By Brett Hetherington*
Midway through October might be too early for most people to begin thinking about Christmas, but don’t tell that to the congregation members of Greentown United Methodist Church (Tuscarawas District). As a local participant in Operation Christmas Child, they think about the season all year long.
Operation Christmas Child is a project of Samaritan’s Purse. The international relief organization provides its partners of local churches and individuals around the world with shoeboxes filled with small toys, hygiene items, and school supplies. The boxes are a means of sharing the Good News of Jesus Christ in tangible ways.
“What’s really cool about this is that it is a two-fold ministry,” Kathy Moore shared. “Operation Christmas Child provides these boxes filled with toys, school supplies and personal toiletries, but they also share the Gospel.”
Greentown UMC had been active in the outreach ministry in the past but had not participated in several years before Moore, the church’s secretary sparked the interest. A small group of six or seven people within the church knew that Moore and her family had continued to pack and ship boxes on their own, and they asked if they could help. Soon after, the church’s United Methodist Women unit heard about the ministry and asked to join in and from there the Operation Christmas Child ministry at Greentown UMC has continued to grow.
It’s now a year-round effort of love to gather donated supplies from local businesses and individuals, as well as those purchased by church members. Every October, Moore and her team invite the congregation to the church for a packing party where they share fellowship, snacks, Christmas music, play games and, most importantly, pack boxes. This year the group packed 300 boxes over the span of two days.
The gifts will either be shipped outside of the United States to children affected by war, poverty, natural disaster, famine, and disease, or they will be sent to children living on Native American reservations here in our country. Since 1993, Operation Christmas Child has delivered gift-filled shoeboxes to over 168 million children in more than 100 countries.
The 300 boxes packed at Greentown UMC are placed in the sanctuary to be prayed over during Sunday worship before they are delivered to another church where they join more boxes being shipped to a large facility in Charlotte, NC to be placed into a shipping container and sent out to their final destination.
There are several within Greentown UMC who go above and beyond the call to ensure that all have a blessed Christmas. Lois, a woman in her 80s, decorates as many box lid interiors as she can with Scriptures, often pairing verses with images she can place onto the lids. Both of Moore’s daughters create what they call “theme boxes” complete with theme verses and positive encouragements for the boxes’ recipients.
Joining in on this particular packing party day were Bill and Barb Kral, Akron area church relations representatives for Operation Christmas Child. Their role is to partner with churches in the area, either helping those already participating in the ministry or encouraging those who are not. In conversations with Barb, she expressed a great appreciation for the work that Greentown UMC, and Moore in particular, have done over the years.
“When I first started talking with Kathy about Operation Christmas Child, I was like… Wow! You are just so in tune, you are so excited. You are so on board. And I hadn’t really experienced anything like that until we had talked,” she offered.
The Kral’s daughter adopted two children from Monrovia, Liberia in West Africa. When it came time to start packing the Operation Christmas Child gift boxes, Barb asked her daughter for ideas of what to put in the boxes.
“Coloring books and crayons,” Barb said her daughter told her. “The children who are receiving these boxes have no pre-conceived expectations. They have nothing. This shoebox is very special to this child. They will be an absolute surprise for the children.”
Kral shares that people trust Operation Christmas Child because it is an established, trustworthy and accountable organization. People can see where their money and their efforts are going, and she has seen videos from people she personally knows who have been on the ground and present at distribution sites.
One box that will be a special surprise to a child this Christmas was assembled by Moore’s daughter Christa. She assembled a box centered around the popular cartoon character Doc McStuffins. Inside she packed doctor’s tools, a Doc McStuffins doll, and stuffed animals among school supplies, personal toiletries and shoes. She decorated the inside of the lid with a note of encouragement about God’s plan for this child’s life and a sticker emblazoned with Jeremiah 29:11.
“Maybe it will go to a little girl who wants to be a doctor, who wants to grow up and make a difference in the world.”
If you have a story of how God is using your local church to transform the community, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org. The East Ohio Conference Communications team wants to tell your story.
*Brett Hetherington is the Communications specialist for the East Ohio Conference of The United Methodist Church.