Operation Christmas Child Bans Christmas to Spread the Message

November 14, 2006 by

It’s collection week for Operation Christmas Child, the high profile project of Franklin Graham and Samaritan’s Purse, and while shoeboxes are being packed for kids across the world, they’re also being unpacked of any religious message. According to the Daily Mail Samaritan’s Purse has banned any religious items from the boxes, including Bible stories, images of Jesus and any other religious items (though these don’t make the list of other banned items on their web site, which also includes war-related toys, chocolate or food, breakables, medicine and liquids).

Shocking, isn’t it? A Christian charity banning its own message. But it’s part of making sure the message gets through. They need to respect local cultures where the boxes will be distributed–which are often primarily Muslim. Giving a Jesus doll to a Muslim boy could cause problems on the scale of a certain cartoon that caused worldwide riots. Samaritan’s Purse hopes the simple act of giving will speak for itself, followed up by the ongoing interaction with the organization. The idea is that there will be other, better avenues to spread its message, so they voluntariy opt not to put the message in the shoeboxes. Instead the shoebox itself is the message.

So is it political correctness gone amuck? (Seriously? Since when was Franklin Graham politically correct?) Or is it a good example of carefully considering when and how to communicate the gospel?

And that’s where this becomes an apt lessons for churches and how they do outreach. While the ultimate goal is telling people about Jesus, sometimes how we do that is more important than simply doing it. A message communicated at the wrong time and the wrong place and in the wrong context is often worse than not communicating at all. And for those who say we need to rely on God, I think it’s clear that he also relies on us to do it right and not just wing it. Communicating the gospel in the right time and the right place and the right context all relies on God. (The other danger here is to never communicate the gospel because we can never figure out how to do it just right. As always, a balance is important.)

Sometimes sticking to that conviction means you take flak from the faithful. And in the case of Operation Christmas Child, I wonder if the flak comes from those who are more interested in feeling like they’ve carried out the great commission than actually doing it.

Post By:

Kevin D. Hendricks

When Kevin isn't busy as the editor of Church Marketing Sucks, he runs his own writing and editing company, Monkey Outta Nowhere. Kevin has been blogging since 1998 and has published several books, including 137 Books in One Year: How to Fall in Love With Reading, The Stephanies and all of our church communication books.
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22 Responses to “Operation Christmas Child Bans Christmas to Spread the Message”

  • Joe Suh
    November 14, 2006

    Hmm… I’m all for being respectful of local cultures and faiths, but this seems over the top to me. Not sure if there is a better context to introduce Christ than Christmas. Most of us shoebox stuffers will never get to share the actual gospel with children in Muslim countries…

  • Melissa
    November 14, 2006

    All of the promotional materials about OCC say that they include a gospel booklet in the child’s local language. Are you saying that this isn’t the case?

  • Sara
    November 14, 2006

    “Shocking, isn’t it? A Christian charity banning its own message. But it’s part of making sure the message gets through.”
    I don’t think Samaritan’s Purse is necessarily banning their message or succumbing to “political correctness” — just being shrewd and discerning in the nations they are serving.
    Most Islamic countries regard that Jesus came and they respect him highly as a prophet, so we know that the message is out there without randomly exporting chick tracks and praying sheep dolls. And we don’t know how our “missions” attempt will be received, either — there are plenty of places that are violent toward xtians. Unless I have opportunity to provide a friendship, answer questions and model love for them, what good is it to hand a marketing gimmick to a stranger then walk away?
    To put the shoe on the other foot, would you like your child to receive an unsolicited Buddha statue or book on the teachings of Nietzsche mixed in with much needed clothing or school supplies?
    I appreciate the mission of Operation Christmas Child — giving a little something to those who have little, giving hope to old souls. “They will know you are followers of Christ by your love.”

  • Jody
    November 14, 2006

    I think the important thing to remember here is that boycotting or refusing to give to this organization in light of this news won’t solve anything- we still have the kids to think about. Perhaps this is a way we can see God move through prayer instead of hoping the kids will play with the (all due respect)Jesus junk. I think some might be tempted to give of their abundance to someone else this year rather than this Org but remember why you’re giving in the first place. And pray that God would reach the kids with His truth.

  • Rich Schmidt
    November 14, 2006

    Re: Melissa — I don’t know about the rest of their promotional materials, but their website doesn’t say that EVERY box gets a gospel presentation booklet in it. It says that they collected 7.6 million shoeboxes last year and that “millions of children” received gospel brochures along with the gifts.
    The Daily Mail article chalks it up to Political Correctness. That’s a knee-jerk analysis, if you ask me. It looks to me like shrewd (pre)evangelism. It’s not “shocking” to me.

  • Stan
    November 14, 2006

    When I first started to read, my own knee jerk reaction was frustration that yet another organisation is succumbing to political correctness. That’s not it though. The mission the purse has is spreading joy – loving our neighbour as ourself. Even, me as a committed Christian would question the motives behind a gift if Christian tracts, etc. are given with it.
    A poster above stated that most shoebox stuffers will never get the opportunity to share the Gospel with a Muslim child. There are loads of mission opportunities available. Just most of them require more commitment and sacrifice then sending a shoebox. Try them out.

  • Laura
    November 14, 2006

    Thank you for posting this article. I live in the most populous Muslim country in the world, where I serve as a teacher, training up the next generation. I work for Christian nationals who go out in the stricter parts of the country and meet the physical needs of the people. They mostly start schools and under NO circumstances mention Jesus or the Bible. If they did, then they would be banned from the area and wouldn’t even be allowed to meet the physical needs of the people there. These people know the culture and the people because they are nationals. When other ogranizations come in and start prosthelytizing in the area, they ruin it for everyone else working in the area because the religious leaders kick everyone out! For example one group came in and started teaching Christian songs to the little children in one school. The kids didn’t know what they were singing, but their religious leaders did and therefore banned everyone from interacting at ALL with the children in that school.
    So, I appreciate the efforts of Franklin Graham and his organization. They are not being political correct. They are respecting the local cultures and therefore are building a relationship that will last for the long term. That’s what will win these people in the end. It’s a war, not a little battle. And if they even smell that we have an alterior motive we will be sent away. (Samaritan’s Purse was one of the only organizations allowed to remain after the tsunami because of their no-prosthelytizing policies.)
    And for those reasons I will continue to support the Operation Christian Child both financially and with my time. :) Thanks for letting me voice that. I’ll step off the soap box now. :)

  • Ted
    November 14, 2006

    When I read this I said, Amen. Too many times we stress getting the message out instead of discovering the best way of unfolding the message of Christ in a certain culture. Bringing an american style of sharing about Jesus to certain cultures will have an extreme negative effect. The message is the same, how and when you deliver the message is incredibly important.

  • Matt
    November 14, 2006

    Wow! Your post is incredible. While you cannont fault believers for wanting to spread the message, this post offers amazing insight.
    But it is not just for foreign cultures. We need to remember this when asking our neighbor to come to church with us. We need to invest the time, gain their trust and and be respectful of their current beliefs before we help them. Just a thought…

  • KJV
    November 15, 2006

    Proverbs 5:21
    21 For the ways of man are before the eyes of the LORD, and he pondereth all his goings.
    Ecclesiastes 12:14
    14 For God shall bring every work into judgment, with every secret thing, whether it be good, or whether it be evil. God bless

  • muzik316
    November 15, 2006

    Can you provide another source for the information?

  • rallyfan
    November 15, 2006

    Thought you might want to see the official response that I received when I inquired directly to Samaritan’s Purse. See below:
    Thank you for expressing your concern about the newspaper article published recently in United Kingdom. The article stated that Christian literature is banned from gift-filled shoe boxes donated to Operation Christmas Child. Please be assured that the commitment of Samaritan’s Purse to evangelism is as strong as ever.
    Christian literature is not banned from Operation Christmas Child shoe boxes in the United Kingdom or any other sending country. However, there is a difference in the way the boxes are processed in the U.K. for overseas shipment. The U.K. program removes all religious items (Christian as well as other religions) and forwards any Christian literature to our National Leadership Teams working in countries where shoe box gifts are distributed, so the Christian literature can be used with children through the local church.
    Samaritan’s Purse staff in the U.K. is dedicated, as we all are, to ensuring that Christian literature given by donors is used in effective ministry outreach to children through Operation Christmas Child.
    The Gospel is also presented locally as part of the distribution of the gifts, and wherever possible, children are offered a Gospel storybook written in their own language called The Greatest Gift of All. Many children are also invited to enroll in a 10-lesson follow-up Bible study program, and upon completion receive a New Testament as a graduation gift.
    In the United States, Christian literature remains inside the shoe box gifts given by donors. We are developing and implementing standard operating procedures to ensure that this practice is followed in the U.K. and other sending countries.
    It grieves us that this article has caused confusion at this particularly crucial time for Operation Christmas Child in the United States, as National Collection Week began Monday, November 13. On behalf of Franklin Graham, we thank you for writing and expressing your concerns.
    We invite you to please join us in prayer for Operation Christmas Child.
    Soon we will be delivering 7.8 million shoe box gifts to hurting boys and girls in over 90 countries around the world. Each box can make an eternal difference in the life of a child!
    Donor Ministries
    Samaritan’s Purse
    PO Box 3000
    Boone, NC 28607

  • Jody
    November 15, 2006

    Wow- thank you so much for posting the letter!

  • Susie Haglund
    November 15, 2006

    Please get your facts straight before you malign a ministry. Operation Christmas Child adds a gospel booklet to each box in the appropriate language giving the Christmas story and the gospel to each child and family that receives a box. They are nice books and part of the Wonder Project. Far more appropriate than a cheesy American “jesus” doll or coloring book from the dollar tree. In countries that have a mailbox club from Child Evangelism Fellowship or Source of Life, the book includes a way to write for gospel and discipleship lessons that are age appropriate for the children. Not so cheesy and very evangelistic. I checked it out before I coordinated a local effort in England and then again here in the U.S. Everyone who gets a box is given access to the gospel message.

  • Gene Mason
    November 15, 2006

    Kevin, I think you jumped the gun a little on this one… Samaritan’s Purse is a solid organization and I think your initial info was bad. Nothing of value is gained by this conversation.

  • Joe Suh
    November 16, 2006

    I think there was value in this discussion. A lot of diverse opinions, and kudos to Kevin for expressing one and not taking the neutral middle-of-the-road (even though I completely disagree with the premise)
    This is a blog not a 60 Minutes story, and even Dan Rather jumps the gun once in a while :)

  • Kevin Hendricks
    November 16, 2006

    Sorry you think I jumped the gun. I thought it was an interesting article and an interesting discussion. I’m not really sure how talking about a story in a newspaper article is jumping the gun, or how what I said is maligning Samaritan’s Purse.
    It’s a blog people–we talk about what we see and sort it out as we go. Which is why the important part of the post is the application for churches. Regardless of how this shakes out for OCC, it’s still true that churches need to think about how they’re spreading the gospel.

  • Steve K.
    November 16, 2006

    You didn’t mention SP’s innovative use of videoblogging to promote OCC this year. I posted a critique of it, if you’re interested:
    Steve K.

  • Kris
    November 20, 2006

    Do you even realize that in places that they deliver these boxes, a kid caught with a jesus figurine could be shot or jailed, and that many of these boxes would not legally be allowed to be delivered if they contained religious items. So whats worse, a box without any religious items delivered to an opressed child in a third world country, or a child punished by the government for opening a christmas present?

  • RS
    December 21, 2006

    We are recipients of Operation Christmas Child in India. Along with the gift we give 10 Bible lessons, a new testament in the people’s native language as well as freely share the gospel in the schools and villages where they are distributed.

  • Connie Allen
    July 7, 2007

    A Christian paper book in different languages is placed in each box! The Florida area where we collect, pick up, distribute, and drive to Georgia and then work as volunteers have to take out plastic gun items or anything related to war; these kids suffer enough, Christ is in the box; it is the box that brings the message to the child along with other goodies that are sorted through to prevent problems. Money cannot be put in boxes as a child could be shot for a nickel! Please, get all the facts, the Florida group of volunteers that are involved for last 5 yrs; have been able to do the job from start (which is March until December) and even got to go to Jamaica to dispurse the gifts to the smiling children!
    Thank you

  • Karl Sahn
    November 16, 2007

    I worked in the western plant in Calgary CANADA in 2002 and they made us take out all Bibles and anything with Jesus because they didn’t know what countries things were going to…the material taken out was going to local charities we were told…I just don’t understand why they just don’t tell people the truth in their “how to pack a box” literature!! I had to take out so many Bibles and colouring books etc it made me mad that they just didn’t tell people- and when I tried to ask the head U.S office…they didn’t want to deal with it at all…

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