In this world of strife, it is worth taking a minute to appreciate entities that step out from under the hysteria to remember those who are forgotten, neglected, or otherwise bereft of magic in this season of good will.
There are, thankfully, too many magnanimous ministries to enumerate — so on this occasion I highlight only one: Samaritan’s Purse (SP), a nondenominational evangelical Christian relief agency headed by Franklin Graham, who is president and CEO. SP provides physical help and spiritual comfort to suffering people in areas of crisis all over the world. But at Christmas, its work takes on a particular mission that brings blessing not only to those who are in need far away — but also to those who are the generous givers.
Samaritan’s Purse’s “Operation Christmas Child” is the group’s seasonal ministry that provides children in poverty-stricken regions a shoebox filled with small Christmas gifts (jump ropes, school supplies, dolls, balls, toothpaste, T-shirts, hats, etc.).
The boxes are filled by good-hearted people from local churches in the U.S., who compile them within a window of time to then be collected and consolidated and positioned for delivery overseas.
Millions of shoeboxes are filled and delivered each year.
This year, Samaritan’s Purse put together a team of people from U.S.-based radio stations to do the deliveries in Bogota, Colombia. Alicia Lewis Murray, digital and social media content manager for Blue Ridge Broadcasting, went this year as a representative of her radio station WMIT (which is part of BGEA, but not owned by BGEA; Samaritan’s Purse and WMIT are sister companies).
Inviting volunteers to make the trip and giving them a (literal) hands-on role in delivering the boxes creates an opportunity for blessings on both sides of the program.
Murray and her contingent just returned from Colombia on one such mission. “We drove two hours from the center of Bogota into remote areas to visit churches. Many children come from homes with prostitution, violence, and drugs. We were very secure and safe because of the precautions Samaritan’s Purse takes, but we were also aware it’s not a place to linger in the streets.”
“Bogota has many beautiful areas, upscale restaurants, and hotels. But in the outer parts it’s very compact, dusty, dirty — and very poor,” Murray continued.
The boxes are often the only presents these children receive at Christmas. “We felt so unworthy of the blessings we were receiving by seeing the joy on the children’s faces. The children are beautiful and have beautiful smiles,” she said.
“We were overwhelmed with emotions. But it taught me to make sure the children felt worthy of God’s love for them, that no matter what happens in their lives, God will always love them.”
This reciprocal arrangement enables the children to feel gratitude for not only for the boxes —but also for the visitors themselves.
The volunteers from the U.S. take time out of the busiest season of the year to traverse dusty roads to seek out these children and hand-deliver presents. “The children were so inquisitive!” said Murray. “They asked us questions: ‘What’s your name? How old are you? Where do you live? Are you married?’ I learned through this experience that we were there, really, to share God’s love and that the shoebox is just the tool.”
“The toys will break. The kids will outgrow the clothes. They’ll use up the school supplies. But one hopes they will remember forever how the gift made them feel! At the end of each event, after all the boxes were opened, time after time children came to us to say, ‘Gracias!’ and give us hugs and kisses on the cheek. They were full of joy and thankfulness. I, too, learned much about gratitude and worthiness.”
She concluded, “This was a life-changing experience.”
Wendy Murray served as regional correspondent for TIME magazine in Honduras in the early 1990s, and later as associate editor and senior writer at Christianity Today. She is the author of 10 nonfiction books and a novel.