Operation Christmas Child: More than Shoeboxes

Just Shoeboxes?

Many people have heard of Operation Christmas Child (OCC), a Christian organization that packs Christmas gifts in shoeboxes and sends them to children around the globe. Oh, and having American kids pack the shoeboxes teaches them to be grateful for all the gifts they do have, right? 

But is that all OCC does? After some research, I have become aware of the incredible work the organization does around the world–much more, it turns out, than distributing bar soap and a soccer ball at Christmas time. 

Mission and Vision

Operation Christmas Child, founded in the 1990’s, partners with Samaritan’s Purse as a way of expanding the reach of the shoebox gifts. Since that time, they have distributed gifts in over 100 countries to over 168 million children, using Christmas gifts as a way to demonstrate Christ’s love, telling others about the True Gift, salvation. Their work is a direct reflection of their mission statement, which is “to provide local partners around the world with shoeboxes filled with small toys, hygiene items, and school supplies as a means of reaching out to children in their own communities with the Good News of Jesus Christ.” [1] David Zimmerman, the Regional Director for OCC in the Great Lakes Region, added to the mission statement by saying that it exists “to demonstrate God’s love in a tangible way to children in need around the world.” [2] Gifts that are lovingly packed and distributed can cross all cultural and linguistic barriers–this is a core belief of OCC.

Packing Shoeboxes

Across the United States, OCC has multiple donation centers where people can drop off shoeboxes. Often, the boxes will contain hygiene items, school supplies, and fun toys, such as soccer balls or dolls. OCC counts on volunteers to help out at drop-off centers. After the gifts are packed and labeled, they are shipped around the world to pre-arranged distribution centers.

Distributing the Gifts

This year, at least some of the gifts will be going to over 100 unreached people groups in 46 different countries around the world, according to David Zimmerman. [2] At the distribution centers, those who are involved have the opportunity to share the gospel with those who have never heard of Jesus. Children who pick up their gifts at these centers hear the story of Jesus and are invited back to participate in OCC’s 12-week discipleship program.

Discipling Others

As a way to extend the gospel beyond a short presentation, Operation Christmas Child works with local leaders to disciple children through their 12-week program called The Greatest Journey. Because children who attend have already received boxes and have seen the kindness of the workers, they are often willing to listen and participate in the program. These gifts have already physically benefited the children by providing them with varying necessities and with toys they would not otherwise own. But with the discipleship program, the children also benefit spiritually and learn the truthabout the world around them. Many of these children live in destitute areas, but studying the Word of God gives them hope for the future, both here on earth and in heaven.  

Working with Local Leadership

Operation Christmas Child does not come into countries and immediately take charge, assuming they know everything. Instead, they connect with local pastors and leaders, working beside those who are from the culture and who best know how to connect with people. OCC says that “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.” [3] Having witnessed ministries who refuse to partner with local leaders, I appreciate the work that OCC does by working with the pastors in the different countries. The discipleship program also gives their ministry partners, who are often the pastors, the resources they need to reach out to their communities in ways they were not able to before.[4]

Supporting Through Prayer

As with any organization, the most important way to be involved with Operation Christmas Child is to pray fervently and persistently. David Zimmerman specifically requested prayer for “the local churches around the world that as they demonstrate God’s love in a tangible way through the giving of these gifts that the door of the gospel will be opened wide.” [2] He encourages readers to watch this video about the Father’s love. 

From my research, sharing the love of Jesus is the main goal of Operation Christmas Child. Pray that children from around the world will surrender their lives to Jesus. Pray for more volunteers and resources.

Others ways YOU can be involved

Donate shoeboxes yourself! Grab some of your friends and instead of having a game night, pack shoeboxes. Their website gives instructions on how to pack a shoebox and where to drop it off. If you want to continue helping with the Christmas gifts, you can volunteer at packing centers to help prepare the donated boxes for shipping here.


I approached the research for this article with the attitude that this is just another organization trying to empower children. However, I realized that the goal of Operation Christmas Child is much more than distributing gifts and bringing smiles to the faces of five-year-olds. While their program does include that, their purpose for distributing thousands of boxes every year is to give them the opportunity to share the Gospel with thousands of people around the world. Many countries and unreached people groups cannot simply be contacted with tracts and storybooks. 

Using Christmas gifts in shoeboxes is a creative way for Christians to tangibly show the love of Jesus Christ and to explain the true meaning of Christmas. Whether it is praying for the thousands of kids who will receive boxes this year or packing shoeboxes yourself, I encourage you to see how you can reach out beyond your normal Christmas traditions to help share the gospel across the globe this season. Who knows? Maybe you and your friends will start a new Christmas tradition this year!

IMG_20190809_183910568_PORTRAIT Kristen Yoder currently lives in Elmhurst, Queens, NYC, one of the most ethnically diverse places on the earth. She is often involved in church activities and squeezes in college in her spare time, thanks to Lumerit Education. She enjoys reading mystery novels and missionary biographies and enthusiastically joins conversations about theology, cross-cultural missions, and personality types, to name a few.
  1. Samaritan’s Purse. FAQs: What is Operation Christmas Child? https://www.samaritanspurse.org/operation-christmas-child/frequently-asked-questions/ Web accessed November 8, 2019.
  2. David Zimmerman. Personal email interview.
  3. Samaritan’s Purse. FAQs: What Happens After My Shoebox is Sent? https://www.samaritanspurse.org/operation-christmas-child/frequently-asked-questions/ Web accessed November 8, 2019.
  4. Samaritan’s Purse. FAQs: What Happens After My Shoebox is Sent? https://www.samaritanspurse.org/operation-christmas-child/frequently-asked-questions/ Web accessed November 8, 2019.
  5. Samaritan’s Purse. How to Pack a Shoebox. https://www.samaritanspurse.org/operation-christmas-child/pack-a-shoe-box/ Web accessed November 8, 2019.

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