Operation Christmas Child is a project of Samaritan’s Purse, an international Christian relief organization headed by Franklin Graham that collects gift-filled shoeboxes and delivers them, in the name of Jesus Christ to children living in desperate situations around the world. Shoeboxes are filled with school supplies, hygiene items, fun toys, and notes of encouragement written by the individuals who packed the box. It is the world’s largest Christmas project of its kind, collecting and sending over 11 million shoeboxes in 2015 alone. Since 1993, Operation Christmas Child has collected and delivered more than 135 million gift-filled shoeboxes to children in more than 150 countries and territories.
Marisa Van Wormer of Deer Park, Washington has packed shoeboxes for fifteen years with her children and has served on the Spokane Area Team for eight years. The area team seeks to engage individuals, families, churches and groups to pack shoeboxes for Operation Christmas Child. “We have a great team in the Inland Northwest,” says Van Wormer. ”They have become family to me. It has been a joy and a privilege to serve the Lord through this ministry.”
Most people know of this as a Christmas project since collection takes place the third week of November and we like to engage people in the season of giving. But most of the work actually happens in the following weeks and months as the boxes get processed for shipping and begin their long journey to the receiving country. Each country that receives shoeboxes through Samaritan’s Purse has a volunteer team that mirrors our US teams. “It really is a beautiful picture of the body of Christ working together to further the Gospel to every part of the earth,” states Van Wormer. “Every box is covered in prayer and is used as an outreach tool for the local church to share the love of Christ with children and their families. “
This past May, Marisa was selected along with 23 other volunteers from the US, Canada, and England to join a special team and travel to Africa with the opportunity to hand-deliver these gifts to children in and near Lusaka, Zambia “It was really a gift,” explains Van Wormer. “The whole trip was surreal… actually seeing those moments you hear so much about and the excitement the children have when receiving their gifts.”
One moment in particular stands out to Van Wormer that she will hold on to for years to come. “One little boy in the group was there alone. He would not talk or smile. He kept trying to give the shoebox back to me; he didn’t understand the gift was for him. I was able to spend a few minutes with him and opened up his box showing him the items. I pulled out a brand new polo shirt and put it on him. He had a matchbox car and many other toys. He never did talk to me but I could tell he began to understand that someone cared about him.” Van Wormer continues, “You never know what impact you will have on these kids; but, I trust in a God who will take these moments and continue to show love to them through these simple gifts that are just for them!”
“This ministry, as simple as it is, is making a huge impact!” Not only are we putting smiles on children’s faces but we are also opening up their heart to the truth of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and that is transforming!” said Van Wormer. “The shoebox isn’t the end, but really is just the beginning.” In many countries, Zambia included, the children that receive shoebox gifts are invited to return to the church and go through a twelve week Bible lesson program called “The Greatest Journey.” This provides an exciting opportunity to learn more about God and His great love for them.
“If you have ever packed a shoebox gift for Samaritan’s Purse Van Wormer says, “THANK YOU! And, if you have ever wondered if your shoebox ever made it to a child, I can assure you that YES! It did and it is loved and appreciated! The simplest gifts can and are making a difference!”
National Collection Week is Nov. 14-21st. Anyone can participate by filling shoeboxes with fun toys, school supplies, hygiene items and notes of encouragement and drop them off at local collection centers throughout the city and surrounding areas.
For information about Operation Christmas Child, call (253) 572-1155 or visit samaritanspurse.org/occ.