Five hundred children sit in circles on the floor of a gym in Ibarra, Ecuador. They wait patiently as dance troupes perform, actors deliver a skit that demonstrates the truth of the gospel, and a local pastor explains the gospel.
Finally, the big moment arrives – Christmas in February! They receive shoeboxes packed with gifts. Oh, what expressions of wonder – the sparkling dark eyes, the sudden wide smiles. Five hundred kids afloat in a sea of soccer balls, dolls, gloves, socks, crayons, pencils, magnifying glasses, coloring books, school supplies, and more.
Gifts for now
Christmas in February? Yes. And here’s why: Operation Christmas Child has so successfully engaged people like you and me to pack Christmas shoeboxes that it is impossible to distribute all of the boxes in December.
Thus, for three days in February, the scene in Ibarra will be repeated many times around the city in a campaign led by a dedicated platoon of foot soldiers – OCC staff members with a cause, a strategy, and a plan.
I had the blessing of traveling with OCC to the Christmas shoebox distribution in Ibarra, so I got to see the OCC team in action. It’s a ministry I already highly respected, but this experience showed me more commitment, more love, and more heart than I could have ever anticipated.
The gospel forever
But wait. There’s more. Something even better than the glittery gifts and giddy giggles. It’s the gospel.
On Sunday morning, we attended worship at Pastor Nestor Saavedra’s church where we were honored to participate in a graduation. Yes, a graduation – caps and tassels and diplomas and antsy kids wiggling in imperfect lines in front of a packed church and a host of proud parents.
Almost 100 children were honored for completing The Greatest Journey, a 12-week introduction to the gospel. It is a discipleship curriculum developed by Samaritan’s Purse, parent ministry of OCC, especially for children in other cultures.One by one, name by name, each girl and boy received a diploma, and we guests were honored to place the mortarboard on each child’s head and present each one a brand new Bible. The memory brings tears to my eyes again.
The OCC leaders were prepared and focused, making sure 4,000 children received Operation Christmas Child shoeboxes. Making sure 4,000 children experienced the love of Christ. Making sure they heard the gospel.
Goals for the future
Yet that weekend represents only a miniscule reflection of the reach of OCC and its goals. Since Samaritan’s Purse assumed the reins of OCC in 1993, more than 135 million children in 150 countries have received Christmas gift boxes.
Furthermore, the heart of OCC is to see The Greatest Journey expanded until every child who receives a shoebox may also be discipled through that course.
Finally, I must speak to the integrity of Samaritan’s Purse and all I have observed over the decades. I saw it in action in Ecuador. OCC distributions and programs are planned and directed by local pastors, so the gifts are a bridge to draw their communities to Christ through that local church. And only after training by OCC, The Greatest Journey is taught by a pastor or local teacher. This is a ministry carried out with humility, intended to empower the local church, and determined to share the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Only $6 will provide all materials, including the Bible, for a child to be discipled through The Greatest Journey. Learn more at samaritanspurse.org or 828-262-1908.