Operation Christmas Child
Delivering the Joy of God's Love
January 1, 2002 - Smiles and laughter are rare commodities among the children of Afghanistan. It's difficult to have the usual joy of youth if you have known little else but pain and hardship for all of your young life.
by Simon Gonzalez
But recently there was something to smile about. Operation Christmas Child, the shoe-box ministry of Samaritan's Purse, went to Afghanistan this Christmas to bring joy and God's love to a country wracked by war and bloodshed for 20 years.
Last month, at JFK International Airport, in New York, 90,000 gift-filled shoe boxes were loaded into the Antonov 225, the world's largest cargo plane, and delivered to Central Asia. The plane landed in Tashkent, the capital of Uzbekistan, from there the boxes were distributed in Afghanistan and in neighboring countries in Central Asia. Afghanistan has been closed to Christianity, but the children who receive these gifts will see examples of the love of Christ.
"I believe that this is a strategic moment in history when the people of Afghanistan are open to hearing the truth of God's Word," said Franklin Graham, president of Samaritan's Purse.
It isn't the first time that Operation Christmas Child has had the opportunity to spread the Gospel in Central Asia. In one country it is illegal to talk about Jesus outside the walls of churches. But churches are allowed to give out shoe boxes.
"People questioned, 'Why are you doing this?'" said a national partner in that country. "We said we want to do this because we love you. We distributed about 100 boxes. The following week 80 of those children who had 'received boxes went to Sunday school."
Since 1993 Operation Christmas Child has given shoe boxes to more than 18 million children around the world and has also told the children about the true meaning of the Christmas season. In 2001 five million shoe boxes were collected to be given to children in more than 90 countries.
Shoe-box gifts were sent to children not only in Afghanistan but also children suffering from persecution in Sudan and Indonesia, recovering from natural disaster in El Salvador and in India, and struggling with poverty in many countries, such as the Dominican Republic.
In Sudan children in the south face the dangers of bombing and the risk of persecution as the north continues to wage civil war. But hardships are temporarily forgotten when the shoe boxes arrive.
In El Salvador and in India thousands of children were left homeless by earthquakes early in 2001. Samaritan's Purse provided emergency relief and rebuilt houses. Now children's hearts have been warmed by receiving Christmas presents.
In Indonesia the jihad declared by radical Muslims has created thousands of refugees, both Christians and Muslims. Shoe boxes, delivered to people on both sides of the conflict, showed them a tangible demonstration of God's love.
"People were overwhelmed," said an Operation Christmas Child country partner. "They said never before in their lives had they received anything like this. We distributed boxes to refugees whose houses had burned and who now were living in cow stables. We said that we were giving shoe boxes to the children because we love them."
Children in an orphanage in the Dominican Republic learned of God's love when they received shoe boxes. "When you give something that they see as special, you immediately have a special relationship with them," said Lucy Cosme de Scourtias, who runs the orphanage. "The children open their hearts to you when they recognize that your motive is nice. You can have a relationship with them, and they can learn about the Lord Jesus."
Visit the Operation Christmas Child Web site