By Wm. Michael Dixon
Tribune Recorder Leader
The world is in turmoil. Everywhere you turn it seems there is another tragedy, another protest, another angry mob seeking to further divide the already fractured populace, it’s a challenge to find the good left in this world.
A challenge Samaritan’s Purse and local organizer Betty Park are taking head-on. Samaritan’s Purse is celebrating their 30th anniversary of Operation Christmas Child, a philanthropic initiative to spread good will and the redeeming power of Jesus to those less fortunate around the world. Started in the Summer of 1993 by Samaritan’s Purse President Franklin Graham when he received a call from a man in England asking Graham to fill some shoeboxes with gifts for children in war-torn Bosnia. The promise had slipped Graham’s mind until he received a follow-up call from the man in November, and so Graham asked his friend, Pastor Ross Rhoads of the Calvary Church of Charlotte, for help.
The church collected 11,000 shoeboxes in the coming weeks, adding to the more than 28,000 shoeboxes sent to children in the Balkans that Christmas. Since then, more than an estimated 209 million children in over 170 countries and territories have received a shoebox from Samaritan’s Purse through Operation Christmas Child. “Every box is an opportunity to reach a child with the Gospel of Jesus Christ.” President of Samaritan’s Purse Franklin Graham proudly proclaims, and with tens of thousands of volunteers from local churches all around the world, it doesn’t appear those opportunities will be drying up anytime soon.
Volunteers like local shoebox organizer, collector, and packer Betty Park. Betty Park has been involved with Operation Christmas Child for 15 years but has served as a box distribution center for the past eight years. Every year Park personally packs 30 boxes but collects more than 1,100 in total at Open Door Missionary Church.
Together with boxes packed by congregations all around the thumb, Betty Park delivers around 10,000 boxes to North Lakeport, where the boxes are loaded onto Semi-trucks and shipped down to Boone, North Carolina for final inspection before heading out to children in need all around the world. “Every box has to be inspected.” Says Park, “They check them for contraband like coins or paper money and make sure every box is packed with a flashlight.”
The currency needs to be removed to ensure the packages make it through customs, a process that can take upwards of six months in some cases. The packing center in Boone has a slot on the packing tables
where all the currency found inside the boxes is placed, collected, and used to pay for postage. It costs $10 to ship each box, and though donations to help pay for shipping are always welcome and appreciated, the packing center will ship every box they receive.
The boxes are packed with everything imaginable. Essentials like drinking cups, soap, toothbrushes and bandages but toys as well. Coloring books, crayons, notebooks, pencils, yo-yos, and even stuffed animals. The only item that is guaranteed to be in each shoebox is a flashlight, an apt metaphor for the light of the lord. Every shoebox is packed with a unique collection of items, and unfortunately not every box gets every item, a logistical problem Betty Park has witnessed being solved firsthand by God. While traveling on a hunting excursion in Africa Betty witnessed a child with cuts up and down his arms open his box to find bandages inside. “How did that boy with the cuts on his arm get the band-aids? God did it.” Attests Park.
The physical items are certainly needed by the children who receive them, but you would be mistaken if you thought the only thing being delivered was bars of soap and yo-yos. Operation Christmas Child and Samaritan’s Purse take Jesus’ command in Matthew 28:19 (Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit) very seriously.
Operation Christmas Child has done just that, since 2009 roughly 35 million children have enrolled in the 12-lesson “Greatest Journey” with more than 17 million of those children choosing to follow Jesus as their lord and savior.
Betty Park and Open Door Missionary Church accept donations of fully packed shoeboxes as well as donations of items to go in the shoeboxes. Samaritan’s Purse even has a handy gift suggestion page on their website to clear up any questions about what can and cannot be packed in a box.
Collection of the shoeboxes starts in early November, but packing can be done year-round. Anyone whose church is not already involved in the packing of boxes can ask their pastor to reach out to Betty Park. Packing shoeboxes can be a fun activity for church youth groups to spread good will and the Gospel worldwide while getting closer to the lord through acts of service and generosity. Betty asks anyone who wants to get involved in the project to stop by Open Door Missionary Church located at 770 W. Sanilac Road in Sandusky to find out more information, pick up supplies, and drop off complete shoeboxes.