By Melissa Hederman
How Can a Box of Crayons Share the Gospel to Children Across the World?
With the busy Christmas season just around the corner, many Mississippi families are looking for ways to serve others. For some folks that might mean purchasing turkeys or adopting a needy family—for others, it translates to time spent serving meals to the hungry or baking for shut-in neighbors. Christmas tends to bring out the best in us, and this time of year is a humbling reminder of the immeasurable riches of God’s grace given to us through His kindness in Christ Jesus.
For one ministry, the message of God’s love and grace is packaged in a shoebox and distributed around the world. Operation Christmas Child is a project of Samaritan’s Purse and is the world’s largest Christmas project of its kind. Since 1993, Operation Christmas Child has delivered gift-filled shoeboxes AND the gospel of Christ to more than 124 million children in over 150 countries and territories worldwide.
So how does a gift-filled shoebox share the Good News to children on the other side of the world? Well, it’s quite a journey!
Volunteers across Mississippi work year-round to share this “shoebox” ministry with churches, community groups, media outlets, and families who are excited about fulfilling the Great Commission. Leading up to the third week of November (this year, it’s November 16–23), the packing fun begins! Using garden-variety shoeboxes (duct tape or festive wrapping paper jazz them up considerably!), plastic shoeboxes with separate lids, or special red-and-green boxes printed and distributed by Operation Christmas Child (look for GO Boxes on the Samaritan’s Purse website), participants pack the boxes chock full of gifts for one special child.
Packers can choose whether they will pack for a girl or a boy, and the age category—ages 2–4, 5–9, or 10–14. Boxes should have a “wow” toy such as a doll, soccer ball with a pump, or stuffed animal, along with other fun toys, hygiene items, and school supplies. Many participants will include a family photo and personal note to the recipient. For each box, the most important component is prayer. Pray diligently for the child who will receive this specific gift of love! For many, this shoebox is the first gift that they have ever received.
The boxes can then be dropped off at any Relay or Collection Center during National Collection Week, where they are packaged into cartons and trucked to a Processing Center. There, each box is checked by hand and prepared for delivery.
In more than 100 destination countries, these shoebox gifts present an opportunity for Operation Christmas Child’s church partners to invite children into a deeper relationship with Jesus Christ. As shoebox gifts are distributed, local pastors or church leaders present the Gospel in a fun way designed for kids while family and friends listen.
Along with their shoebox gift, children also receive The Greatest Gift, a colorful presentation of the Gospel in their own language. School-age children are then led by trained, local volunteers through The Greatest Journey, a dynamic, 12-lesson Bible study course guiding the children through what it means to faithfully follow Jesus Christ.
Even before The Greatest Journey course is over, students begin witnessing to others. Then at graduation, the Gospel is shared with their friends and family again. The graduates also receive a New Testament (in their own language) to use personally and in communicating their faith to others. Through the efforts of local believers on Operation Christmas Child’s National Leadership Teams, entire communities are being evangelized as shoebox gifts are delivered. Some of these areas do not have any existing church.
So how does a box of crayons share the Gospel?
These gift-filled shoeboxes serve as a tangible inroad for evangelism. The shoebox gifts allow local churches access to places they might never be welcomed otherwise. In the hands of local churches, every shoebox is a powerful tool for evangelism and discipleship—transforming the lives of children and families through the Good News of Jesus Christ! As a result, lives are being changed for eternity and new churches are springing up in communities across the globe.
And while impacting 124 million children for Christ since 1993 is tremendous—the country of India alone has a population of over 350 million children—is there still a need? Undeniably, yes. There were 8 million boxes packed in the United States in 2014 (over 10.4 million worldwide), and the goal for 2015 is loftier!
Operation Christmas Child is praying for 8.6 million boxes to be packed in the United States in 2015 and 11 million worldwide. Until this Gospel of the kingdom is proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to ALL nations and the end comes, Christians must not relent in spreading the Good News—one shoebox at a time!
Melissa Hederman is the Central MS Area Coordinator for OCC. She and her husband, Arnie, have two children, Ash and Ellie, and live in Jackson.