Operation Christmas Child: After the Box

It’s the most wonderful time of the year – that is, shoebox packing time. OCCGenBanner_5x2

This year alone, and estimated 11 million shoeboxes filled with candy, toys, school supplies, and toiletries will be collected and shipped to children around the world through Operation Christmas Child, a project of the international relief and evangelism organization, Samaritan’s Purse

Since 1993, Operation Christmas Child (OCC) has collected over 124 million shoebox gifts with a singular mission in mind: to demonstrate God’s love in a tangible way to needy children around the world and, together with the local church worldwide, to share the good news of Jesus.

As a child, I remember packing shoeboxes with my family, praying over them, and dropping them off at our church to be sent across the world. This was my earliest exposure to the ministry, but as I grew older, we stopped packing shoeboxes and served in other areas. In college, I was interested in international ministry and humanitarian work, but dismissed OCC as something that children did with their parents, or vice versa

I thought OCC was a “nice” thing to do – why not pack a gift for a child, right? However, I didn’t understand the impact of OCC beyond the box, and imagined westerners like me flying to developing countries, dropping off gifts, and leaving, so I decided that OCC wasn’t sustainable.

There was only one problem with this assumption; it was wrong.

A deeper look at Operation Christmas Child reveals that the heart of the ministry goes far beyond these shoeboxes and the individuals that receive them. These simple gifts are opportunities to build the local church worldwide and advance the Gospel.

Unlike my preconceived notions mentioned above, shoeboxes packed in the U.S. and other packing countries are distributed in-country by national volunteers. This means, rather than “westerners flying in, dropping off gifts, and leaving,” these shoeboxes are distributed by foreign nationals in their own communities. Once shoeboxes reach their destination countries, OCC National Leadership Teams receive the shoeboxes and deliver them to pastors and local leaders. It is these pastors and local leaders that hold shoebox distributions in their own communities.

The Gospel, the good news that God has made a way for every person to be reconciled to himself through the atoning sacrifice of Jesus, is shared at each shoebox distribution. The prayer is that the journey doesn’t end when a child receives a shoebox, rather, the prayer is that the journey is just beginning!

In Matthew 28, Jesus gives his disciples a “Great Commission” to “go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.” Notice that Jesus doesn’t say, “Go and make converts,” but, instead, “Go and make disciples!” One of the most compelling things about Operation Christmas Child is this:  each child who receives a shoebox is invited back into the local church to take part in a 12-week discipleship program called The Greatest Journey. The Greatest Journey is an opportunity for children to get involved in their local church and to learn more about Jesus.

There are incredible stories of lives changed, churches planted, and communities transformed after the Greatest Journey takes place. Read the incredible story of Melvin  – an 11 year-old boy who received a shoebox in Fiji. Melvin accepted Christ during The Greatest Journey program, and then saw his grandfather, the village witchdoctor, become a Christian as well. Their conversions led to the first church in their small, predominately-Hindu community.

Melvin’s story is just one of many and Operation Christmas Child is just one way to serve – there is need all around us!  What an incredible opportunity to partner with the big, beautiful, diverse body of Christ in a way that invests in the local church worldwide and supports pastors and communities in a way that is sustainable!

If you pack a shoebox, know you are impacting the life of a child. Don’t underestimate the transformative power of the gospel, and don’t underestimate what God can do with these simple gifts!

New to OCC? Learn how to pack a shoebox.

See where you can drop-off your shoebox locally here by using the OCC zip-code locator!

Find other inspiring OCC stories.