A family in Illinois says that one of the best ways to reach out to their community has been to help children around the world through Operation Christmas Child.
Jonathan Gibbs, age 20, uses an ear-catching opening line when he speaks to groups about Operation Christmas Child.
“I’ve been involved in Operation Christmas Child for 21 years, and I’m only 20 years old.”
He gets to use that line a lot as a shoebox drop-off location coordinator for Operation Christmas Child in Algonquin, Illinois.
While the theater student has a flair for the dramatic, he isn’t overstating his parents’ enthusiasm for Operation Christmas Child, a project of Samaritan’s Purse.
“My mom packed a shoebox for me and sent it in my name,” he said.
For the Children
It was 21 years ago that Julie first packed three Operation Christmas Child shoeboxes in honor of each of her children. The gender category and age group of the boxes she packed matched that of her two oldest children. Pregnant with Jonathan, Julie also packed a shoebox for a 2- to 4-year-old boy to represent her unborn child.
“I never thought that these many years later, that would be the way Jonathan describes his start with Operation Christmas Child,” she said.
Since then, he’s been part of a shoebox-packing family.
“I’ve grown up with this,” Jonathan said of packing Operation Christmas Child shoeboxes. “It’s as normal an occurrence in our family as brushing our teeth.”
For the past 14 years, the family has manned a shoebox drop-off location during National Collection Week each November.
Both of Jonathan’s parents also serve as year-round Operation Christmas Child volunteers. His dad, Jeff, an Operation Christmas Child church relations coordinator, used to serve as a community relations coordinator, a role that his wife, Julie, now has. He and Julie also used to be drop-off location coordinators before they handed off that role to Jonathan.
Jonathan became interested in a leadership role himself at age 16 after taking a student missions trip in conjunction with Operation Christmas Child.
“I don’t just see it as a family tradition,” he said. “It’s a family legacy. It’s something that my parents have given to us for us to continue.”
The couple’s two other adult children have been involved in Operation Christmas Child as well. Their son Stephen has served as a project leader, coordinating his church’s shoebox collection efforts.
Instilling a love for packing shoeboxes into the next generation already has begun. Julie and her daughter, Nicole, take her 2-year-old granddaughter with them to shop for shoebox gift items. They hold up two similar items and have her choose which one to include.
“It’s a lesson in giving,” Julie said. “We tell her she isn’t picking out something for herself; she’s picking out a gift for someone else.”
It’s About Evangelism
For Jeff, what he’s been teaching his children isn’t only a love for shoebox gift giving. To him, it’s about passing on a love for evangelism—not only overseas but also in their community.
“Our neighbors all know this is what we do,” Jeff said. “Being involved lends itself to conversations in your community, explaining what you’re doing and why. It’s a very easy springboard to share the Gospel.”
Building relationships on this side of a shoebox is so important, Julie said, because shoeboxes are about caring.
“Being a drop-off location is missional in itself,” Julie said. “You are building relationships within your community. You meet people and get to know them, to pray with them, and to hear their needs and concerns. That means something.”
The key is to make shoebox gift giving personal, Jeff said, a gift from one person to another.
It Starts With One
As a church relations coordinator, Jeff’s favorite people to recruit into Operation Christmas Child volunteer roles are those who pack one shoebox.
He loves to ask them, “What if you can influence 100 people to bring a box?”
It isn’t as much about enlisting the involvement of hundreds of people, Jeff said, as it is encouraging one person to get involved a hundred times over.
Encouraging one person to reach another and seeing that action repeated has been the exciting part for the Gibbs family in being year-round volunteers with Operation Christmas Child.
“It’s gotten into our blood, and we love it,” Jeff said. “It brings a family together. It’s a great family ministry.”
Find out more about what’s involved in being a year-round volunteer with Operation Christmas Child.