The mission of Operation Christmas Child is to provide God’s love in a tangible way to children in need around the world, and together with the local church worldwide, to share the Good News of Jesus Christ.
Operation Christmas Child began in the UK in 1990, after Dave Cooke, a local businessman in Wrexham and his wife Jill felt called to do something in response to the plight of Romanian orphans at the end of the Cold War. Dave’s sister Jan, came up with the concept of the shoebox gift as a form of easily transportable ‘Christmas stocking’ wrapped and packed with love. A tangible message of hope for children in the toughest of circumstances.
Dave decided to put out a local radio appeal for blankets, toys, medical supplies and transportation. The community responded generously to this volunteer-led initiative filling seven lorries for Romania. This initial load included just under 3,000 shoebox gifts. The precious cargo was gratefully received by a local pastor named Liviu who, together with local volunteers, shared God’s love through distributing these simple gifts.
In the summer of 1993, Dave called Samaritan’s Purse President Franklin Graham asking if he’d be willing to fill shoeboxes with gifts for children in war-torn Bosnia. Franklin agreed, but figured Christmas was months away. He forgot about the promise until Dave called back around Thanksgiving asking about the gifts.
Franklin asked his friend the late Pastor Ross Rhoads of Calvary Church of Charlotte to see if he could help with the need. A Sunday shortly afterward, Pastor Rhoads demonstrated for his congregation how to fill a shoebox with simple gifts and encouraged them to include a letter to the child as well. Within weeks, the church had 11,000 shoeboxes lining their hallways.
Due to their generosity and additional gifts from Canada, Samaritan’s Purse sent 28,000 shoebox gifts to children in the Balkans that Christmas.
In the UK in December 1993 the BBC organised a live Songs of Praise link-up between St Giles Church, Wrexham and Second Baptist Church in Oradea, Romania focusing on Operation Christmas Child. The programme made a significant impact and elevated the campaign from a North Wales and Northern England project and launched it nationwide. Over the next several years, Operations Christmas Child caught the imagination of churches, schools and workplaces throughout the UK.
After actively partnering with Samaritan’s Purse for two years, the Wales-based shoebox gift project became an official project of Samaritan’s Purse in 1995.
Every year since, Samaritan’s Purse has collected shoebox gifts filled with toys, school supplies, and hygiene items for children around the world. Since 1990, more than 178 million children in more than 150 countries have received an Operation Christmas Child shoebox. The project delivers not only the joy of what, for many kids, is their first gift ever, but also gives them a tangible expression of God’s love.
Tens of thousands of volunteers from local churches around the world partner with us to present the Gospel of Jesus Christ at festive outreach events where children are surprised with these shoebox gifts.
“Every box is an opportunity to reach a child with the Gospel of Jesus Christ.”—Franklin Graham
President, Samaritan’s Purse
In addition, we have trained over 1.1 million volunteers from these congregations to teach The Greatest Journey, our dynamic follow-up discipleship course for shoebox recipients. Since 2009, 23.3 million children have enrolled in this 12-lesson program to learn how to follow Christ and share Him with others. More than 11.2 million of these boys and girls have made a decision to accept Jesus as their Saviour during the course. Many are now praying for and sharing their faith with family and friends. As a result of this ever-expanding witness, new churches are starting and communities are being transformed!
This whole process is made possible by caring individuals who pack shoeboxes full of quality gifts for children in need.
More than 100 year-round volunteers get the word out about the Samaritan’s Purse project across the UK. In addition, thousands of short-term volunteers serve in around 1,000 drop-off locations open every year during National Collection Week, in November. Each shoebox collected then travels to one of 20 processing centres to be inspected and prepared for international shipment by thousands more volunteers. All of this is also supported by volunteers in our prayer network.
In 2019 alone, more than 10.5 million Operation Christmas Child shoebox gifts were collected throughout Australia, Austria, Canada, Finland, Germany, New Zealand, Spain, Switzerland, the United Kingdom, and the United States.