As you put on your next new pair of shoes, hold that empty box a few minutes longer. Look inside at what it holds. What do you see? Packing paper? Cardboard? Look again. That empty box has the potential to change the lives of children and adults around the world.
You may not be a stranger to packing shoeboxes for Operation Christmas Child (OCC) ahead of the holidays. It may be a tradition. You may shop year-round for items to fill the boxes. You may know their mission and donate your time and money regularly, but there may be more ways to partner than you realize.
According to the website, OCC is a Samaritan’s Purse project – a hands-on way to bless children in need worldwide by filling shoeboxes with toys, hygiene items, school supplies, and fun gifts. That’s what’s inside the boxes, and it’s priceless to a child in impoverished villages and remote locations. But the box itself is a wrapping of hope, encouragement, and the gospel of Jesus. Inside and out, that shoebox can change a life for eternity.
Southern Middle Tennessee’s OCC area coordinator, Tammy Hone, began packing shoeboxes about 15 years ago. She progressed from project leader to year-round OCC volunteer and has been area coordinator for more than two years. Hone said, “Because Samaritan’s Purse serves around the world and has established ministry partners worldwide, it allows them to get into areas more quickly than other organizations. For example, when the war in Ukraine broke out, Samaritan’s Purse was one of the first boots on the ground and took shoeboxes with them. Can you imagine that child sitting in their home while the area around them is bombed? They’re scared… they’re terrified, but they come and learn about Jesus. Imagine the encouragement that brings to a child!”
Children who receive the shoeboxes are invited to return and participate in a 12-lesson discipleship program called The Greatest Journey. The OCC website is filled with stories of lives changed through the ministry — not just children but families and entire villages — as the gospel is shared. Some children are inspired to pursue higher education and careers that continue to give back to their communities. Churches have opened where there were no churches before.
Hone said, “Last year, OCC collected and distributed over 10.5 million shoeboxes around the world, each shoebox representing a child who heard the gospel of Jesus Christ.” It all starts with a simple shoebox.
“We encourage people to pack a ‘wow’ item in each box. It’s that gift that when the child opens the box, they find a stuffed animal or something they’ve never had before. We want to make the shoeboxes fun with toys like a slinky, yo-yos, or jacks – not just toys, but quality toys. People often think if they make it as cheap as possible, they can pack more shoeboxes. But for every child who gets a shoebox, they only get one in their lifetime, so we want those toys to be something that’s going to last. We try to stress the importance of making the box fun. Make it quality, and don’t pack it with air. We want that box so full that when you shake it, it doesn’t make a noise,” Hone explained.
Your area OCC invites you to partner with them in spreading the gospel. Here’s how Hone shared these partnership opportunities:
“We need a team of prayer warriors who believe in the power of prayer and want to get involved. Their sole role is to pray for OCC, the ministry, the child who will receive the shoebox, the family of the child, the community, and the village. We need prayers for transportation, [and] for places to process these shoeboxes—things like that need to be prayed over.”
“We are praying for team members who will connect with local churches. The church relations team reaches out to churches in their community to tell them about OCC, [and] to walk alongside the project leaders at churches already participating, asking what resources they need. We need church relations teams because without them we can’t reach the churches who don’t know what OCC is.”
“A shoebox is more than just a toy; it’s a gospel opportunity. My goal is to involve organizations, sports teams, and groups like National Beta Clubs at the schools. Most students in Beta Clubs have to complete some type of community service, and OCC qualifies. It also qualifies for Tennessee Promise community service hours.”
“The urgency of the gospel is great. The children of the world need to hear the love and hope of Jesus Christ. The cool thing about OCC is that it’s nondenominational. You don’t have to be Methodist, Baptist, or Church of Christ. You don’t even have to be associated with a church.”
Never underestimate the impact of your gift, your time, and your prayers.
May every shoebox you see spark a hope for Operation Christmas Child! GN