Operation Christmas Child takes on new meaning

November 7, 2014

by Shanna Keen, Samaritan's Purse Operation Christmas Child staff member

Sharing God’s love with children through gift-filled shoeboxes.

I love Christmas. I love the lights, the music, and even the shopping. One of my favourite parts of the season is packing our Operation Christmas Child shoeboxes with my three- and six-year-old daughters.

This Christmas, our annual tradition has become much more meaningful for our family after I had the privilege last summer of delivering a shoebox, packed by my daughter, to a little girl in Costa Rica.

My journey took me from my suburban home in western Canada to the rural hills of Cartego. The beautiful, luscious Costa Rica countryside was a startling contrast to the poverty we saw all around us.

We began each shoebox distribution event with a “party” – playing and laughing alongside the children with our soap bubbles, crafts, face-painting, nail polish, and sports equipment. After each party, we waited while local church leaders told the children why they were receiving these gifts – because people far away in Canada had packed shoeboxes just for them, and because God loved them.

Once every child had a shoebox, the signal was given, everyone shouted joyfully “Gracias Dios” (“Thank you God”), lifted their box lids and began sorting through new toys, school supplies and hygiene items.

There were many joyful moments that week, but there were also difficult ones. I remember meeting 22-year-old Katherine. A single mother of three, living in a tiny slum apartment gutted by a fire a few months earlier, she looked completely hopeless. As she stood there with tears in her eyes, she thanked Canadians for the gifts her children would otherwise never have received.

On the last day of our trip, I presented my daughter’s shoebox to a young girl. Oh, the pride I felt as she pulled out the bracelet my daughter had made her! It was a simple box filled with modest toys, but they’d been lovingly chosen by a girl in Canada eagerly waiting for a full report when Mom got home!

I think my Costa Rica trip changed my daughter as much as it changed me. Months later, she still asks me regularly about the children I met, and the little girl who received her gift. That, to me,
is the real joy of the season – watching a six-year-old child eagerly pack a shoebox with gifts, excited that it will bring hope and God’s love to another child on the other side of the world.

Please join in Operation Christmas Child this year. Visit www.SamaritansPurse.ca for instructions on what to pack, and locations where you can drop-off your gift-filled shoeboxes. I hope you and your family find as much joy in the packing as mine does!

Here are some tips for involving your children:

1. Let them pick the gender and age of the shoebox recipient, then shop together!

2. Include a hand-written note and photo from your family. The children who receive the boxes treasure these items.

3. Get crafty! And use some stickers to help your children personalize their shoeboxes.

You and your family can also pack shoeboxes online, including adding a personal note and photo, at www.PackaBox.ca.

Note: This article originally appeared in City Light News. Learn more about how you can share God’s love with children through gift-filled shoeboxes