For a child, Christmas can come any time of year.
That was one of the lessons of the Operation Christmas Child leadership workshop Saturday at Immanuel Baptist Church, attended by members of nine area churches and other volunteers. OCC is a project of Samaritan’s Purse. Every fall it collects gift-filled shoeboxes and delivers them to children all over the planet — but not only at Christmas.
“We call it Christmas because when a child receives a gift for the first time it’s like Christmas,” said Kathy Dutton, church relations coordinator for OCC. She just returned in May from Namibia, Africa.
“It was a life-changing trip,” she said. “We spread God’s love through a tangible gift of a shoebox. Children get to hear about the greatest gift, a story about Jesus coming to Earth, dying and rising again and loving us so much.”
Her group visited two schools and three churches in Namibia, where the children speak English and the local dialect. Many times the shoebox had exactly what the child needed, she said. One little boy wanted Slime, and got it. A little girl was holding a Bible, crying happily. Another little girl got a belt, which is what she wanted.
“It tells me God directs each and every box,” Dutton said. “I’ll never believe it’s random.”
Although OCC distributes shoeboxes year around, it is gearing up for its national shoebox collection week the third week in November. Laurie Bailey, media coordinator for the OCC area team, said workshop leaders were suggesting different gift ideas to put in the shoeboxes. Tables in the church gymnasium were spread with sample gifts. The First Baptist Church of Troy, for example, she said, makes coloring books and crochets hats.
“We encourage people to take pictures of different ideas, so they can go back to their group and share ideas,” she said. “We have thrifty people that know where you can get great deals on items you can place in your box.”
The workshop also presented the “Greatest Journey, a discipleship program for the children if they decide they want to learn more about Jesus,” she said.
For every 100 shoeboxes, she said, 16 children report decisions for Christ through the Greatest Journey discipleship program.
Zorena Baker, a member of the First Baptist Church of Rosebud, said she’s been a volunteer since 2005.
“In 2015 I packed 1,015 shoeboxes myself, shopping and making things,” she said. “I made dresses, purses, tote bags, bracelets, necklaces.”
Cathy Barth, OCC logistics coordinator, said she’s been a volunteer for five years.
“It’s such an excellent ministry,” she said. “It reaches so many people.”
Each shoebox is like an eternal gift, she said.
“Those children go and tell their moms and dads and neighbors and friends,” she said. “Children start the churches. They’re not inhibited like adults. They’re so open, and … they bring everybody in.”