One of the first questions I get when I tell people my husband works for Samaritan's Purse (SP) is, "Oh, do you give away shoeboxes?!" SP is probably most well-known for their Operation Christmas Child (OCC) program. If you haven't heard about it before, you can read all about it on the SP website. Basically, people all over the world pack shoeboxes with Christmas gifts for children, and these are handed out by church leaders in dozens of countries. Handing out these gifts gives believers the opportunity to talk about the Gospel with the children and their families. So many stories have been shared of churches being started and people learning about the love of God through the shoeboxes. During our ministry conference last year in the Philippines, we met many of the national leaders from Asia, North Africa, the Middle East, and Europe who coordinate the shoebox distribution and the discipleship programs that churches lead along with the giveaways.
Although we've been with SP for nearly 2 years, we've never participated in a shoebox distribution before. The OCC program is actually run completely separate from the rest of SP programming, so despite any preconceived notions you may have, Andrew does not spend his days giving shoeboxes to children and making them smile (he does that through clean water).
This month, I heard a distribution would be done in an area Andrew was traveling to for work. I asked the organizer if I could come along, and he said yes. So I piled into a van of Australian and Cambodian volunteers who were there for the shoeboxes, too.
There were around 40-50 children gathered outside a family's home where the local house church met. A couple of volunteers from another larger church did a children's program with games and activities. They talked about our need for a Savior to wipe out our sins, and that God gave us the greatest gift in his Son, Jesus Christ.
We handed out boxes to children, who held them tightly before opening them together. Huge smiles, laughter, and squeals of excitement followed. Some children barely peeked under the lid before shutting it again, holding it close until they got home, where they would open it away from prying eyes and hands. In Cambodian culture, gifts are not usually opened in front of the giver. This helps to "save face" - if the gift isn't appropriate or the person doesn't like it, they don't have the opportunity to show their disappointment and embarrass the giver. But many more of the children held up their gifts, smiling like they've won the lottery, trying on new hats and shirts and headbands.