Samaritan’s Purse airlifts shoebox gifts to children displaced by ISIS militants
About 600 people celebrated the Samaritan’s Purse airlift of 60,000 Operation Christmas Child shoebox gifts to northern Iraq Wednesday morning at Baltimore-Washington International Airport. Braving a blustery and cold morning, they saw boxes loaded onto a jumbo jet and heard encouraging words from Samaritan’s Purse President Franklin Graham and others.
“I want to thank every person that’s packed a box. I want to thank every church, every pastor” Graham told the crowd. “It’s my prayer that this plane and the gifts that it carries will be used to bring hope to people who have very little hope. It will bring love to people who haven’t experienced very much love. And it’s my prayer, more than anything else, that every child will come to know there is a God, that God does loves them and does care for them, and that He sent His Son from heaven to this earth for us.”
Our local Christian partners in Iraq will distribute the gifts to children who have suffered tremendous loss—bringing a tangible demonstration of God’s love to conflict-weary little ones. Toys, school supplies, hygiene items, and personal notes in the shoeboxes are sure to bring some joy and comfort in this difficult season.
All displaced Iraqi kids have been stripped of their homes and most possessions; many endured difficult journeys to safety; some were further traumatized by seeing their parents or relatives killed or taken captive.
“Every year we ask people to pray, pray for the child who’s going to get the box. So as people pack the boxes, prayer goes with the boxes,” Graham said. “This year can you imagine 10 million people praying for 10 million children—what might God do for these children around the world?”
In total, Operation Christmas Child, a project of Samaritan’s Purse, will collect around 10 million shoeboxes in 2014 to be delivered to children in 120 countries. We opened a new shoebox gift-processing center in the Baltimore-Washington area this year and the first 60,000 boxes or so were designated for this airlift.
A Chance to Give Again
Among special guests at the airlift ceremony were several couples who have benefitted from Operation Heal Our Patriots—the Samaritan’s Purse project designed to share God’s healing love with wounded military personnel and their spouses.
Retired Army Specialist Sean Triplett, a native Marylander who was injured while serving in Iraq from 2006-2007, and his wife Michelle traveled to Alaska for a week of marriage enrichment through the project in June 2013. This year their family participated in Operation Christmas Child for the first time. Mackenzie, their 8-year-old daughter, and Andrew, their 5-year-old son, both packed boxes and delivered them at the event.
Mackenzie shared from the stage what she packed in her box, which included a small walking pony doll.
When asked what the airlift meant to him, Sean said: “Having served in Iraq, especially in Mosul and the northern cities up there, I remember giving school supplies and clothing and constructing the schools and how much it meant to them. To be a part of giving again means a lot to me.”
Mosul was overrun by jihadists of the self-designated Islamic State (ISIS) in June, and many children who will receive shoeboxes fled from that area.
Another special guest and friend of the ministry, Greta Van Susteren, host of On The Record on the Fox News channel, attended the sendoff ceremony and addressed the audience. She spoke of her trip with Franklin Graham to Erbil in northern Iraq in December 2013. They visited Syrian refugees who had fled to escape the violence in their homeland. Now, those seeking refuge there are Iraqis displaced within their own country by ISIS.
“When these kids get these gifts it will change their lives,” said Van Susteren, who has handed out shoeboxes in the Dominican Republic and Haiti. “I only wish I could distribute them and see those kids get them.”In January 2014, 60,000 shoebox gifts were sent to Iraq to bless Syrian refugee children. This latest shipment of 60,000 will build on the impact of that earlier airlift—again shining a light in the darkness.
More than 800,000 people are now seeking refuge in camps and unfinished buildings as ISIS fighters remain in control of large swaths of their country. Over the past several months Samaritan’s Purse has provided food, water, tents, a power generator, mattresses, playground equipment, kitchen kits, hygiene kits, and other relief.
As temperatures fall now in areas around Dohuk and Erbil, our ministry is focused on winterization—offering blankets, coats, children’s clothing, plastic insulation, and other items to displaced families from Christian, Yazidi, and other backgrounds. (The Yazidis are an unreached people group of ethnic Kurds who follow a unique and strange religion mixing elements of Zoroastrianism, Christianity, and Sufi Islam.) We airlifted eighty tons of relief for this purpose in mid-October and the last of those items were distributed during the first week of December.
Teaching Children to Be Givers
The ceremony started and ended with songs by 46 red-and-green-clad third-graders from the Annapolis Area Christian School. The school has packed Operation Christmas Child shoeboxes for the past 10 years.
“It’s a wonderful opportunity to teach our children, who have so much, that they can give to others,” said teacher Rene Wheeler, the school’s director of missions. “Most of all, we are training them to share the love of God with others in the world.”
Yuliya Shubina served as emcee of the event. She received a shoebox gift as a child in Central Asia,13 years ago that gave her the opportunity to learn about Christ. She now works with Samaritan’s Purse to share her story and to explain how one box can change a child’s life.
“God uses a simple box to introduce children to Jesus Christ, to give a moment of joy when joy is in short supply,” she said.
“Many of them (children in Iraq) are lonely and scared and need to know God loves them and has not forgotten them.”