“Go into all the world and preach the Gospel to all creation.” (Mark 16:15 NIV)
You mean everyone, Lord? ... everywhere? There are 7½ billion people in the world! Isn’t that for real missionaries to do? ... people younger, smarter, more religious than me with lots of airline miles?
I imagine God smiled at my fussing. He knows I’ve got no excuse. That’s because 24 years ago, a unique worldwide project called Operation Christmas Child (OCC) began as a simple way for people like me to put the Gospel into the hands of millions of youngsters around the world. It’s done by packing shoeboxes with small gifts, personal hygiene items, and school supplies.
It’s being done right now by hundreds of people in the Tri-Cities and throughout Eastern Oregon in service groups, clubs, businesses, churches, families and private schools with Christmas giving on their minds.
The gifts will be collected Nov. 14-21 at area churches, brought to Bethel Church in Richland, and trucked to a massive distribution center in California. Samaritan’s Purse, the Christian relief agency founded by Franklin Graham that coordinates the effort, delivers them to over 100 countries.
There, volunteers like Dan and Janet Clark of Walla Walla, give them out to millions of children whose desperate lives are wracked by war, famine, extreme poverty and natural disasters.
It was the fulfillment of Janet’s longtime dream when, after years of volunteering with Operation Christmas Child, the couple were invited this year to be on a distribution team in Zambia, Africa. Their family has packed OCC shoeboxes for two decades, but Janet longed to hand them to the children, she said.
In May, they travelled for a week into some of Zambia’s poorest neighborhoods and sat encircled by curious youngsters. Many had never seen a white person and shyly touched skin and hair; some wiggled onto the visitors’ laps, sharing hugs.
“We saw the seeds of hope sprout through smiles and words of the children,” Janet said.
Responses to the shoebox gifts were the same everywhere, Dan said: When boxlids were lifted, awe and joy filled the room. Gifts of pencils and paper would allow many to go to school whose families could not afford the supplies, he said.
Every child also receives “The Greatest Gift” Gospel booklet in their language and an invitation to “The Greatest Journey” Bible study taught by their church leaders. Since 2010, 5.2 million children have completed the 12-week Bible study and received a New Testament in their language.
In 2015, Tri-Cities/Eastern Oregon supporters donated 18,082 Christmas Shoeboxes; the goal is 20,000 for 2016. A total of 8.7 million were collected in the U.S. in 2015 and 2.4 million came from Canada, England, Germany, Switzerland, Austria, Finland, Spain, Australia, New Zealand, and Japan. More than 135 million Operation Christmas Child shoebox gifts have been hand-delivered to children since the project began 24 years ago.
And Jesus said, “The Good News ... will be preached throughout the whole world, so that all nations will hear it; and then the end will come.” Matt 24:14 (NLT)
For more information, go to www.samaritanspurse.org and click on the Operation Christmas Child link; or email Fay Smith at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Fay Tolley Smith is a member of the Tri-Cities Regional Operational Christmas Child Coordinating Team and attends South Hills Church in Kennewick. Questions and comments should be directed to editor Lucy Luginbill in care of the Tri-City Herald newsroom, 333 W. Canal Drive, Kennewick, WA 99336. Or email email@example.com.