By Craig Monger
Hundreds of thousands of Alabama’s citizens have a global impact without ever leaving the state.
Operation Christmas Child (OCC) is an international program of Samaritan’s Purse (SP), an international relief organization with which many Alabamians are familiar. Every year, many look forward to filling a shoebox with items like school supplies, toiletries, small toys, and other supplies. Once shoeboxes are packed, they are sent to one of 121 sorting facilities in Alabama. In 2020 alone over 250,000 shoeboxes came from this state. Nationally, OCC has over 4,000 sorting locations and over 270,000 volunteers. As shoeboxes are inspected and prepared for international shipping, sorting is halted every hour to pray for the children who will receive the boxes.
After a shoebox is sorted, it is then designated to be delivered to one of over 170 countries in which OCC operates.
Yet the story doesn’t stop there.
According to Dana Williams, a media coordinator with Samaritan's Purse, those who donate boxes may not realize the compounding effect that a seemingly small box can have for children in need. OCC has established networks of volunteers in over 170 countries. These networks are led by local pastors and church members who coordinate shoebox distribution to children throughout their country. Children are not only given a shoebox gift, but they hear the Gospel and often receive a copy of The Greatest Gift, a Gospel story booklet developed by Samaritan’s Purse in the recipient’s own language.
In many countries, children are also offered the opportunity to complete The Greatest Journey, a twelve-week discipleship course that instructs children in the Scripture and offers connection to the local church. Upon graduation from The Greatest Journey, children receive a copy of the New Testament in their own language.
A complete list of receiving countries is available on the SP website, with a list of custom box ideas for the different areas. SP provides a Follow Your Box feature to help those who have donated shoeboxes track it to its final destination.
There is an assured humanitarian aspect to OCC. The various amenities are of invaluable benefit to the children that receive them. However, the ultimate goal of OCC is to deliver the gospel to the children who receive the boxes. This is why, even after International Collection Week in the US on the third week of November, the work of SP pastors and missionaries continues year-round.
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