By Vicki Stamps
ARNOLD—Handing decorated shoeboxes from one church member to the next, First Baptist Church, Arnold, packs prayer aand hope into each gift for Operation Christmas Child.
“Each year we form an assembly line from the pulpit to the trailer in back,” says Debbie Graham, worship associate and events coordinator. “We form a double line down the church aisle and each box is handed down the line and packed in the trailer during the commissioning service.”
The boxes are for Operation Christmas Child (OCC), the world’s largest Christmas project. The project is an outreach of the international Christian relief and evangelism organization Samaritan’s Purse, headed by Franklin Graham. The organization has collected and hand-delivered more than 68 million shoe box gifts to hurting children in some 130 countries since 1993.
Operation Christmas Child depends on the generosity of local children, families, churches, businesses, schools, and community groups to fill the shoe boxes 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.
“Operation Christmas Child is one of my joys,” Debbie Graham said. Graham enlisted the help of two project leaders, Dana Clements and Tryna Groat, to help get the word out and focus the effort.
Clements shares Graham’s passion for the program. “It is important for all churches to help children,” she said. “Filling boxes becomes infectious through the Arnold family. It is an important mission for us to share the love of Jesus around the world.”
According to Clements, one of the church members was able to locate a donation of 1,000 plastic totes to fill. “We’re planning to have a packing party on two different days to fill them. We are encouraging church members to bring in a variety of the items for the boxes.”
Barb O’ Dell, OCC project leader at Harvester Baptist Church, St. Charles, agrees that Operation Christmas Child is a great ministry for the entire church. “We set out wrapped boxes,” she said, “for the church to take and fill. We have all ages packing boxes from young boys and girls to the homebound class.”
O’Dell emphasized the major reason for packing boxes. “It is a good mission for us to do,” she said. “At least we can do this at our age. We all love to do it and it is so important because the OCC organization gives the Gospel booklet, ‘The Greatest Gift of All’ to each child with the box. It is our opportunity to tell boys and girls about Jesus.”
Jacolyn “Jackie” Bursmeyer, an International Mission Board missionary to Chile and a Missouri native, saw the impact of the boxes delivered on the mission field last year. “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.”
National Collection Week is Nov. 16-23. Collection sites for your area are available on the web site. For more information on how to participate in Operation Christmas Child, call 1-800-353-5949 or visit www.samaritanspurse.org.