Operation Christmas Child aims to distribute its 168 millionth box in its 25th year

A young artist in Ukraine spent her time praying for art supplies that her family could not afford. Her prayer was answered when she received the gift of a shoebox with crayons, paint and brushes inside. This young girl is now an art teacher in Ohio and is sharing hope through her passion.

In the 25 years since the launch of the Samaritan’s Purse Operation Christmas Child ministry, children from over 150 countries have received over 157 million shoeboxes filled with hygiene products, toys, school supplies, notes and Bibles, many of which passed through the OCC processing center in Boone.

“Every time a shoebox is given, before the children receive the boxes now, they’re always going to hear a very clear gospel presentation by a trained minister that we have in every country,” Izabella McMillon, Samaritan’s Purse Speakers Bureau Manager for Operation Christmas Child, said.

OCC’s founder, Franklin Graham, began the ministry to help children in war zones and orphanages in countries like Bosnia and Romania, but OCC has grown to be more intentional with sharing the gospel and to include eight different processing centers across the globe, McMillon said.

Samaritan’s Purse has developed a 12-week discipleship program led by local pastors in each country called The Greatest Journey.

“This ministry wouldn’t be anything more than a humanitarian aid unless we attach the gospel to it,” McMillon said.

She added OCC seeks to express God’s love in tangible way through “very intentional evangelism, discipleship and multiplication.” Through the follow-up discipleship program, it aims to teach children how to live with Christ in their hearts and how to share that with others. Additionally, having pastors from the child’s own area provides them with guidance and support long after they receive the shoebox.

“This could not work with just headquarters, people running in and teaching the lesson and then leaving and coming back home,” McMillon said.

McMillon and other OCC volunteers, workers and donors have celebrated this 25th year and attributed the ministries success to God’s faithfulness, but they realize there is still a large portion of the world that has not heard the gospel of Christ.

“Even though we are growing every year, and we are delivering more and more shoeboxes, we are hardly scratching the surface with the children that need to be reached,” McMillon said. “There’s still a lot of work to get done.”

In addition to the evangelical work done in the over 100 countries that will receive boxes this year, a lot is done on the front half of distribution in churches and the processing centers around the world. The Samaritan’s Purse office and one of the eight processing centers is located in Boone and will host volunteers until Dec. 15.

Isabella Barker, junior accounting major, has made shoeboxes for OCC with her family every Christmas season since she was little, but this year she decided to apply to be a seasonal employee at the OCC processing center. It has been a lifelong dream of hers to hand-deliver a shoebox to a child.

“Those little things that you put in the boxes mean so much more to them than anything you give to a friend,” Barker said.

Barker said what has been really special to her is when the volunteers are packaging the boxes, they will stop every so often to pray over the boxes and the children who will be receiving them.

Additionally, the boxes can be tracked along with a $9 requested donation. OCC does this so the sender can be intentional about which region of the world or which country they can be praying for.

“So many people have come to know the Lord through shoeboxes, through the disaster relief system. It’s really incredible,” Barker said.

Story by Rachel Greenland 

Photo courtesy Operation Christmas Child 

Featured photo caption: Empty Operation Christmas Child boxes ready to be filled with donations.

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