The atmosphere was electric with laughter and praise as Tappahannock families and volunteers gathered at Grace Baptist Church last Thursday to celebrate Operation Christmas Child.
Administered by the international Christian relief organization, Operation Christmas Child will send shoeboxes filled with toys, school supplies and hygiene items and packed by volunteers to millions of children in over 100 different countries.
Pastor Larry Schools of Ephesus Baptist Church in Dunnsville called the shoebox project a blessing in two ways: the donors realized the positive impact they were having on children around the world, and the project brought the churches and community together to make the donations happen.
“That’s huge to see. There’s no bickering or fighting or politics,” said Schools. “They’re all doing it for the kids and that’s what’s awesome.”
Ephesus is among the local relay centers through which residents can send their shoeboxes during National Collection Week, which is Nov. 18-25.
The boxes will be sent to the local collection center, Rappahannock Church of Christ in Warsaw, before being delivered to Smaraitan’s Purse’s warehouse in Boone, NC where they are processed.
“If [a box] is lightly packed, they’ll put more stuff in it,” said Schools. “If it has things that are not supposed to be in it, they’ll take it out.”
Afterwards, the boxes are taped up, placed in cartons and sent to churches throughout the world by train, boat, plane and even elephant.
The receiving churches then distribute the shoeboxes to children they are trying to reach.
Mesfin Abera, Mid-Atlantic Region manager for Operation Christmas Child, said the shoebox may be the only gift that a child overseas will ever receive.
“For them, this could be the difference between going to school or not,” said Abera. “This could be the difference in their life’s direction. It means everything to a lot of these children.”
Abera added that even more people could be impacted through one shoebox than just the child who receives it.
“He or she’ll be sharing those items with siblings or friends and the community,” said Abera. “You just never know how the impact multiplies outside the child’s life.”
Guest Speaker Renan Perdomo, who grew up in Honduras, told the audience about a how a shoebox gift changed his life.
He said that, as a child, he wanted to go to school. All he needed to attend were a pencil and a notebook.
But his family didn’t have any money for school supplies because, at the same time four of his sisters and brothers were already going to school.
One day, however, Perdomo went to church with his family where someone handed him “the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen in my life.”
“I remembered just staring at the box,” said Perdomo. “They said, ‘You’ve got to open it,’ and I was like, ‘Why? This box is so beautiful.’”
When he did open the box, Perdomo said it was “like a brighter light in it.”
The crowd applauded as he described the pencils, crayons, notebook and coloring book that he discovered inside.
“That shoebox placed me from home to school,” said Perdomo, adding that the children who didn’t go to school often ended up in the street.
“They learned how to steal and break into houses and they got killed,” said Perdomo.
“Then the question came, ‘Why? Why is this happening to me?” he added. “’Why does somebody want to do something beautiful like this to me?’
He added that every time he opened the shoebox, he felt love, peace and that someone far, far away loves and cares for him.
Celebrating its 20th anniversary this year, Operation Christmas Child has collected over 100 million shoeboxes from volunteers since 1993 and aims to collect 9.8 million in 2013.
Vicki Cooke, Rappatomac Area Coordinator for Operation Christmas Child, said that last year local volunteers packed and sent 4,500 gift-filled boxes in 2012.
The two-year-old Rappatomac team’s goal for this year is 9,000.
“Behind each number is a child and then some,” said Cooke. “We are putting the gospel in a box, wrapping it up and opening it up to somebody who doesn’t have that opportunity. We’re taking God to them.”
Cooke added that in spite of the nation’s economy with people “hurting for jobs and money,” the numbers of donations they received last year were higher than before.
“Shoeboxes are not being sacrificed,” said Cooke.
Abera said people were responding to their mission amazingly.
“We are very encouraged and have seen the excitement of the people,” said Abera. “We think we will be collecting a lot of boxes.”
In addition to Ephesus Baptist church, residents can also drop off shoeboxes at Oak Grove Baptist Church and the White Stone Church of the Nazarane.
For more information or to learn how to participate in Operation Christmas Child, call Vicki Cooke at 540-846-2250 or visit samaritanspurse.org.