Needy Kids Find God's Love Tucked Inside Throwaway Boxes
- 2005 10 Nov
Humble, ordinary shoeboxes. Cardboard throwaways. They clutter up closets or hold assorted souvenirs and junk. How is it, then, by virtue of a Christmas miracle, that these same lowly shoeboxes can be transformed into glittering treasure chests that delight a child's heart and tell the timeless story of God's eternal love?
Sound like a fairytale?
But it's not, insists Bonnie Freeman, Great Lakes Region senior director for Samaritan's Purse/Operation Christmas Child. She and the national leadership team can back her claims through the thousands of sweet, poignant stories that trickle back from missionaries and national pastors who witness this marvel over and over again.
The miracle begins so very simply. A lowly shoebox is packed with new toys, hard candies, school supplies, and hygiene items for either a boy or girl of a particular age group.
"There is no actual dollar amount," said Freeman. "Boxes can be filled for a minimal amount of money. Some people go to the dollar store. Some people get real fancy."
Freeman said that when she fills boxes, she always includes certain key items such as flip-flops because some of the kids don't have shoes and never have had them. She also adds a plastic cup because some of the kids go to feeding stations and they don't have eating utensils.
But beyond toys and flip-flops, as Franklin Graham, president and CEO of Samaritan's Purse/Operation Christmas Child said, "The most important item you can put in that box is your prayers."
Freeman echoes that, emphasizing that children, perhaps, understand that concept better than adults. About this time last year, says Freeman, a seven-year-old girl in Washington State while helping her mother pack Operation Christmas Child knelt and prayed over each box, reminding Jesus to be sure to get the right box to the right child. Kids know how important that is.
He apparently heard. On Christmas morning, Operation Christmas Child boxes were delivered to an orphanage in Africa. Two hundred children stood in the yard holding their unopened boxes, trembling with excitement. On the count of three, the children were to open their boxes all at once.
For whatever reason, one little girl opened her box upside down so that the lid was on the bottom, the contents jumbled. What she saw first was a coloring book and crayons. She began dancing up and down. "He heard me! He heard me!" she cried. "He gave me what I asked for!" The crayons and the coloring book were answers to her prayer. Recognizing that her gifts came from the hand of God, the other children took up her chant in unison. "He heard her! He heard her! He heard her!" they sang-an unusual Christmas carol, perhaps, but a heartfelt, faith-building one nevertheless.
Said Freeman: "These children in the orphanages are so thankful for what they get. Even the wrapping paper does not go to waste but is taped around their beds to prolong the sparkle of the moment."
Operation Christmas Child's goal is to provide more than 8 million shoe boxes to hurting children in 100 countries around the world this season. Since it's inception in 1993 to help children in Bosnia, the program has handed out more than 38 million shoeboxes. But the shoeboxes bring more than just temporary smiles and joy. They have a lasting eternal purpose and act as emissaries of peace and goodwill in countries where the preaching of the Gospel is difficult, sometimes because of religious persecution.
One such story comes out of Kazakhstan where the population is 50 percent Muslim. "Svetlana" was a young girl from a large family and the only one who believed in Jesus. Members of Svetlana's church visited with her family, telling them about Jesus, and inviting all of the children to come to a special distribution of Operation Christmas Child gifts made just for them by American boys and girls. The children and the parents in the family were deeply touched by this kind of love by people who didn't even know them. The following Sunday, the entire family was in church and came to receive Christ as Lord.
Sometimes the simplest things can become opportunities to share the Gospel message and can transfom entire families and communities.
"This is a true testament of what the shoeboxes are all about," said Freeman. "The shoeboxes are a tool used by pastors and missionaries and national leadership to share the Gospel of Jesus and to open the door. The Holy Spirit does the rest."
For more information on packing shoe boxes for children overseas, visit http://www.samaritanspurse.org/ and get free materials to start the project in your own family, church, or group. National Collection Week is Nov. 16-23, 2009.
Article originally posted November 8, 2005 and modified to reflect information for the 2009 Christmas season.
Rebekah Montgomery is the editor of Right to the Heart of Women e-zine, a publisher at Jubilant Press, and the author of numerous books on spiritual growth. She can be contacted for comments or speaking engagements at rebekahmontgomery.com