RWANDA – The Journey of a shoebox begins in many Missouri Baptist churches. The manner of collecting the shoebox gifts for Operation Christmas Child, a project of Samaritan’s Purse, varies with each congregation.
“It is great to hear how a shoebox gift touched a young person,” Jesse Barnhart, pastor of Parker Road Baptist Church (PRBC), said, “and pointed them to follow Christ for the rest of their life.”
PRBC serves as a drop-off location as well as packing more than 1200 shoebox gifts. “Jim McCaughan oversees the drop-off location and the packing party for the collection,” Barnhart said. “He is our minister of missions and his goal is always ‘one more than last year.’”
According to Dana Clements, project leader at FBC Arnold, her church has a large churchwide packing party where they will pack 2100 shoeboxes and the goal for their total collection is 3100.
Another St. Louis drop-off location on Manchester Rd. during the National Collection Week is The Rock of St. Louis, a Baptist church with four locations.
“We collect items all year,” Beth McNamara, member and drop-off leader, said. “We have the children pack the items. The children are involved and excited. Watching the videos, the kids relate to the children and it really clicks with them. When the children move on, they still want to pack,” she said.
The second part of The Rock collection is churchwide. “We set boxes out in the church lobby,” McNamara said. “The church members pick them up and pack them to bring them back for our congregation to pray over them.”
After leaving the church, the shoebox gifts head to the Processing Center. Amy Schuler, member of FBC Ferguson, went to the Dallas Processing Center last year and she will lead a group to the Atlanta Processing Center this year.
“We check each box to be sure it is packed with everything appropriate for a child. We want to be sure each box has what a child needs and loves,” Schuler said, “and to be sure they meet the OCC guidelines for customs.”
“We open the box and our goal is to repack it just as we found it,” Schuler said. “We know God has a box for each special child. When we find items that must be removed like toothpaste, candy or war-related items, we replace it with another toy that has been donated for that purpose.”
The shoebox gifts are packed in shipping cartons to go to the more than 100 countries with hurting children.
A team of 100 volunteers and Samaritan’s Purse staff from 35 states followed shoeboxes to Rwanda in May to place shoebox gifts in the hands of children. Three Missouri Baptists were among that number plus one from Kansas City, Kansas.
Cheryl Melvin, member of FBC North Kansas City; Lynne Moll, member of The Ridge; Vicki Stamps, member of Fellowship of Wildwood; and Angie Moreno, member of Emmanuel Baptist Church of Overland Park, Kansas all serve as year-round volunteer area coordinators and made the trip to Rwanda.
The team placed shoeboxes in the hands of children as they said “Yesu ara-gu-kunda.” (Jesus loves you.) They saw the gospel presentations at each event and observed the well-trained teachers teaching scripture to the children. The team also attended one of the discipleship classes, a part of the 12-week discipleship program offered to the children.
Rwanda is one of the poorest countries in Africa. Prostitution, alcoholism and poverty are just a few of the difficulties having an impact on the lives of the children.
“It challenges me as a Christian how they managed to build their country back up in 20 years or so,” Melvin said. “Only God allows a country to rebuild, and only God individually rebuilds people’s souls and lives.”
At one of the outreach events, after gospel presentations, the pastor stepped around the children to the adults sitting in the back.
“Who wants to know Jesus?” he asked. Eighteen adults raised their hands.