Ann Peterson (left) and Linda Turpin pack shoeboxes for Operation Christmas Child as part of a Redeemed Ministries mission project at Bethlehem Baptist Church in Clarkesville on October 22, 2019. (Daniel Purcell/Now Habersham)
Volunteers have converted the fellowship hall at Bethlehem Baptist Church in Clarkesville into a Christmas workshop. This week, they’re using the space to prepare hundreds of shoebox gifts for Operation Christmas Child. A group of women from Redeemed Ministries worked on the project Tuesday. They lovingly packed each box for the designated age and gender of the child who will receive it.
More volunteers are expected at the church for a shoebox-packing party this Saturday. Bethlehem is not alone; similar scenes are playing out in churches across Northeast Georgia, the U.S. and ten other nations.
Spreading the Gospel
Ann Peterson is the volunteer coordinator for Operation Christmas Child’s Church Relations Team in Northeast Georgia. The team works with approximately 200 churches in four counties including, Habersham, Rabun, Stephens, and White. “We make sure they have the resources they need, and we speak to churches that maybe don’t even know about Operation Christmas Child yet, trying to get them involved,” she says.
Peterson has worked with Operation Christmas Child (OCC) since it first started. The shoebox ministry is run by Samaritan’s Purse, a non-denominational evangelical Christian organization headed by Franklin Graham. The gifts, Peterson explains, are an introductory way to share Christ’s love. They help open doors for ministry in communities that, otherwise, might not readily accept it.
“I love Operation Christmas Child, and I love that each gift is an opportunity to present the Gospel,” says Peterson.
OCC suggests what to include in the boxes and gives donors a list of items they can not include due to Customs regulations and other criteria. The ministry also requests a $9 donation to go along with each box to help cover shipping costs.
Changing lives one shoebox at a time
Since 1993, Operation Christmas Child has collected and delivered shoebox gifts to more than 168 million children in over 160 countries and territories. Yuri Lopez is one of them. She grew up in orphanages in Honduras. Speaking to students at Tallulah Falls School recently, Lopez shared how Operation Christmas Child impacted her life.
“The girl who packed the box didn’t know my story, but she still took the time to pack it for me. It meant so much to me.”
When she was six, Lopez received a shoebox filled with a modest collection of gifts, school supplies, and hygiene products. “These were really my first Christmas presents and the first things I had ever had that were my own,” she told the students. “There was also a note in the shoebox that said, ‘Jesus loves you, and I love you too.'”
The shoebox also contained a small Bible. Jeremiah 29:11 became a transformative verse for Lopez. It reads, “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”
“I had often questioned why God would allow me to grow up in an orphanage,” Lopez said. “The girl who packed the box didn’t know my story, but she still took the time to pack it for me. It meant so much to me.”
This year, thanks to the efforts of local volunteers and others, millions of children around the world will open their Christmas gift boxes and experience similar joy.
How you can help
Operation Christmas Child hopes to collect enough shoebox gifts this year to reach 11 million children in countries like Peru, the Philippines, Rwanda and Ukraine.
Bethlehem Baptist Church already has 1,600 packed boxes lining its hallways, and Peterson hopes volunteers will add at least another 500 this weekend. Other churches in the region are expected to contribute thousands more.
Bethlehem is the official drop-off point for the four-county area. Volunteers there will pack individual shoeboxes into crates and onto a semi provided by Samaritans Purse the third week in November. The truck will deliver the boxes to a processing center in Atlanta, where volunteers will prepare them for shipping.
If you’d like to help with Operation Christmas Child, you can volunteer to pack boxes at Bethlehem Baptist Church from 10 a.m. – 2 p.m. on Saturday, October 26. You may also sign up online to assist at the processing center in Atlanta between November 26 and December 21.
To build a shoebox online, visit Operation Christmas Child.
E. Lane Gresham contributed to this report