2020 was a year of adaptation and change. What did not change was the desire for God's people to make a difference. One way that many kept that focus was participating in Operation Christmas Child.
For those not familiar with this outreach, Operation Christmas Child is an outreach project developed and run by Samaritans Purse. One of many different ministries focused on discipleship and relief through the simple power of a gift. Each year thousands of red and green colored shoe boxes are handed out all over the world. From Native American reservations in the U.S. to almost every country in South America, from Asia to Africa and Eastern Europe. Each box is filled to the brim with all sorts of items like toys, coloring books, school supplies, hygiene items, and even clothes. Then each box makes its way across the sea, deserts, and mountains to connect with children bringing joy and hope. Every shoebox is also filled inside and out with love and prayer. More than just a box, these are part of a worldwide program to connect children and families with the love and peace found in a relationship with Jesus Christ. Every local church that participates with Samaritan's Purse engages in discipleship programs to help connect with children and their families.
In 2017 I had the opportunity to be in the field with Operation Christmas Child. I can personally testify to the power of the ministry and the joy of children when they get a box and open it up. In one case, several on my team were overwhelmed when we watched a little boy set his box aside to help his friend explore the contents of his present. This is significant because the friend was blind. This little boy, who clearly wanted to see what was in his own box, carefully and joyfully described every item to his friend. The look of joy and wonder was so powerful! Many times we had to look away and wipe our own eyes.
Over the years, Operation Christmas Child has become one of the main ways many Brethren Churches engage in global ministry during the holiday season. Dozens of Brethren churches collect items, fill boxes, create fundraisers, and act as collection centers. Some even sent teams to regional collection points where they inspect and box the shoeboxes for shipment.
While 2020 really made ministry difficult, it did not change the desire to make a difference and a kingdom impact. Many had to move things around, develop schedules for volunteers, and create a process that would keep everyone safe. Yet, even in this time of difficulty, Brethren Churches gave generously.
In the West Region, over 2100 boxes were packed and delivered. Carson Oaks Community Church packed over 300 boxes, Tucson First Brethren loaded up 793 boxes, and Cheyenne Brethren Church put together 1011 shoeboxes.
In the Midwest Region, several churches participated as well. One story came from Nappanee First Brethren Church, where Pastor Tom Schiefer reported, "Our congregation's direct number was definitely down this year...about 75 boxes. However, our outreach team has been working hard to involve Amish churches - AND we provided boxes for them as well. And then sent out people pick them up to deliver to our church. Because there are so many, they crated them at NFBC to cut down the handling. Over 900 came from the Amish churches. 10 of our folks gathered them and brought them in. All told - we were involved in over 1,000 shoeboxes!"
No matter where you go, you will find a Brethren Church that has a story to tell about the impact shoeboxes have had on their lives and the life of the church! Congratulations to all those who participated this year!