It won’t be long before we are inundated with Christmas lights twinkling in stores, carols on the radio and television commercials hawking the latest “it” toys destined to turn up on many children’s Christmas lists.
For many underprivileged children around the world, though, there is no reason to wait up on Christmas Eve. There are no jingling bells or red-nosed reindeer.
Members of First Baptist Church of Vicksburg have worked to share joy and hope to needy children in troubled countries like El Salvador and India for the last 25 years. They have partnered with a ministry of Samaritan’s Purse called Operation Christmas Child. Samaritan’s Purse is a Christian relief and evangelism ministry led by Franklin Graham.
Operation Christmas Child’s mission is to fill shoeboxes with toys, school supplies, hygiene items and other small trinkets to be delivered to children who would not otherwise experience the joy of receiving gifts on Christmas morning.
The project begins with FBC committee members asking people to make donations.
“Many parents use this project to teach their kids about giving,” said Lynda Oswalt, a longtime volunteer. “We often have teachers who are looking for service projects for their classes, and the students get to be involved.”
The filled shoeboxes are taken to First Baptist Church which serves as the drop-off location for all of Warren County.
“Every box is checked for appropriate items before being taken to the distribution center in Atlanta,” Oswalt said.
The number of shoeboxes collected is in the thousands, so the ministry depends on volunteers to inspect and prepare each one for shipping. Work stops for a few minutes every hour and everyone prays for the children who will end up receiving them.
The organization delivers shoeboxes in more than 100 countries worldwide where churches hand out the gifts at festive outreach events where the Gospel is clearly presented. Some boxes are distributed to orphanages, hospitals and places that house children at risk to share the hope of Christ.
The ultimate goal of Operation Christmas Child is to introduce the story of Christ’s love to as many people as possible.
In 2012, Oswalt, Hester Pitts and Becky Yelverton traveled to Peru and witnessed the transformation of communities for themselves.
“We delivered 1,600 boxes to children and were able to tell them all about Christ’s love for us. Many of them accepted Jesus as their personal Lord and Savior,” Oswalt said about the experience. “I can’t explain what that felt like. My heart was just beyond touched.”
To ensure this year’s shoeboxes reach their destinations on time, First Baptist will hold a dedication service Sunday, Nov. 15. Volunteers are still needed to help collect, inspect and pack the boxes.
Volunteers are also needed to fill the boxes with appropriate items. Some of these include toys such as small cars, balls, dolls, stuffed animals, harmonicas and yo-yo’s; school supplies such as pens, pencils, crayons, coloring books and writing pads; hygiene items such as toothbrushes, soap, combs and washcloths; and other items such as ball caps, socks, T-shirts, toy jewelry and books. Prohibited items include anything used, toy guns or other weapons, perishable food items, toothpaste, hard candy, medicines and liquids.
Volunteers and donors are encouraged to enclose a note to the child and a photograph of themselves or their families.
Oswalt said being a part of such a ministry fills her heart with joy. “Last year, 11 million boxes were collected nationwide, and Warren County was responsible for 5,531 of those,” she said. “That’s 11 million children ministered to and given the chance to know God. I can’t imagine receiving a better Christmas gift.”
If you are interested in donating or volunteering, please call Hester Pitts at 601-415-7334 or Lynda Oswalt at 601-629-7822.