By Jenna Cusick
A brown cardboard shoe box wrapped in red and green paper. It may not sound like much, but this sight is enough to bring giant smiles to the faces of more than 150 million children across the world every Christmas season, many of whom who have never received presents before. Filled with toy cars, coloring books or bouncy balls, these colorfully wrapped boxes have been bringing holiday cheer to 160 countries since 1993.
This year marks Marian’s fifth year participating in the Samaritan’s Purse Operation Christmas Child project. Samaritan’s Purse is a “nondenominational evangelical Christian organization providing spiritual and physical aid to hurting people around the world,” according to their website (www.samaritanspurse.org). Operation Christmas Child sends shoeboxes filled with toys and personal care items to kids ages 2 to 14 in wartorn and impoverished countries. The drive shows God’s love to the boys and girls and gives them the opportunity to learn about His word. “By giving generously, we are showing praise to God and the abundance He’s given us,” Deacon Kevin Fuller said.
The drive was brought to FIAT’s attention by Julia Griffin from the Class of 2015. After she started the drive at her grade school, Mary Our Queen, Griffin brought Operation Christmas Child to Marian during her junior year. “FIAT was looking for way to raise awareness and do a collection for the poor around Christmas time, and Operation Christmas Child seemed like a good fit,” Fuller said, “It raises awareness of poverty around the world and children in need.”
Operation Christmas Child has been one of Marian’s most successful drives. “I think part of it is because it’s for kids. Our students see that need and relate to that need, and they want to give to children around the world,” Fuller said. “It’s really cool to know that just a little sacrifice you make here can help some kid across the world have an amazing Christmas! It’s just an easy way to help out,” junior Lily Weindel said.
Marian students brought in more than 100 boxes this year, filled with everything from Despicable Me stuffed animals to Christmas ornaments and Magic Treehouse chapter books. After the boxes were carefully wrapped by FIAT girls and other volunteers, senior Lauren Philips dropped them at City Light Church in Council Bluffs. Once the boxes are delivered to churches during the third week of November, volunteers inspect and prepare the boxes to be shipped around the world. Finally, pastors from different countries distribute the boxes and spread God’s word. Along with the colorfully wrapped boxes, children receive “The Greatest Gift,” a storybook written in more than 80 languages that teaches about Jesus.
According to the Samaritan’s Purse Operation Christmas Child brochure, 12-year-old Angella from Malawi was delighted to receive her shoebox. Her gift was filled with school supplies that her family could not afford to buy for her and a flashlight for her electricity-less home. Angella’s favorite part of the box, however, was “The Greatest Gift.” “When I read the booklet, it proved to me that God is there. That encouraged me to start going to church. As I learned about the Bible, I was being transformed,” Angella said.
After receiving their shoeboxes, the kids are invited to partake in The Greatest Journey, a discipleship program through Samaritan’s Purse. Since 2009, more than 14.9 million children have participated in this program. “We are teaching them that they are cared for and loved, and by doing that we are showing them the true gospel message,” Fuller said.
Operation Christmas Child reminds the Marian community of all there is to be thankful for and provides an opportunity to give back during the holiday season. “Especially around Christmas time, we tend to think of ourselves, but it is good to give to others,” Fuller said. “We’re gifted and given so much at Marian, and it’s important to remember where that comes from, which is God.”