Operation Christmas Child shoebox gifts built online allow the light of God’s love to penetrate some of the darkest places on earth
Names in this story have been changed for security reasons
Armeen will never forget the day he received his first ever Christmas gift. He was 11 when he was given a special shoebox full of toys and other small items. He loved all of the items in his shoebox, but the thing Armeen most remembers is the note.
“I want to be your friend,” it said.
Armeen couldn’t stop thinking about it. He wondered why a stranger would send him a gift. Someone explained that it was from a family in the United States who wanted to show Armeen how much God loved him and tell him about God’s son, Jesus.
“It showed me pure love, like how God loves us,” Armeen said. “I received Jesus, and now I know what is love.”
Throughout the world, local churches usually distribute Operation Christmas Child shoebox gifts at special events where they also share the Gospel. Although every gift is important, only certain shoeboxes give partners in some of the world’s most closed countries—like Armeen’s—the ability to share the message of God’s love with children and their families in countries where openly converting to Christianity can be a death sentence.
When shoeboxes are sent through the Samaritan’s Purse Build a Shoebox Online webpage, the gift options have been carefully chosen to be free of culturally taboo items such as certain dolls, toys, and crosses. In some countries, items like those could prevent the importation of thousands of shoeboxes and leave many children without the blessing of a gift. Shoeboxes built online allow the gifts to easily clear customs.
“We’re trying to give the believers on the ground a platform to share the Gospel in a way that’s culturally sensitive,” said Jalal, an Operation Christmas Child contact working in a region where several countries receive shoeboxes that have been built online.
In sensitive areas, challenges to freedom of religious expression arise from governmental and religious authorities that try to restrict the movements of Christian believers and churches. Still, project partners in these challenging regions are determined to demonstrate to children and families that God loves them.
Through the shoeboxes that are built online, they can show this love by giving gifts, despite living in countries that are traditionally hostile toward the message of Jesus Christ.
“For us, it opens wide doors and new opportunities to show the love of Christ,” said one partner.
The love demonstrated is not only impactful on families, but on non-Christian religious leaders and politicians.
A religious leader in Mikail’s country showed up at one distribution where the Jesus film was shown. As the leader watched it, he started to cry. He approached a member of the local team, asked for a Bible, and said he wanted to follow Jesus.
While extremists have hurt and killed many people in that country, people are seeing Christians giving gifts and a message of hope and love.
“When they see what the church is doing and how it’s showing love through gifts, it demonstrates to the people the difference between Christianity and other faiths,” Mikail said. “These boxes are making a huge difference in the kids. There is a huge need inside to know that they are not forgotten. It’s a great message that there’s a God who loves them. To show that we and the people who sent the gifts love them and care for them, that will help change the image that has been instilled.”
In Eastern Europe, a team of Operation Christmas Child national partners said that shoeboxes provide the best opportunities to share the Gospel.
“We have many doors open where we can go freely and tell people about God,” Georgiy said. “Like Jesus said, when people see our good work they’ll praise our Father. The boxes bring a great opportunity to witness to people with good work.”
Arash explained that shoeboxes are often the only exposure that children living in his country may have to Jesus Christ.
“I believe that the shoeboxes show the great power of God,” he said. “When we bring the presents, sometimes we cannot preach. Sometimes we just say to them that it’s from children in America that love you, because they love God. We cannot say so much about Jesus, but the one thing for sure is that we can come back to those families again because the gift opens the door to their hearts.”
Abbas, a partner in South Asia, said his greatest joy is that the children can hear about Jesus when they receive a shoebox.
“It’s also an opening for us to reach them with the Gospel,” he said. “It’s far better than any gift, so I believe it is making a difference.”
In another country, Cherif credits Operation Christmas Child as being the ticket that has allowed them to go into schools and share the Gospel.
“Imagine the power this small gift is having,” he said. “I never thought such a small gift can help do such things.”
In some countries, Operation Christmas Child partners have seen other groups giving gifts to children in villages. With them, however, there is a caveat. A child must be a member of their religion to receive a gift.
Operation Christmas Child shoeboxes are freely given to any child regardless of religion. They are also given without strings attached—children are told the boxes are given to show the love of Jesus, but they are not coerced to believe in Him.
Receiving the specially designed shoebox gifts helps local Christians like Jacqueline be accepted among people who were previously hostile toward them and their faith.
“Wherever we go with the boxes, people are happy and they welcome us,” she said. “It’s a springboard to take the Gospel to the children.”
In her country, and so many restricted environments around the world, local believers cannot be vocal about their faith. In such areas, the shoeboxes that have been built online become like keys to closed doors.
“There’s just so many misperceptions about who God is, and what it means to be loved by Him,” Jalal said. “There’s so many closed doors to the truth here, and we’ve got a lot of work to do.”