Hey all! It’s finally Saturday after one looooong week. Hopefully you’ve had a productive week and you’re doing well!
What I want to talk about today is something that is very dear to my family’s heart: Operation Christmas Child (OCC for short)! Maybe you’ve heard of it, or maybe you haven’t (until now that is!), but I believe it’s a great program for kids who may not otherwise get a Christmas gift—or, as some of the follow-up videos reveal, kids who have never been given any kind of gift like this.
When I was younger I used to think: “ugh, shoebox time again! How does this possibly make a difference? It’s not even that good of a gift… And I don’t really want to go to the dollar store to buy stuff for it.” Let me tell you, it makes a HUGE difference. It’s a big deal. My perspective has changed a lot since I thought those things, and now I’m trying to pack one more box every year I participate!
If you’ve never heard of it, or at least not in detail, here’s what happens:
- You pack a shoebox for a boy or girl (of an age range you choose) full of things from toys to toiletries (things like bar soap, toothbrushes, and combs) and pay a small fee for shipping your box (It’s $9 this year).
- The box goes through processing where volunteers make sure everything in the shoebox meets the guidelines OCC sets up (no candy or food, no war related toys—toys made to look like weapons or military figures—or items that are otherwise not appropriate according to the guidelines you can read about here) and replace any items that are not appropriate with appropriate ones.
If you do pack a shoebox please, please, please check these guidelines because it’s no fun to get a nearly empty box because the person who packed it didn’t make sure their items were okay—it’s not hard to follow the rules, either. Plus, it just makes everything smoother if you double check before you send them off!
- The boxes are then shipped out to various parts of the world and are eventually delivered to a child of the right age and gender. When they get their shoebox they also get to hear the good news of the Gospel!
You can read about all this and even see some follow-up videos from kids who have received shoeboxes by exploring some more on their website.
I have had the opportunity to volunteer at one of the processing centers in Atlanta, Georgia and it’s such a great experience! (I’m hoping to go again this year with a group from our church, but I’m packing shoeboxes, regardless). And, let me just say, these shoeboxes are really treated with care. They take regular short breaks from processing the boxes to pray over them and the children who will get them, to share a devotion/encouraging word with all the volunteers, and give an update on how many shoeboxes have been packed.
It’s one of those experiences where I couldn’t stop thinking: “this is something that God has His hand in!” Even though it’s a human organization, and I’m sure if you look hard enough you could still find places where it’s not quite perfect, they display what the church is supposed to be about!
These shoeboxes are a simple gift. It’s nothing fancy. It’s not the latest phone, tablet, maybe not the best toy that all the kids in your area have, and it doesn’t suddenly make all their issues go away; but, it’s still an answer to a child’s prayer and it’s still a display of God’s love for some kids/families/people groups who may feel forgotten or who have never been shown love in this way.
I mean, if you really need more of a reason than sharing a little love and joy with these kids, we see in scripture that Jesus wanted to spend time with children and even told his disciples that they needed to have a childlike faith. Children were an example for grown men by the kind of faith they had in Jesus (Luke 18:15-17). The prayers and desires of these children—even the small things like wanting a baby doll or a teddy bear—are important to God and Samaritan’s Purse is just one way that God may choose to answer them, to show them that they are so loved and cared for (Luke 9:46-48).
It’s not about “We’re better than you and you need our help because we’re better and smarter” it’s about “We’re coming in love to share what we’ve been blessed with and we want to serve you where you have needs. We want you to know that you are loved and valued.”
There are so many of the follow-up videos and testimonies that feature kids saying things like: “I never had my own toothbrush” (y’all, let that sink in… never had their own toothbrush!), “I got a shoebox and in it was the Bible I prayed to God for,” or “I got [insert a very specific item that they have prayed or hoped for] and I was so happy/blessed to receive it!”
For some, this gift changes their entire life because through it they come to know Jesus. One of the testimonies we’ve heard this year was told by a girl who described how she counted each item she received and thanked God for it every night for years.
Don’t think that these little boxes don’t make a difference!
Maybe it’s difficult for us to see—at least I know it can be for me—because of where I live. I know I have been given so much, and often I’m not impressed by simple gifts. I don’t celebrate a toothbrush when I get one. I don’t count everything I’ve been given like I probably should.
Instead, I catch myself wanting to have the latest and greatest and nothing less. I get disappointed when I don’t get as many gifts as other people do for birthdays or Christmas. I’ve been so convicted about this watching those videos and hearing the testimonies of these children because I already have so much!
The gifts that I get for Christmas or other occasions are gifts on top of how I’ve already been blessed, but frequently I look at it from the perspective of “you don’t love me enough if you don’t get me exactly what I want.” This isn’t something I actually say out loud, but it’s a greedy thought that can be found lurking in the back of my mind. And how sad is that? that I don’t recognize that what I already have is a blessing? I’m not saying this to try to guilt you into packing a shoebox, but, I mean, if the shoe fits, maybe we should put it on so we can go out and get a different pair of metaphorical shoes to wear… like “cheerful giver” shoes instead of “guilty giver” shoes!
Really though, I don’t want you to feel guilty as much as I want you to recognize that, if you’re like me, you have been given so much and maybe don’t see it for the blessing it is. The fact that we’re alive and breathing, the fact that you can read this and go about doing what you do every day is a blessing. If you’re a Christian you also know that the fact that God shows us grace and mercy every single day is also a HUGE blessing.
That does not mean that my life is “all honey and no bees” because I’ve got a lot to be thankful for. However, regardless of the difficult struggles I do have, I know I need to change my point of view from “I want more stuff than that” to one that’s more grateful for what I do have. And, take that even a step further to think “how can I use what I’ve been blessed with to bless someone else?”
Packing a shoebox for Operation Christmas Child is a start for that kind of change in my life, but that’s not where I want to stop. In 1 Chronicles 21 David mentions that he will not give to God that which costs him nothing. Although the context is a lot different from the kind of giving I’m talking about with these shoeboxes, giving—being a generous, cheerful giver like God requires of us—will always cost something. Honestly, I want it to!
Real love for others requires more than the “nice gesture” of giving from your excess—where it doesn’t really cost you much because it was just something extra. It’s more than throwing a couple quarters that were hanging around in your cup-holders into the Salvation Army collection buckets outside stores during the holidays. It’s giving your time, energy, effort, and heart to others without any kind of discrimination or holding back. It’s giving like the poor widow does in Luke 21:1-4. Do you know how hard that is? It’s hard.
But, if Jesus gave me everything He had, and all I have is because of Him anyway, how can I possibly act like giving and pouring all the love I am capable of because of God’s love for me (1 John 4:7-21) into the lives of others is optional?
So, think about packing a shoebox! You can even do it all online if you’re not somewhere that you can take it to a collection center or are otherwise unable to do it yourself by going here! And think about other ways you can give to others in your life.
If you do, or even if you don’t/can’t pack a shoebox, please keep these boxes, the people involved in the whole process, and the children who will get them in your prayers!
And thanks for taking the time to read this long post!