Joyful Christmas Boxes

Some big Operation Christmas Child news is breaking: Alex Nsengimana of Rwanda, a shoebox recipient who is now grown, is coming to Cairo First Baptist Church October 19, tomorrow, to speak to those who are packing boxes, those who are curious about this huge project, and anyone who wants to see what God can do with a simple shoebox.

We’re packing Christmas boxes for children we’ll never know living in places of which we may know nothing. Individuals, churches, Sunday school classes, mission groups, all over the world are involved in this far-reaching cause. We’re packing toys, hygiene items, notebooks, socks, tee shirts, Bibles, knowing that the Lord will bless the child who opens each box. We pray for these children but we very seldom see their faces and then, as in the case of Alex, only years afterward.

If you’ve been packing boxes every year, you may have heard some of the marvelous accounts of how these boxes affected the children who received them. It is particularly meaningful to hear from one of those recipients themselves. Alex Nsengimana is one of those. He is from Rwanda and experienced firsthand the travesties of tribal unrest where genocide claimed the lives of his caregivers. He received a Christmas box from Operation Christmas Child one year after arriving at the orphanage which was his home for several years. That shoebox gift sowed seeds of hope and love that he desperately needed. Now he lives in the U.S. and he will be coming to Cairo First Baptist Church to share what that gift meant to him and how it changed his life. I’m so excited about this opportunity and want to pass along the invitation to you to come tomorrow, Tuesday, October 19 at 12:00 noon. First Baptist is located at 505 N. Broad Street. Bring your own lunch and spend an hour with Alex and many who love to pack those boxes!

How did we gain this wonderful privilege of sharing with children around the world who may have nothing for Christmas other than this colorful box?

In our church, in the 1990’s, one dear mission-minded lady named Helen King introduced us to this opportunity. She came back from a women’s meeting ecstatic about this ministry. It was a new cause at the time and our church took on Helen’s enthusiasm and went to work. On a designated Sunday we trooped down the aisle carrying our shoeboxes of varying designs and sizes to lay at the altar for the prayer of blessing. It was such fun involving our children and youth in this wonderful project and seeing them proudly present their boxes at the altar. We’ve “done” shoeboxes ever since, though now our church purchases the number of uniform boxes we think we can fill instead of our using “real” shoeboxes. These are a lot prettier and made to stand the rigors of shipping. This year our church will be the receiving place for all the boxes from surrounding churches, a job faithfully filled by Eastside for many years. Gary and Rhonda Keve will receive the boxes from all churches and then pack them in large boxes of fifteen each to carry to Valdosta. Rhonda said one church is planning to bring 300 boxes so she and Gary would really like some help on those days. Call First Baptist at 229-377-2233 for more information.

But how did the shoebox story really begin? In 1990 David Cooke and his wife Gill started a move to give gifts to children in Romania. In the summer of 1993 Franklin Graham of Samaritans Purse, received a call from an Englishman who asked if Franklin could provide gifts for children in war-torn Bosnia who would otherwise have no Christmas. He had learned of the idea that volunteers could fill shoeboxes with simple gifts and wanted Franklin to implement the endeavor. Franklin responded positively to the request but was so busy with other concerns connected with Samaritans Purse (rescue missions, feeding the hungry, etc.) he forgot about the Englishman’s plea. At Thanksgiving the man called back to see what Franklin had done about his idea. Franklin was chagrined at having forgotten but instead of throwing up his hands at the impossibility of collecting hundreds of shoebox gifts on such short notice he called a pastor friend and asked him to see what he could do. The response was overwhelming. The pastor called a few weeks later asking when Franklin could come get the shoeboxes that stacked high in the hallways of his church. That was the beginning of the worldwide distribution of gifts through Operation Christmas Child. This year, with participation of local churches around the world, 188 million boxes have been delivered in 170 countries. Thousands of children have become Christ followers as a direct result of those boxes and the following discipleship course they’re invited to.

I remember well some of the Operation Christmas Child stories I’ve read (“Operation Christmas Child: A Story of Simple Gifts” by Donna Lee Toney is available online) and a very few I’ve heard in person. Each one is so precious and brings ready tears to my eyes. Once, in First Baptist Church, Atlanta, we heard a young woman give her account. She said her box had changed her life forever in that through it she had come to know Christ. The one item that she treasured the most, other than the Good News, was a toothbrush. She had grown up in an orphanage where she and maybe twelve other girls shared one toothbrush. It was a marvelous thing to have her own toothbrush.

Go to your church, almost any church, I think, and pick up a Christmas box with instructions. Then put on your shopping shoes and head to the store. Dollar General, Dollar Tree, Wal Mart, wherever you like to go. Depending on what store you shop, you can generously fill a Christmas box for about $20. I learned that once Operation Christmas Child delivers boxes through the help of their local churches, that village or area will not receive boxes again. There are so many villages, so many children! Because of that, I have paid more careful attention to packing a box that contains good long lasting toys and other items.

Start “packing” for Christmas!

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