Two decades after it started, Operation Christmas Child continues to deliver shoebox gifts and the Good News of Jesus Christ to boys and girls around the world
Twenty years ago, Franklin Graham made a promise to collect a few gifts for boys and girls in war-torn Bosnia. Today, Operation Christmas Child has become a year-round, international project, delivering millions of shoeboxes to children in nearly 100 countries each year.
In July 1993, a man from the United Kingdom named Dave Cooke reached out to Graham because he needed help collecting gifts to send to children in Bosnia. Graham promptly agreed, then—as he tells it—just as promptly pushed the project to the back of his mind and continued focusing on various other projects at Samaritan’s Purse.
Later that fall, Cooke called back asking when Samaritan’s Purse would send the gifts they collected. With the last-minute help of several pastors, Graham was able to deliver on his promise and sent 28,000 shoebox gifts for the children of Bosnia.
Twenty years later, more than 103 million shoebox gifts have been collected and delivered in more than 150 countries, each one representing an opportunity to proclaim the Gospel.
Whether their needs are physical or spiritual, the millions of boys and girls who have received shoeboxes have experienced powerful blessings through these simple gifts. Each gift is not only filled with toys, hygiene items, and school supplies, but also with the power of prayer.
“We ask people to pray as a family as you pack the boxes,” Graham said. “Pray that God would use them. And He does. We have seen miracle after miracle of how God has used a box.”
Twelve-year-old Dulce Maria lives in extreme poverty in Honduras with her father and four siblings. Her mother committed suicide in 2002 due to extreme depression over the family’s difficult financial situation. Her father takes her to school every day and then goes to do janitorial and maintenance work in households that hire him for a day.
Dulce Maria always wanted a doll, but her father couldn’t afford to buy her one. Imagine the surprise and delight she experienced when she received a shoebox gift, opened it, and saw a doll! Jumping for joy, she said it was the most beautiful one she had ever seen.
But her joy was not yet complete that day. The Gospel was shared during the distribution, and she learned more about Jesus through a children’s storybook offered with the shoebox. Dulce Maria went to her teacher and told her that she had received two gifts that day: the doll and eternal life in Christ.
No matter who packs them, from three former U.S. presidents to the family down the street, each gift-filled shoebox throughout the past 20 years represents the joy of one more child, like Dulce Maria, who has been reached with a tangible expression of God’s love.
“We are just getting started with Operation Christmas Child,” said Randy Riddle, director of the project’s domestic operations in the United States. “The potential is so great to reach more and more children.”
Our goal is to collect 9.8 million shoebox gifts from 11 countries this year. Click here to get started packing your own shoeboxes this season. The gifts will be delivered along with your prayers to places such as Argentina, Zimbabwe, Angola, Vietnam and more.
And after 20 years delivering shoeboxes to 75 percent of the countries around the world, the motivation for sharing the gifts has remained the same.
“I want the children of the world to know, I want their parents to know, that God loves them,” Graham said. “He cares for them, and He wants them to be with Him in heaven.”