Samaritan’s Purse President Franklin Graham addresses Operation Christmas Child volunteers and staff in CharlotteYou Can Still Pack a Shoebox
Franklin Graham was in Charlotte today to encourage volunteers and staff as they prepare Operation Christmas Child shoebox gifts for worldwide distribution to children in need. Graham is visiting four of our eight shoebox processing centers across the country to encourage thousands of volunteers who will be busy over the next several weeks inspecting and readying millions of shoeboxes.
This year Samaritan’s Purse expects to collect 12 million Operation Christmas Child shoebox gifts that will be delivered to children in more than 100 countries. The shoeboxes are an opportunity to communicate God’s love and to share the Gospel with children in some of the world’s poorest, hardest-to-reach communities.
“Every box is a tool for evangelism,” Graham said. “It is an opportunity to touch a child in such a way to introduce to them the Savior of the world.”
Graham thanked the volunteers for their hard work and commitment.
“Every year I am amazed at the volunteers who come and work hour after hour, some for days,” he said. “We couldn’t do this without you.”
Helping Graham lead the events are the Tommy Coomes Band and guitarist Dennis Agajanian. The Tommy Coomes Band recently participated in a shoebox distribution in the Southeast Asian nation of Myanmar.
“They’re [the children] not only getting gifts, they’re getting the Good News of the Gospel—that God loves them and has a plan for their life,” said band member John Barbour.
Also participating today was the children’s choir from United Faith Christian Academy.
A Simple Gift
Graham was joined today by year-round volunteers and shoebox recipients such as Vladimir Prokhnevskiy, who received a shoebox gift at age 9 while living in Ukraine. Vladimir grew up in a three-bedroom apartment with his parents and eight siblings.
“It was a hard time for us,” he said. “We grew up very poor. We survived on potatoes and rice.”
Vladimir had to share shoes and even his toothbrush with several of his siblings. With his parents struggling to provide food, there wasn’t money for anything beyond necessity.
“Getting gifts was rare,” he said. “We never had gifts.”
Vladimir still remembers the brutally cold winter night when he rode a bus and then a train to reach the church where the shoebox distribution would be held. The colorful presents and gifts inside provided Vladimir and the other children a momentary escape from their struggles.
“We were just being kids,” Vladimir said about that special night.
But what Vladimir remembers most is how special he felt.
“They [church leaders] showed us unconditional love and presented the Gospel to us,” he said.
Vladimir and his family moved to the United States in 2000, and he now works at the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association.
The power of a simple shoebox gift is why volunteers like Cindy Koontz serve with Operation Christmas Child. Koontz and about 15 volunteers from the area of Hagerstown, Indiana, made the nine-hour drive to Charlotte to help process shoeboxes. For the past seven years, Cindy and a group from her church and several nearby churches have volunteered in Charlotte.
“We developed a love for Operation Christmas Child,” Cindy said. “Once you start, it’s in your heart. We’re going to keep doing it.”
This year Cindy’s church, New Testament Church of Christ, packed 435 shoebox gifts.
“These boxes are missionary tools,” she said. “They are a gift of Christ going to all corners of the world.”
In their group was Greg Hellwarth, a spine surgeon who was introduced to Samaritan’s Purse in 1993. Greg served with World Medical Mission for one month in Kijabe, Kenya, and over the years has since made more than a dozen trips.
“Kenya has become my home away from home,” Greg said.
He’s enjoyed packing shoeboxes and volunteering at the processing center.
“There’s a spot for everyone to come and serve,” Greg said.
“God Called Me Back”
Don Hoggard attended today’s event with a group from his church in Colerain, North Carolina. This is Don’s first year and the group’s second volunteering at the processing center. Don has enjoyed packing shoebox gifts because it’s about “spreading the Gospel.”
Don’s church, Elm Grove, has packed shoeboxes for a number of years, but Don only recently got involved. Although Don grew up in church, he had walked away from God.
Don said God used something terrible to bring good and to turn his life around. In 2011, Don’s home was destroyed by tornadoes. When an army of Samaritan’s Purse volunteers showed up at his door to help, he was so overwhelmed with gratitude that he became a volunteer himself.
Don and his wife have since volunteered with Samaritan’s Purse disaster relief all over the country, from Texas and Arkansas to Mississippi and South Carolina.
It was during a morning devotion about five years ago, before his team went out to work on a rebuild project, that Don couldn’t ignore the Holy Spirit’s presence.
“That was the first time in a long time that I felt the Holy Spirit in my life,” Don said. “God called me back to Him.”
Last week, Graham kicked off his nationwide tour at our processing centers in Denver, Colorado, and Orange County, California. He was joined by year-round volunteers and shoebox recipients such as Yves, who was given a shoebox 10 years ago while living in Togo in West Africa. As a result of God working through that shoebox distribution and the Gospel being shared, three churches were started in areas once heavily influenced by witch doctors.
“The shoebox turned my world upside down and my life right side up,” Yves said. “I put my faith in Christ later that year.”
Most children who receive a shoebox also receive “The Greatest Gift” booklet written in their language. Many children are also invited to participate in The Greatest Journey, a 12-lesson discipleship course that teaches children how to faithfully follow Jesus. More than 7 million children have participated in The Greatest Journey.
“The verses the children memorize [during The Greatest Journey] will help them share the Gospel with their family and friends,” Graham said.
It’s not too late to join the excitement of Operation Christmas Child. You can still help bring Good News and great joy to a child who needs to experience God’s love by building a shoebox gift online or purchasing gift cards for family and friends so they can build a shoebox online.
We’re still accepting volunteers at processing centers. You can register now to volunteer.
Please pray for the more than 80,000 volunteers who will serve at the eight Operation Christmas Child processing centers. Please pray for the children who will receive these shoebox gifts. Pray that God will bring salvation to children, families, and communities all over the world.