Yet for other people, it is the month to give a little more. To share Christmas joy with those less privileged.
My mom always taught us that giving is important. Growing up, each December we’d pile up in the van and head to the store to purchase items to fill a shoebox for Operation Christmas Child. There we would each pick out items that we would love to have ourselves, for another child our own age and gender. It was so much fun! I loved coming home, taking everything out of the packages and packing the box, putting the special toy(s) I picked out right on top. It was so special and since my love language was gifts (giving and receiving), that made it all the more special!
When I turned thirteen, we heard about going to the Operation Christmas Child processing center to help volunteer. It was only for those 13 years and older. Mom and I wanted to go, but for some reason, the Lord didn’t allow us to go that year.
Fast forward to the year 2016. We now had three children in the family over the age of thirteen. This December I wanted to serve and give to others less fortunate. Thankfully, the Lord allowed us to go this time.
I smiled to the frosty window of the van as if I was a little child looking through the window of a candy store. I was giddy with excitement! We were finally going to volunteer at the Operation Christmas Child processing center in California. Many questions ran through my head in those minutes we traveled from the hotel to the warehouse. None could be answered, however, until we got there.
“There it is!” Mom cried out suddenly and Dad did a quick turn. Before us was a large white building lined with windows. A black fence surrounded the building and parking lot. Tied to the fence was a large banner displaying OCC’s logo. Pulling into the parking lot, we stopped before a man wearing an orange vest and green OCC t-shirt.
“Hello folks! Are you here to volunteer?” he asked upon coming to the rolled down window.
“Yes,” was the reply my parents gave at the same time.
“Okay, awesome! If you look in that direction, there is a white tent. Just park there in the parking lot and head to that white tent. There will direct you from there.”
“Thanks so much,” my Dad replied.
“You’re welcome! Have a nice day and have fun, okay?”
Dad then expertly drove us to the white tent. It suddenly occurred to me that they may not allow cameras inside. As I jumped out of the van, I expressed my concern to Mom.
“Well, let’s ask the lady in the red shirt there,” and with that we walked over to the white tent. There we were met by a kind lady behind a table and a man standing nearby.
“Are cameras allowed?” Mom asked.
“Of course, I just need to check the bag.” She answered cheerfully, while I put my camera bag on the table. She continued, “Just to make sure you brought all your lenses!” I smiled.
After looking through my bag, she then directed us to follow the man into the building. “There they will get you all checked in.”
As I walked inside, each step got me more and more excited. Inside the building, boxes with the words Samaritan's Purse, four people, a few white tables and banners greeted us. We walked over to one table to obtain name tags and get checked in. The lady behind this table told us to go with another man dressed in a green OCC hoody. (Later, I noticed that different colored shirts meant different levels of the staff.) They had just taken another group of volunteers to the orientation area and we could join them.
The kind gentleman led us through a hallway, near the work area, to a small boxed off room. (Yes, the room was literally made of boxes stacked upon each other.) Here the man gave us a little run down of what OCC does, what we would get to do that day, where today’s boxes would shipped to (it was the Philippines that day) and thanked us for coming to volunteer. After that, we watched two short videos on a small tv screen before he led us in prayer.
Next, he led us to two ladies in charge of assigning us to a certain assembly line. While we waited for a few minutes, I took the moment to look around. Boxes, several assembly lines that almost looked like check out lines at a grocery store, volunteers and staff, and quite a few roller table tracks filled a good part of the room. Lining one large wall was a massive amount of boxes that needed to be gone through.
The whole time we were there, I never saw that amount of boxes diminish. And that was after working for several hours and going through nearly fifty or so large boxes!
We were assigned to assembly line six and were greeted cheerfully by Beth, who was on staff and there to be our “coach”. She instructed us in each section of the assembly line. One of my brothers and I chose to be pre-inspectors, while Dad ended up being a big box packer and another brother was a scanner boy.
Now, let me explain my job. If Beth didn’t open the big boxes, I would open a large box and take out a shoebox. More often than not the box was taped or rubber banded. I would then remove those and open the lid. Next, I would shuffle through the contents to find any money (cash or check) donated for helping send the box or just given to the child. If I found any money, which was sometimes rare, I would discard it into a slot at the top of a chest/locked suitcase. I would also open any envelopes and check to make sure the labels were correct on the outside of the box or add a label if it lacked one. After that, I would put the box on the rack.
That is what I did nearly all day.
And you know what? I LOVED pre-inspecting the boxes! I don’t think I ever enjoyed a job so much or enjoyed working, with so much energy for so long! It was hours before I got even a little tired. It was the pure joy of opening a box like it was a present, seeing the new or different items in it, seeing the personal notes or touches to every box that thrilled me! I could see the love that was put into each box… whether it was packed by a child or an adult. It would nearly break my heart if I came across a box that had hardly anything in it… which did happen from time to time, but most were full to the brim with wonderful goodies for the children!
After a few hours went by, a man in a blue OCC t-shirt got onto a little platform and spoke through a microphone. He had everyone pause as he said a few words and then told everyone to put their hand on a shoebox nearest them. He then asked us to look at the label and see what gender and age the box was for. He told us to picture that child in our minds and to picture that child receiving that box, while he prayed over the boxes.
Both times that happened while I was there, my hand was upon a box for a boy age 5-9 years. The man had mentioned before he prayed, that we were some of the last people to touch those boxes before it was handed to a child. It was in that moment I felt something I never felt so strongly before… it was love. Love for some little child I was getting to impact in a small way. I may not have packed the box. I may not have been the one to take that box to some remote place in the Philippines. I may not have been the one to hand the box to the child. I may never meet that little boy, but my prayers and love were given to that little boy. I tried to picture the pure delight on the little boy’s face when he would receive the box… just like the pure delight I had in just getting to help get that box to that little boy.
I was moved almost to tears. Yet, I couldn’t stop smiling. As I watched my brother put a large, completely packed box onto the roller table that was then put onto a pallet and taken out through the large door, I thought about the love that was being shipped in those boxes.
Love… in a shoebox.
Going to Operation Christmas Child has now become one of my most favorite memories and favorite activities. I want to encourage you to become involved with Operation Christmas Child. Whether you pack a small shoebox, hold a shoebox packing party or volunteer at a processing center, you are helping to impact thousands of children with the Gospel. Before they let the children open the boxes, they give them a little picture booklet explaining the Gospel and give a Gospel presentation. Many children give their lives to Jesus and are touched by the love of Christ and the love of people just like you, who take the time in the midst of the holiday season to pack a shoebox.
To learn more about Operation Christmas Child visit https://www.samaritanspurse.org/what-we-do/operation-christmas-child/
Note from the author: This story was based on true events. The idea/title was inspired by a motto I saw on a picture with the logo of OCC displayed on it.