Special to the Message
JENA – Collection Week during November 12-19 will serve to mark the 25th anniversary of Operation Christmas Child, a ministry of Franklin Graham’s Samaritan Purse that takes place the week before Thanksgiving.
Churches and individuals will bring gift-filled shoeboxes to relay stations across the country to begin the process of providing local partners around the world with a means of reaching out to children in their communities with the good news of Jesus Christ.
These simple gifts – small toys, hygiene items, and school supplies – go to children overseas affected by war, poverty, natural disaster, famine, and disease, and to children living on Native American reservations in the United States.
FIRST BAPTIST MINISTERS GLOBALLY
The First Baptist Church in Jena has been involved with Operation Christmas Child for 20 years, and since 2005 has been the LaSalle Parish Relay Station, taking collected shoeboxes to Kingsville Baptist Church in Pineville where they are picked up by Samaritan’s Purse 18-wheelers.
In 1998, Frances McDonald was asked by First Jena’s Missions in Action Director Ernie Poole to help with a new project. She had no idea then that she would one day be called to head up the operation which would grow some 2,000 percent.
“I remember that it was Rexi Tweety who approached Mrs. Ernie about starting Operation Christmas Child at First Baptist back in 1998,” McDonald said. “She had been a part of it in Baton Rouge and thought it was a great project for our church to be involved in.”
The first year the church collected 86 boxes to send to Baton Rouge to join the many others to be distributed across the globe.
By 2005, the worthy cause had spread among so many churches throughout LaSalle Parish that a relay station was established at First Jena. That was the year Poole decided it was time to pass the mantle of control of the Christmas project to McDonald.
Last year, the relay station collected 1,798 shoeboxes.
“Of course, First Baptist isn’t responsible for preparing all those boxes,” she noted. “We prepare 500 boxes each year and the rest come from many churches and individuals in our parish.”
First Jena prepares 500 and Mt. Nebo Baptist Church prepares another 500, she said, adding that the rest come from a number of other churches and individuals, which is the majority of the boxes from LaSalle Parish but First Baptist is probably one of the few churches that allow the filling of the boxes to be a church-wide ministry event.
“We are one of the few churches that puts ours together the way we do – most churches have individuals in the church prepare the boxes themselves and bring them to the church,” McDonald said. “We designate one afternoon, lay out all the materials to fill the boxes on tables, then have members and guests grab a box and go around the tables filling the boxes. We’re able to fill those 500 boxes in a relatively short time doing it this way.”
She said it’s a way to get the church together, have “hands-on” ministry experience, and see for themselves all that the children who receive the boxes for Christmas will get.
A LASTING CHRISTMAS GIFT
McDonald said there is great joy in knowing that a child who would have not received anything for Christmas will receive one of these special OCC boxes. But she emphasized that the greatest joy is in knowing they will hear the message that Jesus loves them and has a plan of salvation for their lives.
“These boxes aren’t just handed out – they are distributed by trained partners of Samaritan’s Purse who use special materials to share the Gospel,” she said. “Most of the children who hear the Gospel make professions of faith in Jesus Christ.”
The Samaritan’s Purse website explains that boys and girls who receive the shoeboxes are invited to enroll in “The Greatest Journey,” a 12-lesson discipleship program. “Through the program, our local ministry partners are able to establish long-term, caring relationships with children and families by sharing the love of Jesus Christ.”
Each box is also delivered with a Bible – in the language of the country where the boxes are distributed.
“That’s the reason we don’t put Bibles in the shoeboxes,” McDonald said. “Once they reach International’s final preparation center, a Bible in the language of the country where they are going is sent with the box.”
“I consider it a great honor to be able to work in this ministry that is sharing the Gospel around the world and seeing people saved through Jesus Christ,” McDonald declared.
“We have had people in our parish receive letters from India, Honduras, Uganda, the Philippines, Africa and Estonia, just to name a few,” she said. “It is really a thrill to hear first-hand from those families that received a box and what a blessing it was to them.”
Last year, Operation Christmas Child collected 9.1 million shoeboxes in the United States and more than 11.4 million combined from partnering countries.
For more information about Operation Christmas Child including information about what to pack inside a box, visit: www.samaritanspurse.org.
For information about how to support the Operation Christmas Child ministry of the First Baptist Church in Jena, contact McDonald at 318.992.5985.