Special Report

A Project of Samaritan's Purse

two Operation Christmas Child recipients

In 2020,
A Ray of Hope & Joy
Broke Through the Clouds

of Fear and Darkness

"I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like Me. I make known the end from the beginning, from ancient times, what is still to come. I say, 'My purpose will stand, and I will do all that I please' "—Isaiah 46:9-10 NIV

In 2020, a Ray of Hope & Joy Broke Through the Clouds of Fear and Darkness

"I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like Me. I make known the end from the beginning, from ancient times, what is still to come. I say, 'My purpose will stand, and I will do all that I please' "—Isaiah 46:9-10 NIV

2020 caught everyone by surprise. But not God. He's known about COVID-19 and the trials and challenges of this unprecedented year since before the beginning of time. He's always had 2020 vision. And we are thankful that part of that vision included using Samaritan's Purse to take the Gospel of Jesus Christ to the ends of the earth through Operation Christmas Child, even in a pandemic year!

With the novel coronavirus spreading sickness and fear, children needed hope now more than ever. Were there challenges? Yes. Over 100 of the countries we worked in this year were locked down in March. "But with God all things are possible" (Matthew 19:26), and we saw God work time and again all around the world opening doors wide to usher in Good News and great joy!

two men unloading a shipment of Operation Christmas Child boxes
Ministry partners in Palau prepare to unload the first cartons of shoebox gifts to ever be distributed on the island nation.
Children in Guam participating in a worship service

Children in Guam participate in a dynamic worship service at Life in the Son Christian Fellowship before receiving shoebox gifts filled with fun toys, school supplies, and hygiene items.

Mission Not Impossible

If any place can be called the end of the earth it's Wotje—a tiny atoll that is part of the Marshall Islands in the North Pacific. This summer, 340 children—most of them orphans—attended a festive Operation Christmas Child outreach event and received gift-filled shoeboxes. Many of them didn’t know what a gift was until they lifted the lid of their box. "Through the gifts you can see the brightness in their eyes and the excitement they see when they discover that someone really loves them," one ministry partner said. "It's the love of God in a tangible way. You feel it right there in front of them in their hands. They are overwhelmed."

“You shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” —Acts 1:8
Operation Christmas Child boxes on a boat
Marshall Islands
Cartons of shoeboxes travel by sea to reach children on remote islands with the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
Samaritan's Purse President Franklin Graham with children from Guam

Samaritan's Purse President Franklin Graham shares in the great joy children experienced when they opened their shoeboxes at Life in the Son Christian Fellowship.

A student with her favorite shoebox gift
A student at Peleliu Elementary School in Palau hugs a favorite shoebox gift. The festive outreach event was the first ever in Palau.

Throughout the Pacific, we saw God powerfully at work. On Guam, local pastor Andy Loos reported "seeing salvation come not just to one or two children, but to whole families through Operation Christmas Child."

The same proved true on Palau where the first shoeboxes in that country were handed out. Rengesuul Yobech, our field representative of the region, was overwhelmed by what he saw and was deeply appreciative. "I want to thank all of the people who pack shoeboxes," he said. "You are touching many lives. God is doing a great work through you." In all, shoeboxes were distributed on over 200 Pacific islands in 2020!

a girl with her favorite shoebox gift

A girl hugs a favorite toy she received in her shoebox.

“Those who have never been told of Him will see, and those who have never heard will understand” —Romans 15:21 ESV

We also witnessed God move mightily in South Asia where half of the unreached people groups in the world live. The Lord opened the way for us to visit 55 of these groups and proclaim the Gospel among them. In one extremely poor community the people lived in patchwork huts. Children had no shoes and wore rags for clothing. There were no schools for them to attend. They had never received a gift—until they opened their shoeboxes! "The joy on their faces was incredible," a ministry partner said. And many of the boys and girls enthusiastically responded to the Gospel. As a result, a door is now open to the Good News in these regions so that "those who have never been told of Him will see, and those who have never heard will understand" (Romans 15:21 ESV).

a girl in Saipan with her gifts
A shoebox recipient in Saipan proudly shows off the gifts she received.
a boy in Saipan learning about Jesus
Children at Cornerstone Christian Church in Saipan learned how to become faithful followers of Jesus through The Greatest Journey.
a girl with her new hairbrush
A gift as simple as a hairbrush brings great joy to children who have very little.
children opening their shoebox gifts

Dominican Republic
Children are thrilled when they open their gift-filled Operation Christmas Child shoeboxes!

OCC Shoebox Icon

Getting Creative

a girl holding her shoebox

Though COVID-19 presented many challenges, our National Leadership Teams around the world prayed and found creative solutions to bring hope to children! Shoebox distributions may have looked a little different this year, but the same powerful message of the Gospel was shared.

In Thailand, there was a mandatory lockdown, and it looked like shoeboxes weren't going to be delivered. But over 4,000 of God's people in that country prayed for doors to be opened for Operation Christmas Child. And they were! Circumstances changed and the government was able to cancel the lockdown so that outreach events could be held. The result? Over 8,000 children responded to the Gospel and accepted Christ as their Lord and Savior!

“Let the little children come to Me, and do not forbid them; for of such is the kingdom of God” —Mark 10:14
a girl showing off her gift

A girl excitedly shows off the "wow" toy she found in her shoebox gift.

Lockdowns, of course, did occur across the globe and made it difficult for children to gather together. In Mexico, ministry partners brought kids together through an online prayer group. Over 200 believing boys and girls participated and prayed for the needs around them and for the children who would receive shoeboxes. Watch a portion of their inspiring prayer group, and you'll discover anew why Jesus said, "Let the little children come to Me, and do not forbid them; for of such is the kingdom of God" (Mark 10:14).

In other places, like Paraguay, where large gatherings weren't permitted, our national leadership teams and volunteers found creative ways to minister, including wearing masks and going door-to-door to share the Gospel and hand out shoeboxes in a safe way. In one difficult-to-access country, a large outreach event was planned, but it was canceled when the government restricted public gatherings. "I was so disappointed," a ministry partner said. "But God had a better plan, because we now had a chance to have socially distanced visits with the children right in their homes, tell them the Good News, get to know them better, and talk with their parents."

a girl with her shoebox

This girl is one of more than 50 million children in North, Central, and South America and the Caribbean to receive a gift-filled Operation Christmas Child shoebox since 1993.

The Greatest Journey

The pandemic didn't impede our efforts to disciple children in 2020 through The Greatest Journey, the 12-lesson Bible course for shoebox recipients that teaches kids how to become faithful followers of Jesus and how to share Him with others. In all, over 3.5 million children participated in The Greatest Journey in 2020 and over 1.3 million came to faith in Jesus!

a class learning about The Greatest Journey
Dominican Republic
This class of The Greatest Journey is one of more than 190,000 groups of children who take the follow-up discipleship course each year.
a girl in Saipan participating in The Greatest Journey

This girl is one of over 3.5 million children who participated in The Greatest Journey in 2020.

Around the world, we saw God who "performs wonders that cannot be fathomed, miracles that cannot be counted" (Job 5:9 NIV) do mighty and miraculous things. In Panama, 11-year-old Maike began The Greatest Journey but soon become very ill and was diagnosed with Stage 3 cancer. But he wanted to complete the course—and he did so from his hospital bed.

Unfortunately, his condition worsened. His doctors sent him home and gave him very little time to live. His Greatest Journey teacher prepared a special graduation ceremony for him and asked a pastor who is one of our ministry partners there to pray for Maike's healing and for salvation to come to his family. And God answered both prayers! Today, Maike is cancer free, and his entire family are Christ followers.

“He performs wonders that cannot be fathomed, miracles that cannot be counted” —Job 5:9 NIV
children learning about The Greatest Journey

Cornerstone Christian Church in Saipan was badly damaged by a typhoon but that didn't stop The Greatest Journey from being taught outside while the church underwent repairs.

Over in Uganda, boxes were handed out to over 300 refugee children and 250 of them completed The Greatest Journey. At the graduation ceremony there was just enough food to feed the graduates, but hundreds of other children showed up. Our ministry partners didn't turn away a single child. They trusted God, and 750 children were fed from the food that had been prepared. Praise God!

children in Africa with their shoeboxes
Boys and girls rejoice over the opportunity to receive shoebox gifts and hear the message of the Gospel of Jesus Christ!

Last year in a Tanzanian village, local elders became angry when the Gospel was shared, and they took all of The Greatest Journey materials and burned them. But later they saw how blessed the children in the village were by the shoebox gifts so they allowed another distribution to take place this year. At the event, the elders listened to the Gospel message and gave their overwhelming approval to Operation Christmas Child. Now, the elders are reading the discipleship materials themselves!

a boy in Africa with his Greatest Journey workbook

Students who enroll in The Greatest Journey receive a colorful workbook that helps to guide them in how to follow Christ and share Him with others.

children in Ecuador learning about Jesus
Neighborhood children in Ecuador gather each week on the front porch belonging to a kind lady named Flora to learn more about Jesus through The Greatest Journey.

In Colombia, a boy who came to Christ through The Greatest Journey began praying for his parents who were struggling with drug dependency. As a result, his mother and father accepted the Lord and now are in a Bible study begun by our ministry partners and are leaders in a drug rehabilitation center. A new church was also started as an outgrowth of the ministry. "One of our original prayers was that The Greatest Journey experience would bring whole families together," said a prayer coordinator. "And God answered!"

Edward and Kristy Graham congratulating children

Edward and Kristy Graham congratulate students who graduated from The Greatest Journey in Ecuador.

Stepping Up to Pack

With lockdowns, quarantines, and store closings across the U.S. and other countries, the question arose whether or not people would pack shoeboxes this year. We needn't have been concerned. God purposefully moved upon the hearts of His people, and they responded with great passion—and millions and millions of shoeboxes!

shoebox volunteers

United States
Local guidelines were followed and over 51,000 people volunteered to inspect shoeboxes at eight different processing centers across the country this year.

Amanda Urgolites, a 24-year-old Pennsylvania woman, believed that more shoeboxes were going to be needed this year because of COVID so, despite being confined to a wheelchair with often debilitating pain, she sewed nearly 1,500 sturdy bags, backpacks, and aprons to put in over 1,000 shoeboxes.

Amanda Urgolites
Amanda Urgolites proudly shows off one of the nearly 1,500 bags, backpacks, and aprons she sewed to put in shoeboxes.
colorful jump ropes
Colorful jump ropes are just one of the many fun items that Amanda and her family packed in their shoeboxes for children in need.
colorful items for shoeboxes
Amanda and her family buy items for shoebox gifts throughout the year and donate them to two local churches that combine to annually pack over 1,000 boxes.

A California family of eight chose not to receive birthday or Christmas presents and instead shopped for shoeboxes—and packed 525 of them! And 82-year-old Mary Bird in Cuero, Texas, used Operation Christmas Child to minister to older folks in her church by converting her home into a shoebox-packing spot during the pandemic. People signed up to prepare boxes in one-hour increments. While they packed, Mary visited with them and prayed for them, while staying six feet away. For many of these individuals it was the only time they ventured outside and was their only social interaction. In all, over 1,000 boxes were packed in Mary's home!

volunteers carefully packing shoeboxes

United States
Before a shoebox gift can be delivered to a child in need, it is carefully inspected and prepared for international shipment.

Churches also came up with creative ways to pack boxes while staying socially distanced. Calvary Salt Lake Church in Utah prepared hundreds of shoebox bundles—complete with empty boxes, quality gifts to pack them full, and instructions—and coordinated designated times for families to pick them up and return them.

Alison Long and her husband, Terry
Alison Long and her husband, Terry, of Calvary Salt Lake stored their Operation Christmas Child shoebox items in this shipping container until they distributed them to their community in bundles to pack and send to children in need.

At Milan Baptist in Maynardville, Tennessee, church members signed up for specific times to pack boxes (1,500 of them!) in their fellowship hall to ensure that everyone remained safe, and at Grace Baptist Church in Wild Peach, Texas, the congregation of less than 50 people didn't let the virus stop them from packing over 12,000 shoeboxes—and they have already prepared over 1,300 boxes for 2021!

a family packing shoeboxes

United States
Packing shoeboxes is a great family activity and a fun way to teach kids about giving.

But these millions of shoeboxes needed to be collected and processed. Seventy thousand volunteers were required to staff our 4,000-plus drop-off locations around the U.S. and thousands more would be necessary to inspect the boxes at our eight processing centers. Again, God's people rose to the occasion, and every collection site and every processing center was staffed. Over 51,000 volunteers processed boxes at our eight locations!

At our center in Fullerton, Calif., Christian recording artist Jeremy Camp saw the importance of processing boxes and brought his family to help. "This is about serving and giving the Gospel of Jesus Christ around the world," he said. "It's an act of kindness, an act of love—the love of Jesus."

At our newest Samaritan's Purse affiliate office in South Korea, November 11 was an "historic and wonderful day," our staff there said. Why? Because the first-ever shoeboxes packed in that country were brought in for processing! In all, nearly 3,000 boxes were processed during the office's first year. Praise the Lord!

a Romanian girl with her shoebox
This girl is one of over 6.6 million children in Romania who have received a gift-filled shoebox given in Jesus' Name.
a girl in Liberia with her shoebox

More than 1 million children in Liberia have received a shoebox gift from Samaritan’s Purse since 1993.

Over in Germany, Ani, a young woman from Armenia who came to the country to do volunteer work, learned that her host family was involved with Operation Christmas Child. Ani was so excited because when she was 12 years old she received a shoebox, and it changed her life. Now, she is volunteering in our German office and sharing her story. "I received a shoebox when I was younger," she said. "Now, I want to be on the other side and help—like a boomerang." And help was one thing the German office desperately needed. Would anyone volunteer this year? They took their request to the Lord, and He raised up 3,000 volunteers! Exciting reports also came in from our offices in Canada, the United Kingdom, and Australia/New Zealand, too!

Ani and her sister and father
Ani and her sister and father.
Ani volunteering in Germany
Ani, a young woman from Armenia who is now volunteering in our German office after receiving a shoebox as a child.
a boy in Ecuador with his shoebox gifts

For many children in Ecuador, the gifts inside of their Operation Christmas Child shoebox are the first they have ever received.

Unified for the Gospel

As we look back on 2020, we praise God that over 1.3 million decisions for Christ were made, over 3.5 million children were discipled, and over 9 million gifts were packed, collected, and processed! And although many training sessions had to be conducted online, it actually brought teams closer together as they shared burdens and challenges, and fervently prayed for one another. As one leader said, "God used this year to strengthen His church and lay a strong foundation for future ministry. Although we were apart, we were more unified than ever."

children praying
Children pray at an Operation Christmas Child outreach event in Guam.
Operation Christmas Child Logo

Following a festive outreach event in South Ukraine, a volunteer prayer coordinator perfectly summed up what God did through Operation Christmas Child in 2020: "So many children and their parents were blessed to hear the Word of God and to feel His love. The children reacted in a special way to the Gospel and to the gift boxes, because after isolation and constant fear a ray of hope and joy broke through the clouds of fear and darkness."

To God be the glory!

*Please note: Some photos taken prior to pandemic restrictions.