Friday, October 28, 2011

Operation Christmas Child - Trash or Treasure?

While we're still making the most of autumn's harvest in these parts I'm going to diverge for a moment in the name of a good discussion. 

Each fall kids and adults across the country begin pulling out shoe boxes and filling them with toys and essentials to send to children less fortunate than themselves through Operation Christmas Child. The organization's stated mission is, "To demonstrate God's love in a tangible way to needy children around the world, and together with the local church worldwide, to share the Good News of Jesus Christ." 

We've participated in this project for several years now. I think it has tremendous potential to carry out the exact end it is striving toward. Still, a concerning trend continues to surface that merits further consideration. What are we sticking in these boxes?   

Time and time again I find myself a part of conversations (or Facebook posts, or even websites devoted entirely to this end) in which people are trying to figure out how to spend the least amount of money possible to fill their OCC boxes. 

Suggestions I've personally seen include hitting up the 99Cent Only stores, utilizing the toy one gets when they order a McDonald's Happy Meal, raiding their own kid's bedroom for unused party favors and gathering up all the washcloths available on sale at a local drugstore. 

Sometimes this thriftiness stems from true financial hardship. More often the motivation seems to be driven by a mentality of sheer frugality or in an attempt to stuff as many boxes as humanly possible full of Christmas cheer. It appears that corporately we continue to derive great satisfaction from volume in this country - even when it comes to charity.

This summer I happened upon an enlightening post on the Apparent Project Blog titled Peanut Butter and Shelly. Here a woman who is dwelling among some of the world's poorest in Haiti pleas with a well-meaning group of Christians in Wisconsin to please stop sending peanut butter to these people. The congregation's logic seemed reasonable (poor people need protein in times of crisis and we can provide this in mass amounts). It turns out that this act of generosity is undermining one of the few remaining staple crops (peanuts) in this region. Not so helpful after all.

Shelly's plea includes fascinating data, shameful realities and helpful insights that add further dimension to how we might effectively partner in the quest to end poverty. Early on she states, 

"While I'm infinitely appreciative of churches that take seriously the Biblical mandate to prioritize the plight of the poor and suffering, I'm concerned that so many of us have neglected that mandate for so long that when we recognize our grave oversight, we rush into service without thinking through the impact of our actions or getting to know those we intend to serve."  

So how can Shelly's words inform the way in which we pack our boxes? Here's a few things we're taking a closer look at this year:

1. Who Is This Box Going To?
The recipients of these boxes are impoverished children in Third World and developing nations. Their homes are modest at best with very little space. One of the accounts I read on OCC website described a group of lower-class Filipinos who make their home by the dump. There they collect trash in hopes of making a small income. 

As we pack our boxes, these are the sorts of kids we have to keep in mind. The last thing any of us want to do is add more junk (i.e. 99Cent Store and Happy Meal toys) to an already impoverished land where its poorest take up residence alongside the rubbish. 

2. Are The Items in this Box Sustainable?
Arguably, less (high quality items) is in fact more in this case. Why not seek out one sturdy toy (wooden or hand-washable plush toys are both great options), a nice washcloth and a few other toiletries that will withstand the conditions they are heading to and some sturdy school-type supplies. Battery operated and plastic toys seem far less ideal (for all of us, really). Additional treats could be fruit leathers, a few fun pieces of candy and a hand-written card designed by your family. 

3. What Is My Motivation in Sending This?
OCC offers our families a great opportunity to reach out to those in need and to recognize all that we've been given - both very valuable.  Let's not get wrapped up in other motivations (like being the class with the most boxes or the family who cranks out ten boxes each year). Too quickly our eyes can move beyond the opportunity to reach out humbly in the name of Christ to a child who might otherwise have nothing at Christmastime. 

4. Am I Willing to Sacrifice?
Truly, our general affluence can keep us from actually having to sacrifice even when we're regularly contributing to ends such as this. While I'm certainly not calling us to suffer in the name of Christmas boxes, I do think we have a tremendous opportunity to give of ourselves through this process. 

Let's drop the production mentality when it comes to Operation Christmas Child. In its place, take time to consider the age and gender of the child you'd like to help. Pray for them and then set about the process of seeking out high quality items that will bless this little one at Christmastime and beyond.  



  1. This is excellent, Cari. I'm totally on board here. The Apparent Project blog has been SUPER enlightening to me too. If you ever get the chance to read, they've got some excellent items in the Archives. I wish more people shared this mentality. But, maybe things are starting to change!

    And such great thoughts about Christmas giving in general. Less is truly more for all of us.

  2. This is one of your best posts, Cari! I love it. My parents are so good at what you describe. They take time out every few months or so to thoughtfully shop for quality stuff for their World VIsion kids. It's pretty awesome.
    Thanks for putting all your thoughts on "paper".

  3. Late to finding your blog but I enjoyed reading this.

    I think that actually a McDonalds toy could be okay (sometimes they have the hot wheels or little stuffed animals) but like you, I am trying to be conscious of what I send...sending things that won't break the first time they use them.

    Upcoming blog series on what are in each of my boxes. I just love OCC and Samaritan's Purse!