Evangelist Franklin Graham says the humanitarian organization he leads, Samaritan’s Purse, is on track to distribute 11 million Christmas shoeboxes filled with gifts to disadvantaged children around the world this year.
The tradition known as Operation Christmas Child finds its genesis back in early 1990s when Samaritan’s Purse delivered 28,000 shoeboxes to children in war-torn Bosnia.
“We saw how people and families got so interested in giving the boxes,” Graham told The Western Journal, so the program continued and grew rapidly over the years.
To date, Samaritan’s Purse has partnered with local churches to deliver more than 168 million shoebox gifts to children in 160 countries around the world.
“When I agreed to send shoebox gifts to Bosnia in 1993, I never dreamed it would grow into the project it is today,” Franklin said last year, marking the 25th anniversary of the program.
“We praise God for allowing us to touch the lives of so many children and their families with the Gospel of Jesus Christ over the past 25 years,” he added.
At @SamaritansPurse we are preparing for @OCC_shoeboxes #NationalCollectionWeek 2019 in less than 3 weeks! Pray with us for all the children who will be forever impacted by these gifts. pic.twitter.com/wD7Z8KLXrz
— Franklin Graham (@Franklin_Graham) November 1, 2019
Each donated box contains gifts for boys or girls between the ages of 2 and 14.
Samaritan’s Purse asks that people who volunteer to fill the boxes include one “wow” item such as a stuffed animal, a doll, a soccer ball with a pump or a clothing item, then also add school supplies, toys and hygiene items, as well as a personal note.
The organization provides a list of recommended gifts, as well as what not to include in the boxes.
The boxes go to children in about 110 different countries, Graham said, including Peru, the Philippines, Rwanda and Ukraine.
“Every child that we give a box to, we try to make an effort to reach that child with the Gospel of Jesus Christ,” he said. “Each year we see hundreds of thousands of children accept Christ as their savior.”
Cambodian native Boun Thorne was one of those children Samaritan’s Purse reached with the Gospel.
At the age of about 10, she moved into a Christian safe house after being sexually assaulted by her uncle and physically abused by an alcoholic father.
In her new home, Boun was told about the love God had for her, but she found it hard to understand how an unseen Father in heaven could love her, given that her own dad and uncle, who she could see, did not.
All this changed for Boun when she attended a three-day Bible course after which all the children received a Christmas shoebox.
The teacher said each child was going to receive a gift from people who loved God and wanted to bless them.
Boun, then 13 or 14, recalled being so excited because growing up her family had never celebrated birthdays or Christmas. The box was her first present.
“As I looked through the items in my shoebox, this question come into my mind,” she said. “I asked myself, ‘Who did this? Who sent me this gift? Because they don’t know who I am.’
“When I opened my shoebox, the first thing I saw was a new pair of flip-flops.”
Boun was thrilled because she was only able to buy one pair of new shoes a year at the center where she lived.
Having grown up with no toys, Boun also loved the stuffed animal included in the box.
“The shoebox showed me that even though my dad didn’t love me, he didn’t want me, but there’s a Father in heaven that loves me so much that He can make someone who doesn’t know who I am to send me the box to show me that I am loved, and I am valuable,” she said.
“Even though my earthly father didn’t love me, but there’s a heavenly Father that loves me.”
Boun went on to graduate from high school, and while serving as a translator for missionaries in Cambodia, she met her future husband, an American from Oklahoma. They married in 2016.
She is now in college, pursuing her childhood dream to become a nurse.
In addition to distributing gift boxes, Graham said, Samaritan’s Purse will instruct over 5 million children this year in a 12-lesson discipleship course called “The Greatest Journey.”
“It’s designed to give the child a birds-eye view of the scripture and a basic understanding of who Jesus Christ was and is today,” he said.
“Our goal is to try to raise up an army of young children around the world who know how to share their faith,” Graham added.
Asked what he finds the most fulfilling at this point in his life in ministry, the 67-year-old said “telling people about Jesus” and seeing them “put their faith and trust in Christ. That is the most rewarding.”
Samaritan’s Purse will be collecting shoeboxes at more than 5,000 locations nationwide Nov. 18-25.
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