'Operation' defines 'giving' in whole new light

The meaning of GIVING has taken on many different definitions in the course of its existence.
"To freely transfer the possession of (something) to (someone); hand over" is the literal meaning but what about the kind of GIVING that changes a person's life for a minute or forever? What about that kind of GIVING that brings tears to the one receiving as well as the giver? That is the kind that is shared throughout the world by people that look at Christmas as the time of GIVING instead of receiving. But for one organization that is sweeping across the nation and has for many years, GIVING is just an everyday thing.
Samaritan's Purse was founded by Bob Pierce in 1970. With the idea of meeting emergency needs during a time of crisis, Pierce's idea has grown to a $300,000,000-plus helping hand that includes the addition of Operation Christmas Child, also known as Operation Shoebox.
Every year, hundreds of thousands of shoe boxes filled with toys and personal hygiene items, along with other items, are sent throughout the world to children and families in need. From a hurricane on the East Coast to a young child wanting to go to school in Honduras, GIVING is what defines Samaritan's Purse. Here in Benton, First Baptist Church has joined in the effort of GIVING by becoming a relay station for drop-offs, making it easier on Saline County and state residents further south to make drop-offs without having to go to Little Rock's First Immanuel Baptist Church, the primary drop-off point for the region.
"The main focus of becoming a relay spot was to make it convenient for the local churches and groups and individuals," said Lisa Baldwin, church and media relations adviser for the event at First Baptist. "Immanuel Baptist is a large church, but everybody in the region goes there, so they get flooded."
This holiday season, First Baptist saw a huge turnout from the community and from many other areas of the state, collecting more than 2,000 shoe boxes. Baldwin said First Baptist filled more than 1,000 of them, doubling the number from a year ago. "We look at it like this. We worked really hard on this this season," Baldwin said. "We really got energized and pumped up about it. Every shoe box is a victory, and it is not about one church getting more than another."
Highland Heights Baptist Church sent more than 60 of the filled shoe boxes after the younger members of the congregation took up an offering for a couple of weeks to donate to the cost of items.
Numerous churches in the area helped with the cause, including Benton's First United Methodist, Grape Chapel Church, Our Lady of Fatima Catholic and many others. Baldwin said local 4-H clubs, along with a church in Nashville, Ark., and Hot Springs, also made drop-offs this year.
Baldwin said she met a woman who as an individual donates to the relief effort every year, usually sending close to, if not more than, 200 boxes.
The donation cost for each box is at least $7, but a larger donation also can be given with each box if desired.
"We don't want churches to feel bad about the number of boxes they do," Baldwin said. "It's not about that."
The economic crisis that swept across the nation a few years ago has not halted the organization's plans to make a difference, according to Baldwin.
"One shoe box is very feasible," Baldwin said. "For my family, we put items away all year for Operation Christmas Child. What we didn't use, we brought to the church. I think what most churches do is look for items to go on sale and then purchase them."
Baldwin added that the main items used this year were crayons, coloring books, personal hygiene items and things of that sort.
"These are not high-end toys, so it doesn't actually cost a whole lot, but that is obviously from person to person and what they can do," Baldwin said. "I think this is something people can afford."
To illustrate the impact of what Operation Christmas Child has done for people throughout the world, Baldwin noted that she met a young man who had received a box from the program when he was only 6. With the ambition to go to school, the young Honduras native said he prayed every night that the Lord would grant him school supplies so that he could become a student. Though attending school was free, money was needed to purchase school supplies.
"All he wanted to do was attend school, but you have to have money to buy your own supplies or you can't go," Baldwin said.
Then the time came. With missionaries in the area handing out boxes, the young boy finally received what he has been praying for: school supplies.
That boy is now a 35-year-old, educated man named Ranan and is also a speaker and advocate for Samaritan's Purse and Operation Christmas Child.
Baldwin said she would like to form an Operation Christmas Child Club as a "Christmas in July" type of thing.
"This would give people the chance to get out in the hot days of summer," Baldwin said.
She also added that adding the shoe box project to Vacation Bible School would enhance the outcome of the event from year to year.
While nothing about the club is set in stone, Baldwin said she will push hard to get it established in the future.
To help with the cause or to become a volunteer to Operation Christmas Child, visit www.samaritanspurse.org.