Samaritan’s Purse Made My Christmas
I want to offer my Yuletide thanks to Franklin Graham, the hard-working staff of Samaritan’s Purse, and the millions who donated gift-filled shoeboxes to Operation Christmas Child in 2023. Two Fridays ago, I went with a friend, my former Family Research Council colleague Peter Sprigg, to put in an afternoon working at Samaritan’s Purse’s Baltimore Processing Center.
Peter’s wife, Kristen, works for Samaritan’s Purse’s Operation Christmas Child, so the opportunity arose this year to go to the closest of the eight regional processing centers and work for an afternoon. We went there for four hours to join with many dozens of other people who were inspecting, taping, and boxing thousands of the individual shoeboxes that had each been filled with numerous gifts. After being processed, each box travels around the world and reaches boys or girls in one of three age groups.
The scale and sophistication of the operation was staggering: conveyor belts, processing lines, laser readers for digital tracking codes on each box. I felt like I might be in the Amazon warehouse we passed along the drive to Sparrows Point south of Baltimore. The day I worked at Sparrows Point, the three shifts — including mine — processed over 42,000 shoeboxes. They were bound for Botswana.
The boxes are not intended to merely provide gifts to children — as generous as that would be. They are given to them with the assistance of local churches who use them to introduce children to the gospel and illustrate that Jesus is the ultimate gift for all the children in the world. Occasionally, everyone would stop to pray that the boxes they were working on would have the intended effect of delivering the Good News of Jesus Christ to the children receiving them. The men and women I met took that purpose seriously — always laying hands on boxes and larger outbound containers.
According to the program’s website, Operation Christmas Child was begun in 1990 in Wales by Dave and Jill Cooke. Three years later, a partnership was formed with Samaritan’s Purse allowing SP to benefit from their “20 years of expertise in relief and aid work.” The first year, this augmented effort reached 28,000 children.
Since 1993 “Operation Christmas Child has delivered gift-filled shoeboxes to over 209 million children in more than 170 countries and territories.” One hundred seventy countries have been reached. It is so wonderful that as many as 10 million boxes are being delivered to children each year.
One task I had at Sparrows Point was to work an hour inspecting boxes for various prohibited items like pharmaceuticals, potential weapons, war-like toys, etc. It allowed me the opportunity to see the beauty of the hearts of those who made each box.
There was so much love and creativity. There were notes from families telling about themselves accompanied by photographs. Sweet little gifts. Folding backpacks — I had no idea these existed. Lots of soccer balls. It was wonderful. But it was wonderful to realize that millions of people had made similar shoeboxes. Where were they? Who were these Christians with such beautiful, loving souls?
Some ladies from the Mount Airy Bible Church apparently half-way on the interstate to Frederick, Maryland, were also working on our shift. They told me that their church had collected or produced 1,800 shoeboxes in a sort of boxing day marathon. That was stunning.
After we finished our shift, Peter, Kristen, and I went to a nearby pizza restaurant (very good — I mean it’s near Baltimore) and celebrated his recent retirement and the start of his then forthcoming Substack column. But, I also celebrated having godly, inspirational friends and being able to work in the shadow of millions of Americans who love children, the Lord Jesus, and who seek to share His message of Hope around the world each Christmas season. That is what Christmas should be about.
Dr. Chris Gacek is Senior Fellow for Regulatory Affairs at Family Research Council.