Posted on : Wednesday December 9, 2009

By Sharon Mager, BCM/D Correspondent

COLUMBIA, Md.—They’re just simple shoeboxes, wrapped in Christmas paper and filled with crayons and coloring books, small toys and toiletries but they may be the first and only gift some children will ever receive. Operation Christmas Child, sponsored by Samaritan’s Purse, provides churches, individuals, families and community groups an opportunity to give these gifts to impoverished and hurting children around the world.

Joel Rainey and his wife, Amy

Joel Rainey and his wife, Amy

The program began in 1993 with 28,000 shoeboxes being delivered. In 2008, more than 7.9 million were received and transported to children throughout the world. Boxes are sent to various countries including: Azerbaijan, Belarus, Bosnia, Kenya, Kosova, Kyrgyzstan, Liberia, Montenegro, Mozambique, Romania, Serbia, Swaziland, Ukraine and Zimbabwe, China, Sudan, Afghanistan, Rwanda, Uganda, Honduras and Nicaragua.

Each year, at least 200 BCM/D churches collect shoeboxes for Operation Christmas child. They give to show Christ’s love and to provide families and individuals a simple, inexpensive, effective way to be on mission.

Some churches are taking another step and going to the processing center to help with the final preparations for shipping out those lovingly packed boxes. Those plant volunteers will be the last to touch the shoeboxes until a little boy or girl eagerly unwraps it.

Amy Rainey, wife of Mid-Maryland director of missions, Joel Rainey, leads a group of volunteers from Mid-Maryland Association (MMBA) each year to Charlotte, N.C., the local packing facility for the northeast.

“Once people actually get there and see it work, it’s almost an addiction,” Amy said. Volunteers always want to go back. In fact, she added, they bring back information from the plant to eagerly share with their churches, encouraging others to join in.

The volunteers check each box and remove any inappropriate items and add other small gifts, if necessary. They pray over the boxes, that God will use each one for His glory and that the hearts of the recipients will be tender.

In addition to the shoeboxes, the children receive a “Greatest Gift” book, that tells the story of Christ from His birth to His ascension.

“It’s a door opener for the Gospel. That’s the whole point behind it,” Amy explained.

The processing has been changed from year’s past, Amy said. Teams used to perform one part of the process along the line, but now, when a group goes in to work, they take care of it all and the packages are prepped, packed and ready to go international.

“By the time our team is finished, the box won’t be opened until the child opens it,” Amy said.

The trip offers participants a time to fellowship and enjoy some of the season together. Some workers wear Santa hats or reindeer ears as they work and Christmas carols play throughout the day.

It also offers opportunities to share the Gospel, even while packing. Amy said many temporary workers are hired to help with the work and many of those workers are not believers and are not affiliated with any church. Amy had an opportunity to share Christ with one of those temps.

“I was witnessing in a Samaritan’s Purse warehouse. If you keep your eyes open you can be on mission anywhere,” Amy said.

Twenty-eight volunteers from six churches, many outside of Mid-Maryland, will work at the plant during the first week of December.