Operation Christmas Child spreads holiday joy around the globe

Christmas may still be five weeks away, but across the country thousands of volunteers are culminating a year-round process to bring the holiday to children on the other side of the globe. Operation Christmas Child is in its 17th year as an outreach of Samaritan’s Purse, the international aid and evangelism ministry headed by Franklin Graham. Through Tuesday, Nov. 23, about 100,000 volunteers nationwide are preparing shoeboxes at various facilities. The boxes are filled with items that will send usually unexpected gifts to children and a token of Christian compassion they might not otherwise know existed. “It is really a year-round effort to get us to this week,” explained Rachael Mills, community relations assistant manager for Operation Christmas Child. “We have a network of around 4,000 volunteers with churches and community groups who work throughout the rest of the year to get us to this point.” The number of gifts distributed has increased exponentially as the network of volunteers has expanded. In its first year, 1993, OCC, distributed 28,000 boxes. Since then a total of 69 million boxes have been handed out. Mills explained the network is hubbed through the Samaritan’s Purse headquarters in Boone, N.C., and spread out to 13 regional field offices. Working much like a sales territory, those field offices will recruit teams in different geographical areas. The field offices will then branch out to administer everything from working with and identifying church and community organizations to attracting local media exposure. There are box drop-off locations in all 50 states and stretching the network deeper into rural areas is a priority. “There are still places where for people the closest drop-off point may be 50 miles away and we want to expand our coverage as much as possible to make it more convenient,” Mills said. Once the boxes are sent to distribution centers the next step is getting them on to sea containers at selected ports for travel. Some air travel is used, Mills said, but carrying gifts by boat is generally more cost-effective. Employees at the North Carolina headquarters go through the careful work of preparing shipments to meet customs requirements of different countries. Once the gifts reach the countries they are intended for, they enter a network similar to the one which got them there in the first place. A web of pastors and ministry organizations in the receiving countries do the leg work of finding churches, hospitals, orphanages and refugee camps where the boxes are distributed. The much-anticipated end result is the reaction children have when they receive the gift. Oftentimes they are not aware ahead of time any gift is coming, and in some cases, it will be the first gift they have ever received. “From my own experience, when you see little girls open a box with a doll or a stuffed animal, it is really a big deal, much more so than you might ordinarily imagine,” Mills said. “Little boys love anything like Hot Wheels cars and anytime anyone sends little soccer balls with air pumps that will be very popular. “Basic school supplies are always needed. We have so many stories about kids who couldn’t go to school because they couldn’t afford the supplies and then to get them is very special.” Mills said gift-givers shouldn’t consider small toys as frivolous items. “You have to understand that whatever you give, it’s not going to change these kids’ situation. Giving them something they would never get otherwise makes a huge difference.” Gifts also come with a distinct Gospel message, both spoken and written. The message provides the start of a 12-week discipleship program for children and families to invite them into an understanding of Christian faith. The ultimate goal is for the children and their families to enter into a deeper relationship with God as the spiritual gift. “It has been amazing the amount of people we’ve seen all over the world becoming involved in churches and ministry and church planting through this program,” Mills said. To keep pace with the on-demand pace of technology, OCC has instituted an EZ Give program where givers can track the package’s journey overseas online. “You won’t be able to know who it goes to, but you will see what country it is going to and when it gets there,” Mills explained. “It’s makes it a more personalized process and provides and opportunities to specifically pray for different places. It’s also a great teaching tool to teach our kids about their blessings and how we need to share them with others.” Link: Operation Christmas Child: http://www.samaritanspurse.org/index.php/OCC/

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