OCC: Spreading hope, love and light around the globe via shoeboxes

By Beverly Keller
The Budget

The size of a typical shoebox is 14 inches long by 8 inches wide by 5 inches tall. For children in impoverished nations, the contents of such a box can be life-changing.

Filling those boxes is the mission of Operation Christmas Child, a division of Samaritan’s Purse. The week of November 12 – 19 is their annual collection week. “During National Collection Week, local volunteers hope to collect more than 40,000 gifts to contribute to Operation Christmas Child’s 2018 goal of reaching 11 million children in need,” explained Christy Bloom of the project that fills boxes with fun toys, school supplies and needed hygiene items.

To put it in perspective, there are just over 11 million residents in the State of Ohio. Last year, the East Ohio area, comprised of five counties, collected 35,000 boxes. This year, the goal increased as 14 locations will be operational with new locations in New Philadelphia, Cadiz and Mt. Hope. These sites are part of the network of 5,000 set up this year.

Area churches and community groups band together as partners in hope to show children the beauty of God’s love, one box at a time. These children have seen the unthinkable and lived to tell about it. They have been through poverty, famine, disease and disaster as well as war. “For many of these children, it will be the first gift they have ever received,” Bloom stated.

For the past five years, Ohio east Area Coordinator Lynette Mahaffey has given of her time and talents to Operation Christmas Child, a program that is near and dear to her heart. “We are honored to join the nationwide effort to collect gift-filled shoeboxes for children who may have never experienced the true meaning of Christmas,” she explained. “These simple gifts show God’s love to children facing difficult circumstances.”

However, creation and collection of the boxes that are filled are just part of the mission. In order to get them into the hands of those they are intended to serve, funds are needed. Currently, participants are asked to donate $9 per shoebox. If done online, this allows a donor to follow the journey of the box itself as a tracking label is created.

For more information on how to participate in Operation Christmas Child, call Mahaffey at 330-852-8812.

Operation Christmas Child is part of Samaritan’s Purse, an international Christian organization that focuses on spreading the word of God through relief evangelism and is headed by Franklin Graham. Started in 1993, the program has delivered more than 157 million shoeboxes to children in more than 160 countries.

A Personal Look At Distribution
For Christy Bloom, her desire to help others know the love of God, led her to a deeper relationship with Operation Christmas Child. Earlier this year, Bloom traveled to Ukraine to be a part of the other end of the continuum of boxes.

“As Operation Christmas Child’s National Collection Week approaches, my thoughts turn to the five shoebox distribution trips in and around Kiev, Ukraine this past April,” she shared. “It was the trip of a lifetime and one that I never thought I’d be taking. We visited four schools and one community center in which many of the children, under the authority of the Russian Orthodox Church, had never heard about Jesus. As a matter of fact, our first trip to a school was canceled when the Russian Orthodox Community got word that we were coming with the message of the Gospel.”

One of the schools Bloom visited was located in a small village, about two hours from Kiev. She describes the scene in vivid detail. “As we pulled up to the school, I noticed a rather stout woman wearing a scarf, she was watching intently as we unloaded the van,” Bloom explained. “A few chickens were scratching around the schoolyard. We walked up the crumbling concrete steps of the schoolhouse and stepped through the large bright blue double doors. Bulletin boards lined the hallway with displays the children’s father’s and grandfather’s pictures who were, either fighting or had lost their lives, in the ongoing war in Eastern Ukraine.”

The boxes to be delivered struck a chord with Bloom as they were from the Akron area. It was a box from Doylestown that stuck out in her mind. “I immediately sought out the box and its recipient,” Bloom said. “Her name was Nastya and inside her box was the sheet of paper telling her that Daniel, age 12, from Doylestown had packed this shoebox for her.”

And when Bloom came home she was on a fast track to finding Daniel in Doylestown. “I searched through social media, messaging people with the same last name as Daniel’s and found nothing,” Bloom stated. “By September, I had all but given up, when I was invited to an Operation Christmas Child event in Wadsworth. There were people there from Doylestown, but nobody knew Daniel.”

However, one of the women took a photo of Nastya with her and emailed Bloom a few days later. Indeed, Daniel was located. In fact, Daniel lived in the house right across the street from where the shoebox was packed. “I emailed his mother and sent her photos of Nastya and filled her in on the story,” Bloom noted. “She replied with a photo of Daniel and two of his sisters.”

Bloom noted that it was the most amazing gift she had ever been a part of. “I was able to witness the actual connection of two children who live worlds apart,” she said.

And while many people receive notes, and, in some cases emails from their shoebox recipient, Bloom noted that it was the most incredible gift for her to see the connection for herself on both sides of the globe. “Many of the kids can’t believe that someone that doesn’t even know them, loves them that much,” she explained. “It’s the first sign of God’s miraculous love that the kids receive right after hearing the message of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.”

Following shoebox distribution, children are offered a discipleship program known as The Greatest Journey that covers a period of 12 weeks. “We were able to attend one of those classes and were blessed when 12 children accepted Jesus in the class,” Bloom recalled. “It is the eternal gift of hope that only Jesus Christ can offer in an often dark and hopeless world.”

Distribution Question Answered
A blog post has been floating around social media since it was posted in March 2017 concerning the distribution of boxes through Operation Christmas Child that was posted by Bethany Rawson Colvin who stated the churches in Mansa were “in a flat tizzy because they’ve had to scrape together $4,000 USD to BUY their allotment of Operation Christmas Child shoe boxes.”

This led to a large outcry among missionaries around the globe, both affiliated with OCC and not. The post recently picked up steam again with comments dated October 18, 2018.

To address the issue, OCC issued the following statement:

“As partners in ministry, we want to update you on a blog post from 2017 that is resurfacing and gaining traction on social media. A blog post was published in 2017 about an incident in Zambia where the local pastors were informed they had to purchase Operation Christmas Child shoebox gifts. Selling or charging for shoebox gifts is against Operation Christmas Child training and policy.

“When we were informed of the matter, we initiated an immediate investigation and coordinated an in-person meeting between Operation Christmas Child staff, our volunteer leadership team in Zambia, our regional volunteer leadership team in Mansa, and the local pastors. As a result of this investigation, we discovered there was a misunderstanding during our training in this region.

“The local leadership team encouraged local partners to raise funds to support in-country transportation. Although we never required a donation or payment of local churches to receive shoeboxes, it led to a misunderstanding which resulted in local Ministry Partners paying a cost per shoebox to cover in-country expenses. This has since been addressed and corrected.

“We recognized this was a significant issue, and we are deeply sorry for the confusion. We have since updated our training program. We now do not allow local Ministry Partners to do any fundraising related to the project. We have communicated this in our current training policy to our more than 75,000 in-country Ministry Partners across 1,100+ delivery sites.

OCC went on to state that the $9 suggested donation covers the project costs, including transportation of boxes within the US to the central drop off location and the shipment of these shoeboxes to over 105 countries, and then to 1,100+ delivery sites within those countries. However, it does not include the final delivery of the shoebox from the 1,100 delivery sites to the final outreach location that is handled by the trained Samaritan’s Purse Operation Christmas Child volunteer Ministry Partner.

“For example, when shoebox gifts arrive in Mexico, they are delivered to 67 sites around the country. At that point, the Ministry Partner will travel to the nearest site to retrieve the shoeboxes, following the strategic plan developed by the volunteer National Leadership Team and Operation Christmas Child. Volunteer Ministry Partners may incur occasional in-country expenses such as fuel for a van or truck, or festive decorations and snacks for the outreach event.

“We are committed to upholding the integrity of every donation, as is demonstrated by our change to our training program, and we are diligent to cover as much costs as possible, avoiding any potential burden on local communities. We believe every shoebox gift is an opportunity to share the Gospel with a child in need worldwide.”