse are hoping that this year they’ll pass the 100 million shoebox mark in their Operation Christmas Child project.

Six-year-old Jamil has been praying for a pair of gloves for months; faithfully expecting them to fall from the sky, or maybe appear at the foot of his bed in the orphanage where he lives. In Kenya, though, where almost a quarter of the population live on less than a pound a day, it doesn’t look like he’ll be able to keep his hands warm over the winter months. It is only when he goes to church and is given a shoebox that not only does he find a pair of gloves inside, but a scarf as well. It is the best day of his life. From then on he shares his own testimony in Sunday School: that God answers prayers, but not always in a way you may expect. 

Through Operation Christmas Child (OCC), Samaritan’s Purse have been answering children’s prayers, or sometimes even sharing with them the Christmas story for the first time, all over the world. From Swaziland to Ukraine, from Belarus to Haiti, the millions of shoeboxes, filled by us in the UK and other parts of the Western world, have been reaching the world’s poorest children. 

But it is not just about having presents, as Lisa, aged 13, from Ukraine said: “In general, the gift is not so important as the heart of people who did it for me.” 

You may not see the child who receives your shoebox, but they will certainly be able to imagine the person who puts the time and the effort into finding a box, wrapping it up, and carefully filling it. 

“We need to remind the children of the world that, whatever their circumstances, people in the UK do care about them and want them to know the true meaning of Christmas,” said Simon Barrington, Samaritan’s Purse UK’s executive director. 

This year the charity has given itself an even greater challenge. So far they have delivered 94 million shoeboxes in 22 years, and this year they want to make it up to 100 million. However, Simon explains that for him it is more than just a number: “I can’t visualise what 100 million children would look like – I’ve been told that if they were to stand hand-in-hand they would circle the globe twice. But for me it’s always about the individual children receiving gift-filled shoeboxes; every box counts and has the potential to make a massive difference in children’s lives.”

To reach their target of 100 million, Samaritan’s Purse is encouraging even more people in the UK to take part in OCC. Already, more than 5,500 churches, 7,000 schools and 3,000
workplaces are involved every year, and between them last year 1.1 million shoeboxes were generated in 2011. 

Consequently 105 countries received shoeboxes in 2011. But this is just the tip of the iceberg: “I’m already thinking about how we can produce another 100 million shoeboxes over the next ten years
because children are being born into poverty every day. There are over 2 billion children on the planet under the age of 14 and so although 100 million sounds like a big number, we need to do more. We can do more.”

For many churches in the UK OCC has become an integral part of their Christmas celebrations. Sue Farrance, the district co-ordinator for south Bristol, explains that for her church: “It began with putting something aside that was not working very well. Our annual toy service in December was a struggle, and moreso the people receiving the toys didn’t really seem to want them.” 

In the search for a new way of engaging their local community, Sue and her church found that OCC offered a unique way of uniting people: “When I sit back and look at all that goes on for shoeboxes, I find that there are people who have made lasting friendships, they have renewed old friendships, there is a sense in which they help one another. We have a lady who knits but can’t sew the knitting up, she passes it on to another lady who no longer knits but sews up. Everyone in our church membership is involved in some way.” 

Now, having grown considerably from their original 50 boxes, their warehouse in south Bristol turns out 3,000. Putting their boxes together are members of the church of all ages, and people of all abilities, including the mentally and physically disabled. Sue explains exactly how worthwhile it is to wrap and pack all those shoeboxes, saying: “Our church has grown spiritually through its commitment to OCC. People have and continue to change as they are transformed by God’s amazing love. A shoebox changes lives, not only the life of the child that receives it but the lives of the people who put it together.” 

As we pack these boxes, we can remember how much they impact people. Nikola received his shoebox 15 years ago at his parents’ Pentecostal church in Serbia: “It was the only present I got that year, as my parents were not wealthy. In fact, I have to say that that shoebox was the main source of my toys for my entire childhood. My parents struggled to feed and clothe us, and so toys were not a priority.” Now Nikola, having fled Serbia, is living in Montenegro and helped a partner of Samaritan’s Purse, Vladimir, to deliver shoeboxes to a refugee camp. As he saw children receive the carefully-wrapped and filled boxes, Nikola remembered the gifts in his own shoebox: “There was this amazing little red and black car that spoke to me. The car said: ‘Step on the gas, we gotta get out of here!’ That made a huge impression on me at the time. I had that car for years and years - it finally fell apart from use.” 

It is stories like these which affirm the value of OCC. Ultimately, poverty is about individuals; people who are struggling in their day-to-day lives, families who can barely afford to feed their children, let alone give them gifts. As Simon Barrington concludes: “What a great way to celebrate Christmas by showing children, most of whom live in the most difficult circumstances, that God loves them and cares for them, that He’s not forgotten them.” 


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