Packing Christmas boxes may seem out of place during the season of pumpkins and colored leaves, but that is what hundreds of Missouri Baptists, including several St. Louis churches, are doing.
The boxes are for Operation Christmas Child, an outreach of the international relief and evangelism organization Samaritan’s Purse, headed by Franklin Graham.
In 2009, Samaritan’s Purse plans to collect some 8 million gift-filled shoeboxes for children in more than 100 countries.
Operation Christmas Child depends on the generosity of local children, families, churches, businesses, schools and community groups to fill the shoeboxes full of gifts for children overseas who are suffering from disease, famine, war, terrorism and natural disaster. Missouri Baptists have found many ways to help.
“We shop all year round,” Jim McCaughan, minister of missions at Parker Road Baptist Church, said. The church sends more than 1,000 boxes each year. “We keep our eyes open for deals and buy all we can. Most of what we have, we got for 50 to 75 percent off.”
The church maintains a storeroom for supplies. “Everything is inventoried separately with packaging removed,” McCaughan said. “We include personal hygiene items and school supplies in every box. Then we select the toys to include according to age and gender.”
Shirley Stewart, the OCC project leader at First Baptist Church, Ferguson, understands the opportunity for bargains. “We were in a chain office supply store and discovered small pencil sharpeners for pennies that were regularly $1,” she said. “We asked the manager if we could buy several, and we bought as many as we could carry.”
The Ferguson congregation usually does a combination of assembly-line-filled boxes and boxes prepared by families. “We will fill about 100 boxes with the assembly line and we will encourage families to fill more,” Stewart said.
“Brochures have been disappearing from our display, which is a good sign,” she added. “Many people fill these boxes as a way of reaching kids we can’t reach otherwise. When the gospel booklet, ‘The Greatest Gift of All,’ is put inside; it is more than a gift.”
Jacolyn “Jackie” Bursmeyer, an International Mission Board missionary to Chile and a Missouri native, grew up at First, Ferguson. She knows the impact of the boxes and gospel literature firsthand.
“More than 4,000 boxes were given out in the Patagonia last year,” she explained. “Some used the evangelistic materials in religion classes in the schools while others started ‘neighborhood children’s groups.’
The boxes provided opportunities for churches to return to small communities where there are no evangelical churches. Literally thousands could read the gospel message that they had not seen before.”
Patrice McCoy, OCC project leader at Passage Community Church, believes the boxes have a positive, growing effect on the churches and families who prepare them. “As groups wrap and fill boxes,” she said, “it builds community.” Passage has completed boxes both ways. They have used the assembly-line method as well as encouraging families to fill them.
“Whether families or churches prepare them,” McCoy added, “they talk about the children and families who will receive the boxes and it builds excitement. Shopping and wrapping with children teaches giving and it is fun for everybody.”
As families learn to prepare the boxes, they discover the project’s importance. “They develop a new awareness,” McCoy says. “As families do individual boxes, they become better educated in the process.”
The process is giving. “What is in the boxes is not nearly as important as the gesture of sharing God’s love with someone else. Every box last year was different. Some were filled more than others, but every one of the boxes came with God’s message and an opportunity to know Him on a personal level,” Bursmeyer said.
The organization has collected and hand-delivered more than 68 million shoebox gifts to hurting children in about 130 countries since 1993.
Learn more about participating in Operation Christmas Child by calling 1-800-353-5949, or by visiting samaritanspurse.org.
Vicki Stamps is a Word&Way correspondent.