Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Operation Christmas Child

(Did you realize Christmas is ten weeks from today?!?!?! We have already begun our first tradition of the season. Since these are due the middle of November I thought I'd post this now.)

I don’t know exactly when I first learned of Operation Shoe Box (a.k.a. Operation Christmas Child), a ministry outreach of Samaritan’s Purse, but I was hooked from the first moment. Shoeboxes filled with school supplies, candy, age appropriate toys, and other assorted goodies to send to children around the world who live in extreme poverty, war-torn countries, or areas devastated by natural disasters appealed greatly to the Christmas Spirit within me. It’s been a family tradition ever since.

In the early days I let my children help pick out purchases and pack the boxes while I paid for the “goodies”. In more recent years I’ve encouraged them to set aside a small amount of money out of their allowance each month so that the gift is truly from them.

From nearly the beginning I had a burning desire to be on the distribution end of this project. I wanted to personally hand out the boxes and see the smiles of joy and appreciation on little faces, many of whom have never had a Christmas gift before. My longing turned into a prayer that God would give me that opportunity.

Be careful what you pray forJ.

In 1999 my husband, Raymond, and I felt a very clear calling to minister overseas as missionaries through our denomination. We weren’t sure for how long; we were just sure it was the will of God. Eventually, we landed in a war-torn, Muslim part of Europe that was in dire need of hope and Jesus. All the cultural and language barriers made it seem almost an impossible task to get the Gospel to the ones who so desperately needed it.

I’m not exactly sure how the door of opportunity opened, other than an act of God Himself, but we gained access to Samaritan Purse Shoeboxes! My husband, Raymond, knew exactly what to do with them, take them to the local school where he was assisting the English teacher. (I use the phrase English “teacher” very loosely, as English was not this teacher’s first language, and she was, quite honestly, butchering it.) There were approximately one thousand students in this 99.9% Muslim school. Did I mention that sharing your religious beliefs with children under the age of eighteen is expressly forbidden in this country?

Raymond marched into the principal’s office with a shoebox, a pamphlet (which all the boxes would contain), and a translator. “We would like to give this as a gift to each of the students in your school,” Raymond said. “But I must tell you, each box will contain one of these pamphlets.” The principal took the pamphlet, which was the Gospel story in the national language, and read through it carefully. Then he said to Raymond, “No problem.”

So, though I was unable to pack shoeboxes for Christmas 2000, I received the answer to my prayers and helped with distribution. This was hard work. The boxes had to be picked up in the capital city and transported to the school. Since we didn’t have a vehicle big enough for over a thousand boxes Raymond had to secure the services of a truck driver. (He says it was the scariest ride of his life!)

We turned a spare classroom into our base of operations. Stacks of shoeboxes and boxes of pamphlets were everywhere. It looked a bit like organized chaos as our team of Jeffcoats and translators gathered boxes for each group of students, attached pamphlets to each box, and then carried them to the various classrooms.

I was not disappointed by the response. The students stood beside their desks out of respect for us when we entered. (It is the norm for them to stand when an adult enters the room.) The looks of joy, gratitude, and hope on their faces were exactly as I envisioned them. They were so excited by even the smallest of trinkets. The ones who had cards or letters in their box begged for someone to translate them from English (These boxes came from England) into their language.

During the course of the day a stoic looking man made his way into our “base of operations”. He looked at us and glanced at the boxes. I was told by a translator that he was the one who taught the Muslim children the Koran at school. (For some reason this was legal.) Fear gripped my heart. He did not look like a “happy camper”. He moved near me and picked up a pamphlet. After thumbing through it he looked up and said (in his language), “This is good! This is very good!” (Again, an act of God!)

We passed out nearly one thousand shoeboxes that day and saw only one pamphlet on the floor, none were in the trash. Knowing how they value gifts, I’m sure the one on the floor slipped out of some child’s hand by accident.

Three years later Raymond, my son Kyle, two of our church members, and myself went back to that same area to pass out Bibles. I overheard a lady say, “Those are the people who brought us the shoeboxes!” And she took a Bible joyfully.

Shoeboxes: It is a simple project for all ages, yet the ramifications of taking the Gospel around the world by ministering to hurting children goes far beyond the simple contents of the box. They equal the gift of life.

Here are some pictures from my answered prayer (I would have more, but I was too busy! ):


mrs.h said...

We do OCC at our church. Our GA's paint the boxes during the summer, so all our folks have to do is fill them up. I sent a link to your post to our pastor. If he wants to, can we use your pictures in a service to show the kids getting the boxes?

jewlsntexas said...

Hi DreweLlyn -
I cannot believe it is almost CHRISTMAS! I am excited an anxious because I have a lot to do!
I love Operation Christmas Child - it is such a super ministry.
Thanks for your comments on my blog about Michael. Do you want to know the sad part, we were at his birthday party the other day and he was showing us picture of all of these kids - they have been HIS friends since they were small together - and they are part of HIS youth group.
It is neat to know we have this connection.
I am going to put your blog on my Google reader - I always love visiting here.
Have a great day - thanks for reading my rant.
Love, Julie

Gayle said...

These pictures are priceless. We used to do shoeboxes every single year at our other church, but for some reason, we haven't done any at the one we are a part of now. It was part of the Children's Ministry at the former, but I think it's Ladies Ministry at the latter.
I wonder if this is something I could arrange for our Homeschool Support Group? Do you know? Hmmmmm...