Operation Christmas Child
By Karen Dannar
It’s hard to believe that it’s almost Christmas time again and 2009 is almost gone. Doesn’t it seem like we barely get out the pumpkins and fall décor and before we know it, the department and discount stores are putting out their Christmas decorations and goods for sale? Unfortunately, Christmas has become such a commercialized event that many have lost its true meaning of sacrificial love and selfless giving. Thankfully, there are organizations such as Operation Christmas Child with people willing to work year-round to keep the true spirit of Christmas alive.
If you aren’t familiar with Operation Christmas Child (OCC) or a Shoe Box Gift you are in for a heartwarming treat. OCC is part of a Christian Non-Profit Organization named “Samaritan’s Purse” which was founded in 1970 by Bob Pierce. It is currently directed by Franklin Graham, the eldest son of Evangelist Billy and Ruth Bell Graham. Located in Boone, North Carolina their mission “Operation Christmas Child brings joy and hope to children in desperate situations around the world through gift-filled shoe boxes and the Good News of God’s love.”
The Nationwide collection will take place November 16th – 23rd this year with over 8 million shoe boxes expected to be collected by this date. This amazing feat is only possible because of the generous donations and amazing volunteers. As expected, many Kansas residents are happy to help.
Tammie West, Collection Coordinator at the First Christian Church in Dodge City, shared “The First Christian Church put on an Operation Christmas Child musical in 2008 that had over 400 people in attendance.” West stated “The musical is another way to share the message and inform people of OCC if they aren’t familiar with it”.
Dara Brensing, Lower Midwest Regional Manager, stated that “Kansas is part of the OCC’s Lower Midwest Region which includes Missouri, Illinois, Nebraska, Kansas and Oklahoma. “These shoe box gifts serve as an evangelical tool for national pastors [and their teams] to speak love and value to boys and girls age 2 to 14 who are surrounded by poverty, disaster and war, opening the door to communicate the love of Jesus Christ.” She proudly shared, “Even when our economy is shaky, people who live in the Midwest are incredibly generous and desire to make a difference.” “The Lower Midwest Region is filled with project participants who lovingly prepare shoe box gifts to share with children who live in situations that are difficult for us to imagine,” The region received over 380,000 boxes in 2008 and the goal for 2009 is 410,000 boxes which Brensing felt was absolutely attainable with the wonderful support they are receiving.
One of the Region’s biggest advocates and someone that is very passionate about the mission of Operation Christmas Child is Debbie Rempel, who accepted the volunteer position of OCC Area Coordinator for the SW Kansas and OK Panhandle area in 2008.
Close your eyes for a moment and imagine if you will… flying to the Dominican Republic and handing a child a shoe box that is full of items you and your family have handpicked, packed with the utmost care and prayed over. You see tears streaming down the child’s face as she opens it before you and is overwhelmed with joy and excitement at what the box contains. Compassion wells up in your own heart as you witness her hearing the message of Christ that is behind the gift as she is told why someone who lives thousands of miles away from her small village would care about her. She learns that the same love that Jesus has put in your heart is also available for hers and then, you witness a life being changed – for eternity.
Rempel got to experience this firsthand as she had the opportunity in February to fly with Mr. Jim Harrelson, Samaritan’s Purse Vice-President in charge of OCC and a distribution team of approximately 100 staff and volunteers to Santa Domingo, the Capital of the Dominican Republic. She shared that she was able to visit 7 distribution sites in the city of Santa Domingo and a town nearby called Jagua. She was impressed with the OCC organization, stating “Much training takes place in order to be prepared to receive these shoeboxes and to ensure that each child can receive a booklet on the Gospel of Jesus Christ in their own language. Local Pastors who work with the National Leadership Team had already sent invitations to the area children.” She remarked, “The children are each invited to attend a 10 lesson Discipleship Program where each graduate is then given their own copy of the New Testament.” The Head of Ministry, Pastor Fidel Lorenzo, commented that “The Operation Christmas Child shoe boxes are the most effective project to open the door to Christianity that we have in this country.”
“OCC and the Shoe Box Gifts are a wonderful project that any group, club or individual can do.” Rempel shared “We have 4H Clubs, Scouts, Church groups, Home School groups, businesses and individuals of all ages and backgrounds that work together for the common goal”.
She is looking for individuals who are interested in participating with a team of year-round volunteers in over 30 counties, whose purpose will be to introduce this project to their communities to increase the number of shoeboxes donated. If you are willing to commit just a few hours a month and would like to help in areas such as Media promotions, Community and Church Relations or be on a Prayer Team, please call Debbie Rempel at the KJIL Radio Station at 620-873-2991. She mentioned she is available to speak to youth groups, clubs or organization about OCC and her personal experiences. After seeing the whole process; from packing the box to it being received and the message shared – she has firsthand knowledge of this amazing program and how God uses it and the people involved to changes lives!
Mary Derstein is another Kansas resident who loves to see lives changed through OCC. Each year she hosts an OCC Shoe Box party at her home in Ford and she shared that in 2008, 21 children participated and were able to experience first hand the joy that comes with being a part of this mission. The group consisted of family, friends and homeschoolers from the Dodge City, Minneola and Ford area, as well as members of the Abundant Life Family Church in Dodge City. Each child even brought $7 out of their own personal savings and piggy banks to cover the expense of shipping their box.
She recounted the evening’s events in which they shared the vision of OCC with the children and then the Christian message of Jesus Christ. “Each child knew that this was the same message that would be given to the children as they received their boxes.” She remarked. As the children filled each box with the wonderful and much needed gifts, they personally experienced the message that Christ taught, “It is more blessed to give than to receive”. Each child was then given a 3x5 index card so they could write their name, address and age on it – as well as a their own message. Then they said a prayer for the children that would be receiving the boxes, hoping that they too would learn of, experience and share the message of Jesus.
“What a blessing!” Derstein exclaimed, “To make a difference in the lives of our children here by showing them how blessed and fortunate we all are and by allowing them to bless others that are not as fortunate. What a wonderful lesson we can all benefit and learn from!” This is definitely a positive aspect of participating in this program.
If Operation Christmas Child sounds like something you, your family or organization would like to get involved with – we urge you to please consider it. You can go to www.samaritanspurse.org – for more information and then, please get involved.
Even in tough or frightening times, we need to be remember how blessed and fortunate we truly are – because we do live in the land of the free. It is also comforting to know, that no matter what we are going through, some things remain unchanged… You can make a difference in the life of a child… Prayer does work… and God is still in control!