Friday 2 December 2011

Operation Christmas Child: My Response

Boy in Belarus receiving his Operation Christmas Child shoebox
Image Credit: Jonty Wilde

I spent an enjoyable couple of months this year planning and organising for the Operation Christmas Child gift boxes that my children would make and also organising the collection for the school my children attend.  Last year the school sent off 92 completed boxes and I had hoped that because I was extra organised we could make it even bigger and better this year.  I had not realised that my organisational skills would not impact the amount we send off as a school.  This year we sent 80 boxes and I could have been disappointed as we did not hit the target I had set but let's be honest when an extra 80 children will receive a nice Christmas gift box this year, how can I be sad about that?

Whilst the drop in the number of boxes we sent did not make me sad, some of the things I read on a number of blogs and forums did. This started with a message on a private forum I post to with a general neutral post about Operation Christmas Child, this very quickly filled up with strong opinion from bloggers pointing me to blogs which cited articles from the Guardian and other renowned sources dating back quite a few years, these talked about how Operation Christmas Child was there to just convert helpless children to Christianity and that each box had religious material inserted into it.

As a Christian myself and an avid supporter of OCC I did not believe this was the case, it did not really sit right with the principles of Christianity as I understand them. So I contacted OCC and they confirmed that they NEVER insert anything into boxes but that a pile of leaflets are delivered along with the batch of boxes and people are free to have them if they would like them. They also assured me literature is not distributed in Muslin countries as the authorities do not allow it. Receiving a leaflet is not a condition of receiving a box and if anyone does not wish to take a leaflet then that is perfectly fine. OCC have FAQ pages on their public website and these openly discuss all this information and even have the booklet in a downloadable format if you would like to look through it.

On the blogs I was reading I kept seeing blogger after blogger asking why could OCC not be more open about the fact that they are a Christian organisation?  Really, are they hiding it? Again on the website, on the about us page, I discovered their mission:
The mission of Operation Christmas Child is to demonstrate God’s love in a tangible way to needy children around the world, and together with the local church worldwide, to share the Good News of Jesus Christ.
Hmm does not seem to me as if they are hiding anything!

A blogger I respect and one I found very early in my blogging journey posted on this subject a few weeks ago and Jen tweeted me saying 'as an active Christian she would appreciate my input on her post'.  I did go and read it and I just could not comment at that time, it made me so cross. I could not understand why someone would want to highlight the reasons they would not be participating in a charitable event, not when I could see no faults with something that is set up to bring joy to others.

The information she gave about Evangelical literature being put in the boxes was incorrect and many commenters were misled, this is irresponsible I feel. Journalists have to check their information but for bloggers, we can just press publish and the damage is done. That's not right, we should be held to the same standard.

In the comments, Jen states that Franklin Graham sees every shoebox as a Gospel opportunity.  Me too, it is called love in action.  This is what the Gospel is all about. I take offence at the derogatory comment about not condemning charity, only Operation Christmas Child and it's Evangelical Christian angle.  When did Evangelical become a dirty word?  I am an evangelist, it does not mean that I force feed you scripture or talk Jesus all day, it means I aim to live my life as Jesus did, I spread my faith as best I can and that I live in the hope that all will find hope in Jesus.  However, I know we are all different and many people have their own different faiths and I'm OK with that.  It does not mean I think they are right, I would be a wishy-washy Christian if it did. It is just called respect.

Child with Operation Christmas Child shoeboxes in Belarus
Image Credit: Jonty Wilde

Some people have had a bad experience with Christian organisations, Jen included and others have watched too much news and seen things like the Waco siege of 1993 but let me just say that to my mind there is nothing wrong with a Christian organisation doing something wonderful at the time of year that is all about Christ.  So many people are happy to celebrate Christmas but have no regard for the faith that it is built upon. I loved the comment on Jen's post, by the Hairy Farmer Family about how people are happy to send their children to the local faith school as they generally perform better and they do not seem to worry about those children being evangelised to. So why all the fuss about one leaflet? So true!

I have seen other comments before about how OCC is all about the giver and not the person receiving the gift and if that is the case then the motivation for doing it is wrong, but I don't necessarily believe that is entirely wrong to give the gift as the recipient does benefit.  When my children, as young as four understand there are many people in this world who are not fortunate like them and they choose to buy gifts and keep things given to them 'for the children who do not have anything' then I think that is a pretty valuable lesson and I feel proud that my children are learning about the world.  You may say I should be shielding my children and they should not know about these things at their age but I beg to differ.

I do understand the objection that some bloggers make, like Salt and Caramel about the fact that items are imported into the UK, bought, put in a shoebox and then distributed to other countries and that this causes needless distribution costs.  Wouldn't it be better to give the money to a charity who will buy life-saving food, shelter or vaccinations and will deliver them directly in the country?  Maybe, but for me, there is a balance between giving to this kind of charity that provides relief directly for the needs of life and giving to a charity that is then enriching and making pleasurable the life of a child who has little else. When my husband was in India earlier this year he testified how much the children loved his small secondhand teddies, cars and balloons that he took for them.  These small gifts made the world of difference to them.

Children in India playing with toy cars

I am truly concerned that many people seem to think that OCC and Samaritans Purse are misleading the general public and that they are actively being underhand in trying to offer some hope and the Christian faith to the people they meet abroad.  I have a strong belief in OCC; as a Christian organisation, I trust that they will keep their word and be above question. For this reason, I will be travelling with a local team on an OCC shoebox delivery next year to see first hand what goes on.

Then being me, I will of course blog about it and I promise you now, I will be blogging very honestly, if I find that anything does not sit right with me and meet with my personal ethics I'll say so. I am not scared to blog the truth.

So there we go, that is my thoughts on the matter. I wanted to present the flip-side of the coin from someone who has supported this charity for years and will still continue to do so until I am faced with something that does not sit right with me and then I'll have to review.

I am open as always to be educated. I know many of you wish to give to charity in other ways and that is OK.  We are all different, you do what suits your family and your situation but please do not assume that because a charity is Christian or states that it is Evangelical that there is anything wrong with it.

Roll on next November, I can not wait! Anyone want to join me?  No seriously, would you like to come along and see for yourself?

Why not pin this post for later?

OCC my response pin

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