Every year in November, I take my children to Walmart for a huge shopping spree. I have them pick out all kinds of small toys, crayons, paper, and stickers. I want them to find things they would enjoy. We also pick up practical things like toothbrushes, toothpaste, and socks.
But here’s the catch—none of it is for them.
Oh, they want it to be for them. They beg to keep some of it for themselves. But the rule on this particular trip is that we don’t buy anything for ourselves. I explain to them (repeatedly) that we are blessed beyond our needs, but there are many children who don’t have any toys at all.
We dedicate an entire shopping spree to buying gifts for children around the world. Many of these children have never received a gift of any kind their entire lives. Not a Christmas gift. Not a birthday present. Not even a small item as a reward or a tiny plastic toy from the dentist. Nothing. Ever. Can you imagine?
Every year, Samaritan’s Purse, launches Operation Christmas Child to demonstrate in a tangible way to children across the globe that Jesus loves and cares for them. Since 1993, over 124 million gift-filled shoeboxes have been packed, collected, and delivered to children in over 150 countries.
The stories of how lives have been eternally impacted by these simple gifts are incredible.
Take Luis for example. Living in Panama at age 6, Luis begged his mom for school supplies so he could attend school. She didn’t have the money, but told him he could pray if he wanted to. The next day, he received his shoebox containing pens, pencils, notebooks, crayons, and a sharpener. Luis was able to go to school because he received these basic supplies.
More than that, the note inside that spoke of Jesus’ love for him convinced his whole family that God is real. God answered the prayers of a non-believing mother and her son, enabling him to get an education. This changed the course of their lives forever.
Over 124 million children have been told how much Jesus loves them in a way they can connect with. That sounds like a lot of children, and it is—but there are so many more in need. According to UNICEF, there are 1 billion children living in poverty worldwide. That’s almost half of all children on planet earth. The numbers are staggering and overwhelming. It’s easy to look at the statistics and become paralyzed, thinking we are too small, too insignificant to make a difference. But we CAN make a difference. Just look at the joy radiating out from these children!
One thing I love about partnering with Operation Christmas Child is that my children learn at an early age in a tangible way that they can make a difference in the life of another child. Children are not too small to make an impact because our God is so big.
We packed our shoeboxes this past week. I always have each child pack a box for a boy or girl that is a similar age. As they choose gifts, and styles, and colors they prefer and then give those up to another child they don’t know, it makes an impression on them of how their sacrifice can bless someone else. (Not that not getting another toy is a huge sacrifice, but my youngest children think it is.)
I also always pack a box for a little boy in memory of our son, Timothy. It’s always a special time for me to honor his short life. He would have been born in November if he had lived long enough. I never got to buy a birthday gift for him, but I’m pleased to give to others on his behalf.
My older children have done this as far back as they can remember, but it’s still very new for my young ones. As humans, we are all naturally selfish. It takes intentional training to learn to think of others instead of only “me”.
Wednesday night after dinner, I gathered 6 of my children. My two oldest boys were at a men’s Bible study with their dad. As the family grows and the activity list lengthens, it gets harder and harder to get everyone together at the same time.
I’d like to tell you how we blissfully packed the shoe boxes with our hearts full of love in some sort of Norman Rockwellesque moment. But that would be a lie. With 6 children packing 9 boxes, things can get a little hectic. Halfway through, more children than not were bickering about who should pack what and which box each stuffed animal should go in and which box was for the older child and… well, you get the idea.
And I’d like to tell you that I handled the bickering like Pa Ingalls would and that maybe I even cited a Scripture or two. But I didn’t. I said very intensely (it wasn’t quite yelling), “If we try to serve other people in love while fussing about it the whole time, that makes Baby Jesus cry!” I know. I know. Totally unscriptural doctrine. In fact, I think I may have lifted that from a Simpsons episode. I’m not sure.
After dinnertime, I’m pretty much out of go-juice and not good for much of anything until the rest of the family is sound asleep. Then the hamsters in my head start running on their wheels and I’m wide awake and energized with thoughts I haven’t been able to think all day. But, I digress.
So in addition to learning about giving, we also got to learn about having a good attitude while serving others.
(Oh yeah, and I got to learn that I should do service projects with my children earlier in the day so as to avoid the awkward juxtaposition of serving Jesus and fussing at my fussy kids simultaneously.)
Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.
~ 2 Corinthians 9:7
It’s such a blessing to be able to reach across the world and tell a child he or she is loved by God. I’m so thankful that Samaritan’s Purse has given us this opportunity to minister to children worldwide in a very doable way. Really, we have no excuse not to pack a shoebox. They make it so easy.
- Get a shoebox. The plastic shoeboxes are nice because they serve a purpose beyond delivering the gift. Many children keep them for years and use them to carry water. You can buy them for less than a dollar.
- Choose a child. Decide whether you want to pack a box for a girl or boy. Also, pick an age range: 2-4, 5-9, or 10-14.
- Fill it with Gifts. Add fun toys, hygiene items, and school supplies. See more suggestions here. Please don’t pack any food, liquids, breakable items or war-related toys.
- Pray for the child. You will probably never know the child who gets your gift. But God knows every detail about that child—even the number of hairs on his or her head. I always like to pray that each child will receive just the right gift that they need or love. With as hectic as our shoebox packing party is, I’m glad it’s not all up to me to get the right item in the right box. God’s got this! Ultimately, He will accomplish His purposes through us even if we get mixed up on what item was intended for what box or if we have less than stellar attitudes while we do it. He just asks us to be available, not infallible.
- Include a note. You can write a personal message to your child and even send a picture of your family.
- Get a label. Each box costs just $7 for shipping expenses. You can donate online and receive a tracking label to follow your box. It’s fun to see where your box goes.
- Drop it off. Find a drop-off location near you and drop it off during National Collection Week, November 16-23.
Isn’t that easy? If you are just too overtaxed right now, but would still love to participate, you can even build a box online. For only $25, you can choose what goes in the box and someone else will purchase the items and pack the box for you. Like I said, no excuse! It’s so easy even children can do it with just a little help from you.
You cannot fathom the tremendous impact your gift will have in the lives of needy children and their families. Aren’t these precious boys the most adorable thing ever? I love those smiles!
And if you are able to do more, you can sign up to be part of the team of over 100,000 volunteers at over 4,000 collection sites in the US. If you live outside the US, there are also opportunities in other countries as well. Here is more information on volunteering.
Samaritan’s Purse is collecting shoeboxes until November 23 so there’s still time for you to join in and make a difference in the life of a child and his or her family.
Just remember: If you’re packing boxes with young children, do it early in the day while you’re still fresh. You don’t want to make Baby Jesus cry!
Make Jesus smile.
Pack a shoebox.Tell a child that he is loved by God.
Because that is the greatest truth we all need to know.