There’s something inherently special about opening up a shoebox and putting on a new pair of shoes. It may symbolize a rite of passage, like the first day of school; a special occasion, like a wedding or anniversary dinner; or a significant change, like the start of a new career.
When a child in an underdeveloped country opens a shoebox delivered through Operation Christmas Child, sure, she may find a new pair of shoes. But she also may find a baby doll to cradle at night, a plastic bowl to hold her meals, or a brush to comb her hair. In fact, that shoebox just might carry something that could change her life.
“So many of these children have never been given a gift,” said Baldwin EMC Operations Assistant Kathy McGrew. “The boxes hold these little things we take for granted, but that mean so much to them. It’s not just about the hat or the soccer ball or the toothbrush, it’s knowing that someone out there is thinking about them, and just knowing that can change their world.”
McGrew was introduced to Operation Christmas Child several years ago when her church organized a group of volunteers to collect items and pack shoeboxes to donate to the program.
“I didn’t really know much about how the organization operated at the time, I just knew these shoeboxes were distributed all over the world and I thought it was such a unique ministry,” McGrew said. “But after participating for a couple of years, I was interested in finding out more and I started doing a little research.”
McGrew soon realized she wanted to play a more instrumental role in the program, and she now serves as a year-round volunteer of the Southwest Alabama Team, which consists of volunteers in Baldwin, Mobile and Washington counties. Just last year the team collected 23,000 boxes in the region, which were ultimately part of the 11 million boxes that were collected worldwide and distributed from various processing centers across the nation.
“Your level of participation can be whatever you want it to be,” McGrew said. “We, of course, need people to pack the shoeboxes, but those who are year-round volunteers work to promote the ministry and help to educate people about how it works. I had no idea how much went into it until I became plugged in. I think when people find out the full scope of the program, they want to get more involved.”
And just what is it about the shoebox that makes it so special?
“It’s the vehicle that carries the Gospel,” McGrew said.
Indeed, each shoebox also includes a booklet about the Gospel that is written in the child’s native language. The shoeboxes are handed out during the Christmas season at events held at distribution centers around the world, where a pastor or missionary has already made a connection with the community. The children can even opt to participate in a 12-week discipleship course, complete with a graduation ceremony, called “The Greatest Journey.”
Since becoming involved with Operation Christmas Child, McGrew said her greatest joy comes from knowing that each shoebox has the potential to change a child’s life…and the lives of his or her family.
“I’ve had the opportunity to meet what we call ‘full circle’ speakers,” she said, describing individuals who received a shoebox as a child and have now grown up to represent the organization and speak at engagements to promote the program. “There was a young man from Rwanda whose family was killed in the genocide, and a young woman from Romania who was in an orphanage at the time she received her box. As adults, they both spoke about how those shoeboxes changed everything for them – they’re whole life course shifted from one small gift.
“There’s a mandate for Christians to carry the Gospel to all the world. If we can’t go to the mission field, we can certainly send a shoebox. The way I see it, everybody can do something to help somebody else. What kind of world would this be if people didn’t help other people?”
Operation Christmas Child is a ministry of Samaritan’s Purse® International Relief. It was launched in 1993 and is now celebrating its 25th year. Do you want to get involved? National Collection Week is held in November, about a month before the Christmas holiday, but volunteers begin purchasing items in January and spread their shopping throughout the year to take advantage of sales on seasonal items. For more information on Samaritan’s Purse and the Operation Christmas Child program, visit www.samaritanspurse.org/operation-christmas-child/.