Many people may not recognize the potential of a shoebox for changing a life, but any of the hundreds that attended the special celebration of Operation Christmas Child last week know better.
Operation Christmas Child is a worldwide children’s project of Samaritan’s Purse, the Christian relief and evangelistic organization led by Franklin Graham, Billy Graham’s son. The mission of OCC is to demonstrate God’s love in a tangible way to needy children around the world, by giving them their own shoeboxes filled with school supplies, toys, and basic necessities.
Since beginning in 1993, 87 million hand-packed and hand-delivered boxes have been given to needy children in more than 130 countries on six continents. This year, OCC will reach more than 8.5 million children, with 700,000 boxes coming from Orange County.
“Whenever I am asked what is the most important thing to put in the box, I say prayer,” Graham explained. “Pray for the child who will get the box. Time and time again we see that God directed that particular box to that child. Think what God might do with all those prayers.”
“We are living in a world that is changing so quickly, it’s becoming so secular,” Graham continued. “We want to be a beacon, to be a light for the Lord Jesus Christ. We want to take the gospel to the ends of the earth. We’ll never know until we get to heaven what the full impact of the boxes and the prayers. God bless each and every one of you, you all play important roles.”
The audience heard moving stories of how God answered prayers for box recipients. One was Oksana Neslon, who received a box while living in a poor Russian orphanage.
”We believed there was hope for others, but not for us,” Oksana said. “Opening the lid of my shoebox gift was overwhelming. Back then, when I had nothing to call my own, each item meant a lot to me. What my heart remembers most is the picture of the kids who sent the box; I felt like they cared about me even though they didn’t know me. A shoebox gift is more than a box, it’s a story. One shoebox equals one child, equals one life touched forever.”
Oksana was adopted by an American family at age 10 and has packed shoeboxes with her family every year since.
The journey of a shoebox begins with the children, families, churches, schools, scout troops, community organizations and businesses that purchase the contents throughout the year, adding family photos and notes of encouragement. More than 500,000 volunteers worldwide help fill the boxes, and everyone experiences that it is more blessed to give than to receive.
“I love having my children contribute their own money toward the purchase of the items and I love their thoughtfulness as they select the gifts, all the while recognizing just how much we have and how little their recipient likely has,” explained Newport resident Jamie Mathisrud, who has been participating with OCC for six years.
“I also like watching my kids write notes and draw pictures to include in the box, and listening to them pray for that special person God has picked to receive their box. I have seen my kids learn to focus on others, rather than themselves. I have seen them learn to give generously, creatively and thoughtfully.”
The Mathisrud children agree.
“I like knowing that someone who otherwise would not receive a gift will now get one,” said 11-year-old Hannah. Seven-year-old Cooper agreed and added, “I’m going to use my own money to buy enough for two boxes this year, one for a kid my age and one for an younger boy.”
Samaritan’s Purse and its national partners will hand-deliver each of the 8.5 million shoeboxes to children. Delivery often involves land, air, sea, and sometimes elephant, mule or dogsled. Whenever possible, after an OCC distribution, local churches follow-up with a discipleship program to teach children more about God.
Presidents Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush have all participated in packing OCC shoeboxes for children in need. It’s possible to find out which country boxes are delivered to and many relationships have begun from that connection.
The season of giving goes on all year long through OCC and anyone can pass on joy and change lives by giving the gift of hope wrapped in a box.