Above left: Transporting boxes by raft in Fiji. Right: Transporting boxes by camel in Mongolia. Photos courtesy of Samaritan’s Purse.
October 2021 – According to theologian Carl F. H. Henry, “The gospel is only good news if it gets there in time.” Wise words considering that Jesus warned His disciples to be ready for His return at a time when they least expected it.
Mindful of that warning, Operation Christmas Child (OCC) is urgently working through its Ends of the Earth initiative to reach more than 3 billion people who have not yet heard the good news of Christ.
David Thompson, OCC International’s senior director, told AFA Journal, “A quarter of the world’s population is still living without knowing that there is hope for eternal life through Jesus.”
Answering the call
A ministry arm of Samaritan’s Purse International Relief, OCC has delivered Christmas gifts to the world’s children for almost three decades. It began in 1993 when Samaritan’s Purse president Franklin Graham received a phone request to fill shoeboxes with Christmas gifts for children in war-torn Bosnia.
In less than a month, 28,000 shoeboxes were shipped out, each containing a personal letter of encouragement to a Bosnian child. It was truly a Christmas miracle, one repeated every year since.
More than 188 million children in over 170 countries and territories have subsequently received a Christmas shoebox packed by global volunteers. In fact, over 9.1 million shoeboxes were packed in 2020, with 7.8 million from the United States.
OCC evolved into a great way for American churches to have a hands-on service project fulfilling the Great Commission. But it’s not just churches that pack OCC shoeboxes. Classes, clubs, friends, and family groups of all sizes enjoy packing the shoeboxes.
“For many shoebox recipients,” Thompson explained, “a shoebox gift is the first gift they’ve ever received. Shoebox packers can relate to this joy and have so much fun imagining a child’s reaction. It’s a small, tangible way to feel like they can have an impact on this world.”
The gesture may be small, but the impact has been substantial – and it is growing.
Fulfilling the commission
That exponential growth is due in part to OCC’s “Box to Bible” resources, which are currently translated into 85 languages, with more translations coming.
These evangelism tools take children on a discipleship journey, beginning with The Greatest Gift, a gospel story booklet presented with each shoebox. Then, children are invited to participate in The Greatest Journey discipleship program. Upon graduation from this program, each child receives a New Testament in his or her own language.
OCC’s Ends of the Earth initiative is accelerating efforts to reach over 7,000 unreached people groups, 85% of whom live in the 10/40 window. The region called the 10/40 window lies north of the equator between the latitudes of 10 and 40 degrees, stretching from North Africa through the Middle East to Asia.
Though few ministries have reached this area, OCC has successfully partnered with local believers in a significant number of countries within the 10/40 window.
“We have used everything from canoes to camels to reach children in some of the most remote places on earth,” said Thompson.
Along the way, OCC discovered that despite language, cultural, religious, legal, or even spiritual barriers, effective ministry with these least-reached people requires one common key.
“We are loving on the most vulnerable, accessible, and open demographic in any community – the children,” said Thompson. “As the community sees the joy and delight on the children’s faces, even the hardest hearts begin to open to the simple presentation of the gospel.”
And it all begins with a shoebox filled with gifts.
Pack a shoebox!
At samaritanspurse.org/occ find:
• Instructions for packing an OCC shoebox
• Shop online to “Build a Shoebox.”
• Find locations for collection week November 15-22.