Wide elastic bands strain to secure the lid on a shoebox that is weighty with tightly packed gifts. It is an Operation Christmas Child present, and number crunching reveals our community has donated more than 22,000 boxes in 10 years. It is an impressive Christian ministry and this month, area manager Karen Reeman will manage her last collection campaign as she supports two new leaders to learn the ropes of the rewarding volunteer role.
Hi Karen. Congratulations on the growth of Operation Christmas Child over 10 years in the Barrington Coast region. Please share what it is and what is in the boxes that are sent to children living overseas in poverty.
In one word. Love. That is what is in the shoeboxes. Samaritan’s Purse runs Operation Christmas Child, and it is the world’s largest Christmas project of its kind. The gift-filled shoeboxes demonstrate God’s love in a tangible way to children. Each box is filled with gifts purchased or made by people and they must contain something to love, something for personal hygiene, something special, something to play with, something to wear, something for school and a special message and photo from the person who packed the box.
Where are the children who receive the boxes, and why is it important to care for children living in other countries?
Poverty is present in so many countries and in the countries that Samaritan’s Purse goes to with Operation Christmas Child, there is no support for children; some children do not have the privilege to attend a school, or have access to clean water, or medical aid, which is something Australian children, and adults for that matter, take for granted. God lays on our heart where we are to support and gift, and thankfully some of us can support locally, as well as outside of Australia.
Samaritan’s Purse will generally send the boxes from Australia and New Zealand to Cambodia, Papua New Guinea, Thailand, Vietnam, Vanuatu, Fiji and Samoa.
Why did you act to gift 10 years of your life to managing Operation Christmas Child?
It has been a massive privilege to give my time to such a wonderful cause, and it was one of the hardest decisions of my life to relinquish the position, hopefully only for a time. I have been able to support and get to know so many people who have the same love and passion for underprivileged children, and who want a child to know that someone out there, that they don’t know, loves them. Giving hope and giving a child the opportunity to know of Jesus and His love for them is the icing on the cake!
Who will now lead Operation Christmas Child in the Barrington Coast region?
Philippa Murray and Mariann Hall of Forster Christian Life Centre will share the responsibilities of area manager and be involved in the October collection of boxes from churches, schools, community groups and individuals in readiness for launch day. They have both donated boxes to Operation Christmas Child over many years.
How does it feel when you fill a shoebox with items for a child that you will never meet?
Karen: It is wonderful, and it has always been something that I have done with my children. They will pack a box for a child just like them – their age and gender – and they love shopping for their special friend each year. It’s a valuable lesson for every child and gives them the opportunity to give a gift to a child who could quite easily never receive one in their lifetime.
Philippa: It’s exciting. I delight in finding simple things that I enjoyed as a child, like a skipping rope or a tennis ball. I packed a box for a 14-year-old boy a couple of weeks ago, and I just packed so much into it that I had to put three rubber bands around the box to keep it closed, but I just couldn’t take anything out! Everything that went in there was meant to be, and so if it took more rubber bands to close the lid – then so be it!
Mariann: I like to be mindful of the fact that Jesus is the Christmas child. He was the greatest gift, and Operation Christmas Child is a teensy-weensy way of trying to give Jesus to children in need.
Why is it important for people of faith to do things to help others, and what does your faith give you?
Mariann: We need to change our thinking when it comes to helping people in need – poverty may seem too big of a problem to tackle, but it is too big to not do something. In a sense, we facilitate a way for people to meet that need, one shoebox at a time. It’s helping to empower people. I feel that sometimes people just don’t know where to start, and Operation Christmas Child gives people an opportunity to start.
Karen: God lays on our hearts to support others, to want to give to others; it’s a need for some of us to give to other people. My faith is me; it moulds me and gifts me forgiveness, reassurance and growth. I strive to be more like Jesus every day.
Philippa: I’ve been a pastor’s wife for over 44 years, and my faith enlarges my heart to embrace others. When I pack a shoebox, it does something for me too, very deep within, and I will pray for the boxes to have safe transport, because they might be transported by canoe, on top of somebody’s head, in a rickety old van … it’s unbelievable how they get to where they need to go!
What is your hope for Operation Christmas Child as you hand it over?
The fact that more people know about Operation Christmas Child and that our area has been able to increase the number of boxes each year is a real achievement that I have enjoyed watching over the years. My prayers for it now will be for more people to want to learn about it, and for more year-round volunteers to come on board. It is a meaningful and wonderful ministry.
To learn more about Operation Christmas Child, visit samaritanspurse.org.au and to volunteer contact Forster Christian Life Centre on 6555 6562.