By KAREN L. WILLOUGHBY, Managing Editor
STATEWIDE – Churches large and small across the state, and of several denominations, filled shoeboxes this year for Operation Christmas Child, a ministry of Franklin Graham’s Samaritan’s Purse organization.
[img_assist|nid=6949|title=Shoeboxes filled in Louisiana set for global distribution|desc=About 50 volunteers at Hebron Baptist Church in Bush helped pack more than 3,000 shoeboxes on Big Box Party day. “I believe God has called our entire church to the shoebox ministry,” said co-coordinator Shelli Herring. “So many people surrended to that call this year.” Above: Mikayla Strain, 11.|link=none|align=left|width=100|height=67]The unofficial total was 88,314 shoeboxes from Louisiana alone, said Bryce Wilks, a ministry spokesman for the Texas/Louisiana regional office of Operation Christmas Child.
“That’s up more than 7,500 shoeboxes from last year,” Wilks said. “The New Orleans collection center went from 9,300 last year to 12,000 this year. That was the biggest increase in any of the eight regional collection centers in Louisiana.”
The shoeboxes were trucked from Louisiana to Denver, Colo., and then potentially to more than 100 receiving nations, Wilks said. However, most of the shoeboxes in Denver end up in Mexico, he added. This year, 10,000 from Denver are going to Haiti.
“I think a lot of the success this year and in years past is the strong leadership we have in Louisiana,” Wilks said. “We have experienced volunteers in Louisiana who know what they’re doing, and they get better each year.”
Hebron Baptist Church in Bush, St. Tammany Baptist Association, is one example. About 250 people participate in Sunday morning worship at Hebron Bush, where Sam Greer is pastor.
They’ve been doing Operation Christmas Child for the last four years. For the last three, Shellie Herring and Vanessa O’Berry have been coordinating what they say is a church-wide effort.
This year, Hebron packed 5,100 shoeboxes for Operation Christmas Child – a new record.
“We have really tried to increase the number of boxes each year,” O’Berry said. “With each additional box, that’s one more child who is given the message that Jesus loves them.”
Herring prayed about this year’s shoebox goal, and came up with the “5,000” number. That the total exceeded the number they believed God gave them is an indication of the church’s complete support for this ministry, O’Berry said. The church gave 2,100 shoeboxes last year.
“To do that many boxes takes an entire church totally committed to the project,” O’Berry said. “Some people filled and brought in their own boxes; some people gave monetary donations. We shopped all year to find sales and maximize the money we had to work with, and had a big box party. This year we packed maybe 3,000 in one day!”
She had “stories upon stories” of the miracles that happen each year in the acquisition of supplies for the shoeboxes, and this year was no exception, O’Berry said.
“Here’s one about toothbrushes,” she said. “I’m shopping right before the box party. We need toothbrushes: 1,700 of them. Normally we have to run to several stores to make that amount, several Dollar Trees all over different cities to get that amount.
“I walked into the first Dollar Tree, and don’t see toothbrushes, and then I see a half-case of them, and then two more cases underneath, unopened,” O’Berry continued. “I need one more case, but that’s all there is. And then I turn the corner of an aisle, and there’s one more case!
“Right there I fill my whole quota in one store,” the shoebox ministry co-coordinator said. “To walk into one store at crunch time, and God provides the exact amount of toothbrushes we need? I cried. I knew only God can do that.
“We had so many things like that this year,” O’Berry said. “One of the things I get from doing this [ministry] is seeing all the miracles God does. … To actually see the miracles and recognize them for what they are is a blessing in itself.”
But the real blessing of the Operation Christmas Child shoebox ministry comes from knowing the impact the shoeboxes could have on the lives of the children who receive them, O’Berry said.
“It’s our duty as Christians to make sure everyone hears the Word of God,” she said. “To me, this is a way everyone can be a foreign missionary, by packing one simple shoebox.”
Mary Damrom, who lives in North Carolina and helps deliver shoeboxes to children around the world for Operation Christmas Child, spoke this year at Hebron Bush, where about 250 people participate in Sunday morning worship.
“The stories she tells of the children – they’re amazing,” O’Berry said. “After you’ve heard her speak, you would do anything to get a shoebox to a child.”
Samaritan’s Purse/Operation Christmas Child provides a suggested list of contents for the shoeboxes.
“Colors – that’s a huge thing for these children, pens, pencils, stuffed animals,” O’Berry said. “They all get a toy. What’s the dollar amount of the items in a shoebox? Priceless – because it’s a soul for Jesus.”
Other churches that reported to the Baptist Message their involvement with the Operation Christmas Child shoebox ministry include Amite Denham Springs; Baptist Temple Alexandria; Bethel Colfax; Calvary Alexandria; Calvary Ruston; Crockett Point Winnsboro; Emmanuel Oakdale;
Fair Park West Monroe collected 552 shoeboxes from their church and as a regional collection point, gathered 14,196 boxes from their part of northeast Louisiana.
First Bastrop; First Blanchard 67 shoeboxes; First Ferriday78; First Haughton; First Haynesville; First Homer; First Jena; First Jonesboro; First Jonesville 1138; First Minden 2,008;
First Morgan City, 727 shoeboxes from their church and as a regional collection point gathered 2,995 shoeboxes; First St. Francisville; First Tullos 119; First Vidalia 317; First Winnfield; First Winnsboro; First Zwolle;
Highland West Monroe; Hodge Hodge 100; Kingston Road Shreveport; Mulberry Houma; Northside Lafayette; Parkview Alexandria 441; Philadelphia Deville 60; Riverside Denham Springs; Sale Street Lake Charles 200; Simpson Simpson; Summer Grove Shreveport 80; Temple Ruston 400; Tioga First 100; Westside Natchitoches.
“Thank you, Louisiana Baptists, for taking the time to make a Christmas happen for 88,000 children who might otherwise not see a gift this year,” said Wilks of Operation Christmas Child. “Because of your gifts, those 88,000 youngsters will also hear the gospel through our discipleship materials, which could have an eternal impact on their lives.”