A Story of Simple Gifts

A new book by Franklin Graham celebrates 20 years of delivering shoebox gifts to children around the world

In an excerpt from his new book, Operation Christmas Child: A Story of Simple Gifts, Franklin Graham talks about the beginnings of what has become a worldwide ministry that has delivered over 100 million shoeboxes to children in over 130 countries.

BIG TROUBLE, BIG TASK, BIG THANKS

Days before Thanksgiving my secretary came through the door with a look on her face that I knew very well. “Do you remember that man from Britain that called you back in the summer asking for shoeboxes? He’s on the phone asking when you’ll be sending them—he’s leaving for Bosnia soon,” she stated with an air of “You’re in big trouble!” I had forgotten about it and now the Christmas season was fast approaching.

I picked up the phone. “Mr. Graham, how many shoeboxes have you collected?” I couldn’t let him down. His cause was worthy, so I said, “David, we’re working on it; I’ll get back to you.” He was thrilled and I was, well, in trouble.

“We’ve got to collect some shoeboxes—fast!” I said. We threw some ideas around and then called Ross Rhoads, senior pastor of Calvary Church in Charlotte, North Carolina. As always, Ross was glad to help and said, “Tell me what to do.”

“Get a shoebox and fill it with some little toys for kids—maybe some toothpaste and a toothbrush, a hair brush, and sock,” I suggested. “Take it to the pulpit on Sunday and show your congregation. Ask if they will help us collect shoebox gifts for the kids in Bosnia. And by the way, tell them to put a note inside with their picture so the child will know who the box is from—maybe some of the kids will write back.” Ross enthusiastically agreed. Then I called Sean Campbell, our executive director in Canada. “Sean, see what kind of response you can get from a church up there.”

I hung up and forgot about it again, until a few days after Thanksgiving. My secretary walked into my office and announced a call from Ross with that “you’re in trouble” look on her face. “Ross needs to talk to you.”

Picking up the phone, I heard his voice filled with troubled excitement. “Franklin, you’ve got to send someone down here to pick up all of these shoeboxes!”

“What do you mean?” I asked.

“Well, we’ve got shoeboxes stacked up in the gym, in the foyer, and in Sunday school rooms—they’re in the way.”

“So you’ve really been able to collect a few hundred boxes?” I asked.

“A few hundred?” Ross answered. “How about eleven thousand!” I was stunned. Ross had a big church, but eleven thousand in two weeks? He said, “Franklin, this is obviously something the Lord has blessed.”

Reflecting years later, Ross said, “All I did that Sunday morning was to show the congregation a shoebox Carol had packed and asked them to do the same. That afternoon, a member of the church with the Bible Broadcast Network (BBN) interviewed me and gave me the chance to tell about the project. We did not solicit for boxes nor was the church address given. Over the next several days, however, people began bringing shoeboxes to the church and deliveries were made daily by the post office and courier services. The church was known for ‘sending help,’ but
‘receiving’ was not something we were set up for.”

I said a great big thank you to Ross and then placed a call to David and reported the big news. Immediately, I sent my projects director (now vice president of projects and government relations) Kenney Isaacs to Charlotte to assess the situation. He called and said, “Franklin, you’re not going to believe this. People are really excited!”

This response was so overwhelming that Ross suggested I come on Sunday, December 12, to preach and thank the congregation.

HYPHENATED BY THE TURN OF THE CENTURY

That was twenty years ago. Two decades have passed—hyphenated by the turn of the century. Not every generation experiences living from one millennium to another. We have now surpassed that milestone and have come into the second decade of the twenty-first century, marking one hundred million shoebox gifts collected and delivered, representing an even larger number who have heard God’s message. When I look back on this project—Operation Christmas Child (OCC)—I think of the Scripture that says, “Oh, what God has done!” (Num. 23:23)

The Lord has blessed this outreach in numbers—monumental numbers. But more important, He has blessed it by changing hearts, one at a time. And in the twentieth year of Operation Christmas Child, we delivered the one hundred millionth shoebox!

There are miles of smiles that tell stories about changed lives, miles of oceans away. But it all started with:

One phone call
One request
One shoebox
One church
And one message about the Christmas Child
For one heart at a time
We pray that the heartbeat of the Gospel will stir the hearts of hundreds of millions more.

Come with us on this journey as we tell you about one profound truth that changes one life at a time.

Order your copy of Operation Christmas Child: A Story of Simple Gifts today. It’s a wonderful way to commemorate and celebrate as we approach National Collection Week, November 18-25.