This post was inspired by an article (link at the bottom) about Operation Christmas Child, by Samaritan’s Purse. I decided to expand it beyond OCC to a look at general gift donations. This is a ‘sorry, not sorry’ post. I mean, I know this is hard to hear. It is hard for me to write. I’m honestly kind of nervous to post it because I’m often afraid of American Christians. So, I’m sorry. Then again, I wrote it and I’m posting it, so I guess I’m not sorry.
When you give a gift to a child and his mother or father can’t afford to, you steal that parent’s dignity. What about, if you really must give a gift, provide a way for the actual parents to purchase that gift and give it themselves? You could subsidize local toys or candies. You could send money to another family (local or expat) in an area stricken by poverty so they could hire a poorer person and pay them well so that they could purchase gifts for their own children.
Stop making it about you. If your objection to the above suggestions is that this doesn’t expose the child receiving the gift to your generosity, you need to examine your heart. Don’t let your left hand know what your right hand is doing (in 2017 we could say, don’t hashtag on Instagram what your right hand is doing). Why do you need to receive any acknowledgement, any glory, any honor? If it is truly about the poor, then make it truly about the poor and step aside. This could also be: stop making it about your kids…
There are other ways to teach your own children about generosity. I am tired of this excuse from American Christians when they are confronted with the uncomfortable reality that their charity might be damaging those they intend to serve. If you can’t think of any other way to teach your children to be generous, let me gently suggest a little creative thinking. How about being generous with a less well-off child in your child’s classroom? How about being generous with a newly arrived refugee family? And I don’t mean by simply giving them toys. I mean by inviting them into your home for dinner. Or driving them to the doctor’s office. How about being generous with siblings? How about being generous with wisdom and nuance? (Please go read Using Your Poor Kids to Teach My Rich Kids a Lesson)
Your gift might put undue future pressure on the family. One woman who received a box took the toothpaste out and didn’t want her son to have it. She said he would want it all the time, then, if he knew what it was and she couldn’t afford that. There are locally acceptable (and effective) methods for brushing teeth. How are poor families supposed to keep up this level of gifting year after year or for child after child?
Your box is not preaching the gospel message. If Jesus were Santa Claus, okay. But Jesus is not Santa Claus and his message is one of humility, poverty, sacrifice, and the cross. Not yo-yos and slinkies and candy. Do you really want the message to be: Have some M and M’s, have a pencil, have a t-shirt, have a side helping of religion? I know the argument that such and such a pastor used the boxes in this or that way. Yup, I’ve heard the stories and they are good stories, probably mostly true. But maybe the pastor could have used locally sourced toys that the parents were empowered to give with their own means.
Of course there are moving stories, I just don’t really believe them. I’m not saying the people telling the stories are lying. I’m just saying I’ve seen way too much context and have heard far too many stories shared without sufficient context, to take these stories at face value. I’ve heard stories spun and respun and re-respun, depending on who is listening and what the teller thinks they want to hear.
Kids love the gifts and ignore the message. As one person commented on my Facebook feed, kids suffer through the Jesus talk because they want the toys. What happens when someone else tries to tell them beautiful things about God, but has no toys to offer? To quote this person, “What we win them with is what we win them to.” If you want to project the idea that faith means getting toys, shoe boxes are a great way to do that. Making a kid happy is fine, just don’t pretend it is more than that. Otherwise, this is borderline scary manipulation.
Generosity is not about stuff. American Christians tend to act like what people need is more things. More toys, more shoes, more t-shirts. We limit our thinking about giving to a monetary thing, stemming from our consumer values and culture. But generosity needs to run so much deeper. Generosity is also about giving time, giving friendship, giving presence (not presents), giving dignity, giving emotional freedom, giving welcome, giving a lack of judgment, giving hope, giving trust, giving an experience, giving space.
People who aren’t in positions of power are not going to refuse you. Leaders in their communities, forward-thinkers, mightily effective people in their local context. These people are still not going to come to the behemoth that is American Christianity and say ‘no.’ It is almost impossible for those in a position of power, like Americans, to understand this. As one woman commented on my FB thread, “And although the pastor who facilitated the program (receiving shoeboxes) was one of the most forward thinking, well-educated and articulate pastors I’ve met – (ever!), he would not go to the organisation sending them, and say, “you know what, this isn’t really serving us.’ People who are not in a position of power rarely will refuse what is given to them, even it if doesn’t actually meet a need.”
Gifts can be damaging. You don’t want to hear this. Please hear it. Running team practices I’ve coached have dissolved into fist fights because American contractors passed out Gatorade, but not enough and too quickly for me to stop it. Also, they gave soccer balls to the running team. I had to confiscate the balls, pull kids off each other, cancel practice, and figure out an appropriate response to threats to rape the girls on the team because they were given something other kids weren’t. The contractors drove away just before the chaos ensued, with their iPhones full of photos and their hearts satisfied with the knowledge that they had been ‘generous.’ Thank you, thank you very much.
The things you give aren’t used for what you think they are used for. (This is not a story Samaritan’s Purse will post on their website, and it isn’t the only one of its kind): When Saddam Hussein was terrorizing the Kurds and pretty much anyone who didn’t agree with him, an American was in Baghdad meeting with the Minister of Health. The minister abruptly said “I have to go – do you want to come with me? I have to do something for our leader’s birthday.” The American goes with him. They go to a warehouse in Baghdad, and there sit piles and piles of Samaritan’s purse Christmas Shoe Boxes. The Minister of Health is supervising minions to deliver all of them to the Children’s Hospital as gifts from Uncle Saddam for his birthday….a bunch of Iraqi kids got wonderful gifts from Saddam by way of Franklin Graham at Samaritan’s Purse.
I’m asking you to be humble and teachable, I’m not asking for repentance. Sometimes when humans do something and love doing it and do it for years and later find out it might not be the best thing to have done, we are plagued by guilt. So plagued, in fact, that we refuse to admit it. The fear of being wrong or of having made a mistake, even with good intentions, is unbearable. So we press on. But let me be clear, I don’t believe it is ‘sin’ to pack a shoe box. Good grief. Everything isn’t so black and white. I just think we can do better. We all, I hope, are on a journey that will continue until we die, a journey of growth and change and learning. One of the awesome things about grace is that it exists! It is abundant and never-ending. May we never stagnate.
Please listen. Please, please, pretty please with a cherry on top, listen. I know the article criticizing Samaritan’s Purse (link below) comes off quite strong and isn’t perfect but to jump on the author’s use of the term ‘toxic charity’ as an excuse to ignore the argument is not okay. People who have experience are trying to talk about these things. People who live in areas where helping hurts are trying to talk about these things. I know it goes against the grain. We are a do-something people. People with bravado and gusto. Please listen to people who are saying something, even when it is uncomfortable for you or might suggest you change your behavior.
(a 14th thing, bonus, after reading other’s thoughts): How would you feel? Imagine someone from a different country comes into your neighborhood or your child’s school, you might not even be present. They hand out toys and cookies, nicer things than you have given your own children. Maybe iPads or video games or gift cards to Dairy Queen. Then they tell them about a different religion. Just think about how you would react.
People of faith are incredibly generous people and I am so thankful for the many ways we have been blessed by generosity, the many ways we have been challenged to be more generous ourselves – the kind of generosity that hurts, that costs something. Let’s press on together, being generous and being wise and growing in love and creativity.
Stuffing Shoe Boxes for the World’s Poor? Maybe You Should Reconsider
Ten Alternatives to Christmas Shoe Boxes (this is a really good list)
Please, for the love, please, read this book: When Helping Hurts
I told my kids last year was going to be the last time we filled shoeboxes, for many of these reasons. What do you think about child sponsorship programs that do similar things but you’re sending gifts for a specific cold you have an ongoing relationship with? We have a chill me we sooner through a small ministry that works in just one location and has done this the last couple of years.
I feel that child sponsor programs suffer from many of the above mentioned issues. Nothing is immune as long as sin reigns. Any program can be used for harm or inadvertently place a target on the sponsored child. That shouldn’t be the reason why you don’t give. I witnessed a child in a sponsorship program receive gifts from his four sponsors. He was sponsored by four donors because he lived at the orphanage full-time and his care was more expensive than the children that went home everyday. He asked his sponsors for a bike for Christmas. Though a lack of communication the child received funds for 4 bikes. There was no way the agency could get his four bikes, but the donors would cry foul if he only got one bike and “their” money was spent elsewhere or God forbid, he got one bike, and the donors somehow found out that he had three other donors that also paid for a bike. So they kindly took a portion from each donor and bought a bike. They then asked if the sponsors would be willing to use the rest of their donation to pay for rice and oil for families to have Christmas meals. One family said no. It was “their” money and should be spent on the child they sponsor, so the child got a goat. Literally a goat. That will be fed and then slaughtered for the entire orphanage to eat. So the point is, give and give generously, but do it with the right heart and for the right reasons. Once that money leaves your hands, it ceases to be yours, not that it was your to begin with. God knows your heart, even if evil people on the other end have bad intentions. Do things for God. He can make make something with anything you give.
To be honest, I don’t have personal experience with child sponsorship programs, so I hesitate to say much. I do know they can be done really well and I know they can have some of these same issues wrapped up in them. Maybe one thing to help analyze the program might be: is this child moving toward self-sustaining or are they going to be dependent on the program until they age out…at which point, then what? I’ll think about other questions that might help to evaluate a program, and if other readers have ideas, please fill us in.
I understand your POV and agree about some of the things you said. I can’t say I agree with everything. I like to say “There are people of God, who do things in the name of God, that brings shame to the heart of God.” There are so many ways the US Church is doing missions wrong, and then so many ways that the long-term missionary is, essentially, enabling the supporting church, for fear of losing support.
Americans, generally, love to help, but don’t like to be inconvenienced about it. I live in West Africa for three years and saw things that I will never forget. So of these things were good, others were not. My children also have memories of their time their. While there I witnessed missionaries pandering to support churches. Thousands of dollars were wasted in the name of comfort and convenience only to have support pulled because it was discovered the missionary had household help, a big TV, or a relatively nice car. Mountains were moved to ensure that the short-termers had an experience that they could capture on Facebook or Instagram to ensure their heartstrings, which are connected to the purse strings, were tugged in the right way. This was such an issue that one organization exists West Africa solely to facilitate these short trips. Now there website will paint a different picture, but there sole purpose is to make a way for short-term trips and, in effect, support themselves. That’s really saddening. They are like missionary tour guides/travel agents. I am, and always will be, a proponent of empowering the local church through supporting the missionary. I would love it if the local people didn’t even know there were missionaries in the area and all the locals looked to the local church for their support and programs and spiritual enrichment. What a great way to reach people for Christ. Teach them English at the local church. Educate out of town pastors at the local church through local pastors. Enable the local church to expand and build more houses of worship. Empower the local church to create disciples to send into the local community to win people for Christ. Essentially missionaries should be working their way out of a job, but does that ever happen? How often to missionaries spend years in a location only to see the local church collapse soon after their departure? It happens.
I have been a part of handing out shoeboxes. You’re right. There are things wrong with this process and act in general. I saw things like the kids not knowing how to play with toys or simply selling the socks at the local market because they have never worn socks, why would they start now? The kids suffer through messages of salvation for a gift their parents could not possibly afford. But what about the one? Are there more effective ways to reach those children? Maybe Maybe not. I think it depends on where you’re ministering. I do not forget that every child matters to God. Every single one. If shoeboxes win that one, then it’s worth it to God and that means it should matter to me. Every action taken with good intention has had negative effects, often happening when bad people take advantage of another person’s generosity. That doesn’t mean we should stop all good intentioned actions or ideas. Sure we, the American Church, should take a hard look at how we approach international missions and programs like OCC, but we should not completely discount their mission or completely abandon the programs. We could replace them with better programs, but until a better, more efficient program is realized and implemented, we should not completely cut-off those people that may be helped or reached. Their lives matter to Christ and they should matter to us.
There is SOME truth to this rant, but at the end of the day it is just a rant from a rather limited POV. I have spent a bit more than half of my adult life in developing countries, and from my perspective I think the good of a ministry like OCC far outweighs the potential and infrequent harm it does. And funny enough, a few of the points are written from a far more Western perspective than necessary: I have never seen impoverished parents unhappy with kindness show their children. Most are grateful, and do not feel that someone has robbed their dignity. There are so many other things you could needle in a appropriate way – why target this? And with such a cynical tone to boot.
YES. I came here to write almost exactly the same thing. Maybe OCC should stop operating in Djibouti if they’re really doing that much harm, but I really hope they don’t stop operating in any of the countries I live or have lived in.
Great reply. I hope my exhaustive OP conveyed the same message.
When living in Ecuador I was privileged to be a part of handing out the shoeboxes. Both the children and parents were delighted. I will continue to feel blessed to be a part of this ministry.
I agree with sooooo much of this – and it’s hard & it’s messy, I totally get that. I like how the commenter above asked that everything go through the local church. That is our model- we route everything through the local church that’s on the ground when the gringos & mzungus are all gone.
I do think, though, there is a HUGE component missing from Craig’s article. The shoeboxes are given through the local church. Each child is given a beautiful (I’ve seen it ) Gospel booklet in their own language. Once they read the booklet or listen to the story, whatever that looks like, the children are given the opportunity (not forced or coerced) to come back to the church each week for a 12-week Bible Study, which “can” end in conversion & baptism, really the whole point of the shoeboxes. The gifts are just that, extravagant gifts for (probably poor) children to understand the “Greatest Gift of All, Jesus!” While I am not crazy about the whole ministry in every way, I think the long-term personal touch from a local Gospel-focused evangelistic church rescues this program from some of the ickier ways of “blessing the little poor children.”
I think this article is right on target. How we give is incredibly important and I’ve long felt uncomfortable with Samaritan’s Purse and OCC.
I like Samaritan’s Purse since they encourage gifts like school supplies and cleanliness items like combs and brushes, soap and washcloths. It is up to us to provide a balance of items, not just the candy and toys.
That’s a great point.
I live in Togo, in West Africa, and I work across the entire West Africa region in children’s ministry.
All of those items are available for sale in local marketplaces, in nearly every town I’ve passed through in my career. They are inexpensive and purchasing them locally has the added benefit of supporting families who operate shops as a means of lifting themselves out of poverty.
So I always appreciate it when a church wants to send a financial gift so that those things can be purchased locally, rather than supporting Walmart and spending a lot more money to ship those items to us to distribute.
Thanks for your credible observations and passionate exhortations regarding charitable giving. I appreciate the time you took to put your thoughts into such a well written argument. I have already pondered many of the points you brought up.
However, your piece is diminished by the statement:”It is hard for me to write. I’m honestly kind of nervous to post it because I’m often afraid of American Christians. So, I’m sorry. Then again, I wrote it and I’m posting it, so I guess I’m not sorry.”
How about rethinking that and coming up with a more charitable opening?
Yes, this is uncomfortable, but because it requires us to look at ourselves and why we are doing what we do! Thanks for sharing and being willing to give insight on a topic people don’t usually look at.
I find it disturbing the number of opinion pieces floating around that deliberately aim to destroy the work of charitable organizations. It is dangerous to paint charities in such negative light before much research has occurred. SP comes across as a less than desirable organization in both this piece and the piece the author references. Donations cease. The incredible work of SP in rural Cambodia, establishing sustainable business that brings an entire village out of poverty and risk of serious exploitation cannot continue without these donations. SP is far more than OCC.
Clearly the author has never first hand witnessed the boxes being prayed over by the local distributor nor the continued communication between the worker and the recipient. The “stories”she refers to as fake are clearly judged as such because she has not first hand witnessed them. The author writes with an air of Western superiority that I strongly encourage her to bring before God.I hope her opinion pieces, written as fact, do not cease the amazing, life changing work I see happening firsthand in Asia everyday through SM and other organizations.
Your holier-than-thou tone probably will not get your message across to most loyal OCC supporters. There is a lot of truth, but to sarcastically bash the whole organization throws the baby out with the bath water. Sad to think of how many people won’t support these children now because of your article though.
The might have good intentions but I found this very opinionated and very unfair to the Christmas in America. There is a self righteous tone and a holier than though art attitude. Even though you (the author ) said that you are sorry but I feel that you are lacking in love and you have a condemning arrogant attitude.
Interesting article. I saw a very good documentary video on what starts as humanitarian aid to countries that go through disasters turn into more harm than good. It’s what happens after the initial help and support that can be harmful. For instance, a company supplies eggs to a needy country and continues that support instead of giving chickens to the people so they can provide for their family and make a living. I thought this was a good article and also the comments. All food for thought.
I think some of the responses to this post are really interesting and actually highlight your whole point of the North American church needing to be humble enough to step back and hear that things might not be what they think they are. One one hand, we have the author of the post who has lived overseas in one of the very countries that has been gifted the shoeboxes that get sent. Not just lived there for a few weeks, but YEARS. Long enough to interact with culture, and see the damage that these well intended gifts can lead to. On the other hand we have people without that experience saying that she’s being too critical of the good intentions of those sending the boxes and that what’s she’s saying isn’t even true. It actually highlights her overall point perfectly – that the North American church, with all it’s good intentions, needs to actually act like Jesus and humble themselves to hear another side, and that side might be saying that there needs to be a change.
I’ve lived in Haiti full time for over a decade. It’s the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere. I have witnessed the exact same things that Rachael points out in this article. Thousands upon thousands of groups of people coming into the country with bags filled with toys and clothes to give away. I see community leaders smile and facilitate, but then when the groups leave and they visit with us they say things like, “We let them do it because we hope they’ll really see that we need a well. We need water to water our crops so we can support our families.” I see markets full of Haitians selling toothpaste and soap and shoes and socks and hair ribbons and back packs and all the things that go into many of these gifts as a means of supporting their families. These things ARE available in the local market. When the gifts come in, yes, they’re a gift, but why can’t those gifts be purchased locally. Why can’t the organization (any organization that does anything like this) collect funds for the same purpose, if it’s that important, and have local staff buy the same items in the local market (providing employment for local people) and have local people package the gifts and put on the event. I suspect we don’t want to do that because then we aren’t the ones being generous and hands on with that giving. I’ve also seen a major issue with North American donors not trusting the organization on the ground to use their funds. This is really the root. Thinking that we know better. But in reality, the on the ground staff are the ones that are immersed in the culture and really know what would be best in these situations, and how to do it in a way that will cause the least amount of damage in the community.
As I talk to missionaries and NGO staff all over Haiti we see the same thing – these gifts create a cycle of dependence and rob families of the dignity of loving their families well. Our number one priority in the Church should be that we love God with everything in us, then love our neighbors the way he loves us. To me that means putting their needs first, not my own good intentions and agenda. It means I have to set aside what I might think is best or a good idea, and be willing to listen. It means I have to step back and truly pay attention to how people respond to these gifts. Are they smiling right now? Maybe. But they’re also so much more gracious than my home culture and wouldn’t ever think of refusing a gift, no matter how it made them feel. Add hundreds of years of colonialism and slavery, and ingrained mentalities that still leave people thinking they don’t have the right to refuse and you end up with a culture that does a lot of smiling.
One thing that wasn’t touched on in the post was the differences in cultural practices. In North America we wrongly assume that other cultures put the same priority on gift giving for special holidays that we do, but it’s not true. Most cultures celebrate holidays with shared meals, music, dancing and time together. In Haiti Christmas isn’t about gift giving, it’s about enjoying food and time with families, and isn’t even the most important day on the Haitian calendar. Birthdays are rarely a big celebration because families don’t have the means and it just isn’t as important as it is to us. A birthday cake is a big deal and a treat. Gifts aren’t done very often because families can’t afford them. I share this to say that when we assume physically giving something will have the same response that it does in our culture, we are wrong. If we want to love people well, we would be better off learning about their culture and what has significance, then reaching out through those things if we truly want to provide a gift in a way that means something.
I should probably add that I’m a Christian. We serve the poor by providing access to clean water. We have worked really hard in the past 15+years to train up local people to do all aspects of what we do, providing full time employment. They support their families through this. When we work with communities, we don’t give our filters away. The families pay a small co-pay towards the cost. This gives them the choice to be involved, not feeling like they’re obligated to accept a gift simply because an organization is giving it. It gives them the power and dignity. Community leaders tell us this is how it should be and that constant give aways are ruining their country and people. A couple weeks ago my staff asked me to not post certain kinds of pictures of them on social media because they don’t like being on the internet in their dirty work clothes – because they have dignity. We are very careful about what types of images we use because we want to love this country well and not pray on it’s poverty simply to do fundraising. They felt comfortable enough to talk to me about it because we’ve done a lot of work of teaching them that with us they have a voice, and they were telling me that they were tired of the poverty of their country being the focus over and over and over again.
If you want to love people well you need to be willing to listen to what they’re saying, and you can’t listen if you aren’t willing to look beyond the surface of the issue and your own intentions. Sometimes we just plain get it wrong.
Thank you for your insights presented in a truthful, gracious way from your long-term experience.
Excellent insight Leslie. I’ve experienced many similar things.
I adopted an orphan from Ukraine. He and other Ukrainian orphans that I have met who were adopted received OCC shoeboxes. They spoke highly of it. They felt love and received a gift at Christmas and loved it. I have no doubt that OCC isn’t perfect and may need improvement. Most organizations and people do. But don’t throw out a great organization, just improve it.
I’ve been living and working in Haiti for over 20 years and your post is spot on! Thank you for posting!
YES, YES, YES! Rachel, this is a brilliant article and I’m proud of you for speaking up, even though it is a sensitive and tender topic – especially for those who would rather not admit that their “generosity” could cause damage. Some of us may not want to hear this, but we NEED to.
You make it very clear that you aren’t here to condemn anyone but to ask MORE of us. We can all do better. Thank you for for this bold challenge.
I live and do ministry in Rwanda and I have a partner here who is local and has seen pastors at one or two churches take the shoe boxes they were given, let members of the congregation go through them and pick out the items in them their own children wanted, and then handed the rest to the intended recipients. And these were members who had means and were well off! We have also seen the OCC items that were in shoeboxes end up in shops in town being sold to the general public (I myself have worked in a processing center in the states so I knew what I was seeing, along with the tale-tale green OCC boxes I viewed under the tables in the shops.). I am not against this ministry or any other per say but I just know that without a very good oversight team in place, even the intended action of OCC and the people who packed the box is completely undone.
I’m a missionary in Ecuador and I’ve seen Operation Christmas Child welded as a tool of power too many times. Either it’s a pastor that lets people know that they are getting gifts from gringos and to come to the church and takes pictures of all the people that are attending the church thanks to the donations, but when you go to the church when there are no donations there are no people either, and people don’t even stay to listen to the pastor to preach, they just get the present, pose for the pictures and leave. Or its a congregation and a pastor that hadn’t behaved like they should and then the kids don’t get their gifts because the congregation haven’t been “good”.
It’s all about power and the things that come in the boxes don’t have anything to do with the reality of the people here. Toys are nice and children always like them, but you can get toothpaste or soap here. An English Bible does nobody no good since there aren’t people who understand spoken English, worse yet can read it. Some of them can’t even read their own language.
Sadly I have not seen a situation where the box would have helped people to come to Christ.
The ending of your blogpost is excellent. How would people in US truly feel if somebody would come to their kids school and give them expensive gifts like you said, and then there would be a Koran in the box and they would hear a message about how good Allah is and how he is the only true God.
It’s easy to give to a big organization but big organizations aren’t sensitive to the people or their situation. Christ didn’t ask us to fund organizations, He asked us to tell about Him to the people and live with them and help in them in what they truly need.
There are people here saying that kids won’t get their gifts because of you. I say to them, great! It’s great that they won’t get the boxes! It’s great that we don’t disrupt their lives and their families lives that way. It’s great that we can now concentrate in the true gift and give them what really matters, Christ.
Is the point to help people (act in a “Christian” manner – which is to broad a phrase to determine if that is positive or negative)… or to convert people to Christianity.
Here’s an idea… why don’t christians just help and allow those they help to live and find the spiritual path they choose. This article spends a good amount of time describing the detrimental effects of coercive power, while promoting changing another cultures belief system and values to western religious thinking.
The last paragraph says it best… how would christians like it if another group – a group with more social power – came into there midst and started influencing their children with another religion… all under the guise of “helping” them.
If you want to help people… help them, while Letting them find god as they choose… not as you do.
My experience is limited to clusters of children’s homes in SE Asia., where, for five years, my husband and I lived and worked with the children, house parents, and the teams who came to serve in what ever way was needed. Many of these team members had never experienced life outside their home comforts, many sponsored the children they came to visit. Being a gift-giving culture this was usually a part of the visit. Sometimes disappointing to a gift giver is that in this culture children and adults live in ” community” and do not consider the idea “this is mine” as they share everything. Those things they cherish as “mine” are pictures you take with them together or of your family that sponsors them. The one thing always saved.
By planning ahead, we would work with the House Parents and the team organizer to learn what was most needed, they would raise the needed funds and take the house parents out to shop for the things they needed for the home and for things their children most needed, personally and for school. The guests worked on any planned projects during the day and when the children were home after school, helped with homework, played sports, and games. A large part of the goal of the time was to share with the child their great value, their loveliness, encouragement that someone outside their village cared about them, and they are worth it. That going to school is worth it. That the hard work of school is worth it, They are worth it. We could look them in the eye, face to face and tell them how incredibly valuable they are. We see them as beautiful, capable. Some of our children were not documentable, we were able to help stir some thinking, strategizing. planning how these bright children could carve out a meaningful future.
Some of you mentioned training Nationals to work us out of a job. Due to the great work of some of the very well trained missionaries who came to work with us teaching English and business, were able to get House Parents, helpers and National managers over them equipped to take over nearly all responsibilities Americans had been doing.
There are so many cultural misunderstandings and perceptions and it so very difficult to really understand any of this below the surface, We are bound to do to it wrong at times. If your motives are true and pure for the people you wish to serve and you make yourself informed why hold back?
My kids and I usually look for a family in need and give them basic needs but also give them items for the parent to wrap and give to the kids as well as something for the parents themselves. Last year a church-sponsored my kids but everything was wrapped with the church’s name on it and the children felt like it was the worst Christmas they’d had because it didn’t feel like Christmas to them. I raise my kids not believing in Santa but believing that I love them and that gifts for a way of me showing that but more importantly time together and holiday activities like decorating the tree. I never thought of the repercussions for my kids and how they would feel about getting gifts from others rather than me but now I see that it’s not helpful and in fact it’s painful for them and take something away from the holiday. Getting gifts from family members is different, in fact last year my fiance’s family had Christmas celebrations with my kids and my oldest son said that it was the most Christmas he’s felt ever. It’s about a sense of belonging and a sense of Celebration and acceptance.
One possible way to remember the children in developing countries is to give the shoeboxes TO THE PARENTS who come to the local church and let the parents give the presents to their own children and to the next door neighbor for his or her children!
i like your idea. Allow the parents to explain why they are receiving these gifts n the purpose of the givers.
i like your ides Laura Loffredo.
Great post. IMO, giving Christmas shoe boxes is no doubt done with good intentions – but what was it about the way to Hell being ‘paved by good intentions’? Mass-giving like this (and it happens in Europe too, where I live) seems to me like giving pat and blanket answers. Do people give because it makes THEM feel ‘good’? In that case, it only feeds their own sense of self-righteousness, and produces death. Did the Lord tell a person to give? Then it’s an act of obedience. I think giving in this way is like tithing – it gives us a sense of self-satisfaction (if we’re aware of it at all) because it makes us feel that we’ve ‘done the right thing’ in God’s eyes, but actually, we didn’t really ask Him if it was what He wanted. It’s like so many things in organised religion. So much is done because of man’s good ideas, which might have come from the Lord originally – but they quickly become dead tradition. I don’t believe in keeping Christmas anyway, actually, and I agree that our Western culture is sated with consuming things. I thought it was a thoughtful post, and not ‘sad’ or ‘holier than thou’ at all.
I agree with Gordon on some things. Nothing is a perfect system. But, if I was impoverished and my kid got something like that, I’d be touched. To think that God has seen my family…and done something that I could not would be amazing. Most people will not be saved. But these children at least get to hear the gospel…Can you excuse the sinful behaviour of the poor and blame it on a well meaning giver? Raping a girl who got something they didn’t sounds just a little evil. Gifts don’t cause that…it only exposed the evil that was already in the heart. But, I do agree that the way the “church” sometimes gives, isn’t always the best way, and there is always room to grow.
I am sorry but the things in the article said about Operation Christmas child are untrue. Having been a part of this ministry since 2010 and volunteering in the warehouses to help get the shoe-boxes ready I have actually met people who received the shoe-boxes as a child. One girl we met actually got an adoptive parent with her shoe-box who just happened to be a lady from the US who helped deliver the boxes. I have been to countries like Haiti and El Salvador and have seen first hand the poverty the children who receive the boxes live in. It is nothing like we would ever expect. they have nothing… and I mean nothing at all. and a lot of them don’t even have parents. as far as stealing a parent’s dignity…one women I met in El Salvador worked from sunrise to sunset for$1.50 a day! She still could not provide for her children. She was very thankful so appreciative of Jesus who was their families everything. In some countries children can not go to school without school supplies. They take the same notebook and use it year after year writing in pencil and erasing using it until its worn out. So a spiral notebook and a pencil could be an education for a child. Also every child receiving a shoe box also receives in their box a discipleship program curriculum and then attend a 12 week study where they learn about Jesus. These kids not only learn about Jesus but also share him with their families and friends. THOUSANDS of children and their families do not just receive a box of toys, they receive Jesus the most important thing of all.. I just spent the day at an Operation Christmas child countdown, where the lady in change was able to go help hand out boxes in Rwanda. she showed us a video of a boy she met whose whole family was tortured and killed right in front of him. He was homeless and parent-less. He received a shoebox gift received Jesus and now is grown living in Minnesota and goes back to pass out shoeboxes and share the gospel with the children in the same orphanage where he received his box. I don’t mean to sound mean but but seriously this article could hurt kids already hurting.
My experience in preparing an OCC handout for a community of internally displaced refugees in a post-Soviet country affirms what Rachel describes. No doubt there are locations where the process is quite different and people have been blessed, but where I helped out, it was an awkward project with rather empty results. We first had to open every box, spread the contents out, and pick through everything. I remember pulling apart lots of sticky trinkets that were gummed together from melting candy. Many of the toys were inappropriate and got tossed along with the sticky ones. When we did assemble some packages to give to the children, it just felt awkward. The contents were unequal among the children (though we’d tried our best to balance them), and ultimately, it seemed like such a trite way to help. It was of course not the only project our NGO did with the community; we did other projects such as dental work there as well, but handing out the random trinkets felt so incredibly trite, as if to say, “We know you’ve lost family members and experienced scarring trauma and still are unable to return to your homes and land, but don’t feel too bad, here is some plastic stuff.” The disappointment I felt about that project was a combination of both embarrassment at the lack of empathy we were conveying but also the sadness of knowing that American families had eagerly and hopefully taken the time and spent their resources hoping to bless someone, but in reality it was not what they had thought. It is a delicate issue, but I think it’s right to share various experiences and see where improvement can happen.
I understand many of the speaker’s concerns, but don’t feel qualified enough to comment specifically. However, I was brought up in a pastor’s family (4 kids) in the UK in the 50’s. God met our needs but we were incredibly poor by UK standards. We never had new clothes, couldn’t go on school trips and very rarely got what we really wanted for birthdays or Christmas because our parents couldn’t afford to buy those things. It was hard. If the equivalent of Samaritan’s purse had given us each a box at Christmas I don’t think my parents’ reaction would have been one of shame, rather of joy that for once, their children could have presents that weren’t the cheapest option around.
I am certain that this information will offend and mostly discourage many readers. However, many points made here are extremely helpful. I believe many Christians have the best intentions in their hearts–of which only Jehovah God knows. I think it would be really valuable to communicate with Samaritan’s Purse officials these concerns and suggestions, so that well-intended givers’ donations can better meet the needs of the receivers. When our church was sending “needs” to a missionary in Kirzakastan, I believe, -please forgive my spelling–we were asked to send school supplies and personal hygiene items( tooth brush and paste, soap, perhaps deodorant for a teen) and a small “treat” for the parent(s). We were told it is/was their custom to give a “gift” to a visitor to their home.
Open, respectful communication is vital. Perhaps, if the givers are doing so to extend the Hand of Jesus, they will be empowered to squelch self pride or whatever. I just learned the people of Haiti never benefited from the 3 million dollars sent to them after the earthquake b/c their government officials seized and held it for themselves. That situation requires some major different delivery strategy. Open respectful communication even more vital then.
Thanks to the author of this article. Unfortunately, it is the first time I’ve been informed of this. ❤️❤️
I thought the boxes where distributed in the local churches. Also, I see no mention of The Greatest Journey discipleship program that these kids spent the next 12 weeks in. SP estimates that with each child reached, 8 additional people are exposed to the Gospel. It’s not about the box or the gifts.
Yes, I believe you’re right.
This is exactly why I love World Vision and I have seen the work they do on the ground. They deploy long-term sustainable solutions through a sponsorship model that supports not only the child, but the family and the community and they seek to build a community that is self-sustaining over a 15 year period. They cover all the elements that keep communities in poverty: education, medical, child protection, Christian witness, dignity and respect for women and children, economic empowerment and WASH. I am sure someone will have something critical to say, but there is a reason they are the largest Christian NGO and have weathered 60+ years and are one of the only Christian organizations that gets the trust of non-Christians because of the quality of work that they do. Huge fan and seen their work first hand in the developing world and they have a model that works which incorporates child sponsorship and community development.
I used to have many of the same concerns and even considered stopping my participation altogether. However, last year I stumbled upon a blog post written by one of their employees who I think is also a shoe box recipient. He addresses some of the same issues you’re talking about. It convinced me to keep participating, at least for the time!
Good thoughts! Many people who never loved overseas can’t understand the impact that these orgrams can have.
Yes, I get it.
Honestly, I think all of these programs have something about them that’s not great. I like doing the shoeboxes but I totally get your hesitation and reasonings why.
These are all good reasons to not participate but they do a lot of good also. We shouldn’t discount the logos because of the little bad.
In reality, Samaritan’s Purse is an evangelical organization so the priority will always be evangelism. Since that’s the end goal, their success or failure should only be measured by the number of kids evangelised/discipled. World Vision’s goal is total community development, so their success should be measured by that. Same with all organizations. So I don’t think it’s faire to judge Samaritan’s Purse’s different projects on a scale that does not include evangelism and discipliship. As someone noted earlier, Operation Christmas Child has a discipliship program, the Greatest Journey, that shoebox recipients go through. Part of that program is sharing the Good News with their family and friends. That extends the reach of the Gospel throughout their communities.
I have mixed feelings about the shoeboxes for many of the reasons stated however, one needs to zoom out and see the bigger picture of the shoebox ministry of SP. The shoebox misnistry and distribution system is a way of building relationship and an entire network of churches and people in many, many countries. Why is this significant? Because the bigger ministry at SP is disaster relief. When a major disaster hits any country where the shoebox ministry is functioning they can call in the network already in place through the shoebox ministry. This is one of the major reasons why they are able to do such an efficient and fantastic job at disaster relief. I believe their initial response team that flies in post disaster is only 3 people. They use all local contacts to provide relief quickly and efficiently.
I personally abhor all Christmas gift charity and back to school giveaways that circumvent parental involvement. Instead of sidelining parents and giving their kids a bunch of stuff I wish we would let them have to opportunity to “shop” for gifts for their children. This applies to US and international contexts. I think OCC could be improved in this way. They would definitely get he parents attention and pull them into the evangelism effort of the boxes as well.
Hello! I’m new to your website. I found this post through another post on Facebook. What strikes me about this post is you say what we shouldn’t do, but offer no concrete suggestions for what we should do or give to. I love the idea of sending the money to local on the ground people, allowing them to buy the gifts from a local market, or allowing the gifts to be from parents. Is there an organization that is doing this? Where can I donate? I know a handful of people overseas doing missions work, but they are not doing such a thing and don’t have a mechanism for doing so. I understand this wasn’t the point of your post, I guess as someone that really does want to help those that are less forunate, after this article I’m at a loss as to how…
I’ll tell you some things you can do for those that don’t know what to do. Look into giving children in the US Foster System Christmas and Birthday presents. Don’t just think of little kids, there are teenagers in the system, too. Ask DSS if there are ways to sponsor a family, maybe one that is working on getting there children back. See if they need beds, clothes, etc. Some of the biggest needs are so simple, like good socks and underwear.
even car seats and the like. Tons to do here in America. If giving overseas. Find a local person and ask them what they need specifically.
[…] week my friends and I engaged in a robust conversation on Facebook regarding THIS post. (See also, THIS post, THIS post, and THIS post and THIS post) These posts focus on the […]
Oh my gosh, what a limited vision the author has. All Christians need to “wise up” as if their only ministry is sending Christmas shoe boxes to impoverished children. Really, how cynical and at the same time, preaching to those bad, selfish Christians words from the Bible about the right hand not knowing what the left is doing. Do you really want to teach the Christians about alternative ways to give, as if they are clueless?
Do you realize that these gift boxes are only “the topping on the cake” of all the ministering to others various “shoe box” Christian groups do with generosity and love? WHO are YOU to define what generosity is? WHO are you to judge their motives? And, ” I’m often afraid of American Christians.” Really? What a paranoid hateful thing to say about Christians. Have they lately chopped off anyone’s head?
Your article breeds contempt for Christians and there is no “soft soaping” that fact.
The stories are “fake” about the joy the shoe boxes give to children AND their parents? Were you there, did you see, or is it only your self-righteous prejudice bubbling up because you do not like the message of Jesus coming to save mankind for their sins? I think that is at the root of your distasteful article, stereotyping the heart-work of truly loving Christians to those in need.
People really need to dig to find something wrong and stereotype an entire group of people with such pious pronunciations and demonizations.
I really appreciate your thoughts. These are hard things to hear, certainly, but if something’s hard to hear, that often means it needs to be heard. The story you told under “Gifts can be damaging” is heartbreaking. I would be horrified if I knew my gift had caused such violent reactions.
When possible, I try to give to local charities or other charities that help equip the recipients to be self-sufficient. My local homeless mission not only provides immediate shelter/food/clothing but also provides programs to train people for jobs, provides clothing for job interviews, spiritual mentoring, whatever is necessary; there are always many people who graduate from the programs and are able to hold down a job and provide for their family. The mission’s newsletter gives 1st person accounts from those in the programs. While I’m sure there are many who don’t “succeed”, the shelter/mission is at least trying to equip, not enable.
We loved this and included a short rehash of it in our tough love, challenge from others section of our website.
Here’s a link to it: http://www.letmenotwander.com/2017/11/01/djibouti-jones-13-things-i-want-american-christians-to-know-about-the-stuff-you-give-poor-kids/
Keep up the good work!
This is the first year we are doing Operation Christmas Child shoeboxes with our church. Our children are grown, we are no longer on the mission field, and are new in the area of the US where we live. We really want to reach out and help a couple of children who may have nothing for Christmas. Whether this is right or wrong doesn’t matter to us. It’s the children we are thinking about.
I️ get that the toys in my box are not preaching the gospel by themselves. But I️ know the love that went into that box. And Jesus’ message (his primary one, i think) was a message of love. So if there’s a chance that a child would feel love from someone they can’t see, isn’t that exactly the gospel? I don’t want to miss that chance if i have it. It’s too important. And yes, the Bible calls us to be generous, but it doesn’t say “only to those whom you have determined are deserving.” As Isaak said here, God sees the heart of the giver, and can use anything for good.
[…] Amy Medina published an article about Christmas Shoeboxes. I wrote about them here. […]
It has NOTHING to do with Operation Christmas Child….Jones has an issue with Franklin Graham! As usual, when someone like Rachel Pieh Jones goes on a rant about a superior organization doing their very best to serve God and spread the love of Jesus to children around the world, it doesn’t take much research to find out the person (in this case Jones) has a hidden agenda. Here is a quote from Jones regarding Franklin Graham and his position on Muslims, “Are you afraid of Muslims? I say “Muslims” instead of “terrorists” because, as media outlets and Franklin Graham apparently want us to believe, the two words are synonymous. Franklin Graham seems to believe we should be afraid of Muslims and that we are at war with Muslims both in the US and abroad. A few weeks ago he said immigration needs to be closed to Muslims, that we are under attack. He isn’t alone in this kind of ignorant fear-mongering. Over 160,000 people liked his Facebook post.”
I noticed through several comments there seemed to be a common thread referring to the difficulty in dealing with ‘the truth’ when you have believed in something for SO long….well, it IS difficult to deal with the truth on occasion, especially when it doesn’t fit our narrative or when it may be politically incorrect…but the truth is we as Christians (and Jews) ARE at war with the Muslim faith, and the IGNORANCE that Mrs Jones refers to is descriptive of ANY ONE who argues that fact. Muslims who are TRUE to their faith, will NOT be satisfied until every Christian and every Jew is dead….any Muslim who disagrees with that is NOT a true Muslim; it is a necessary tenant of the faith and is unavoidable. The hatred of the Muslim religion can be traced ALL the way back to Issac and Ishmael and their argument over who was really God’s (NOT ALLAH by the way…and no, they are NOT the same) firstborn son of promise…which of course we know was Issac, but the muslim cult wants to claim it was Ishmael. You can argue about it until the end of time, but you can’t disprove OR dispute the reality of the fact that MUSLIMS HATE CHRISTIANS, and at the end of the day, it is God Vs Satan, and ultimately God WILL have to step in and wipe the Muslims off the face of the earth (Armageddon).
A good thoughtful article and timely. I get sick of people using ‘Jesus’ name to go off on a guilt trip.
Give to the poor, but don’t bring God into it when it has nothing to do with God.
This is a very sad article. You are spreading discord between an organization and churches. You also left out the fact that thousands of people come together in unity to help process give and preach the gospel of Jesus Christ. The church is supposed to be unified and OCC is making a way for that to happen. Not to mention the thousands of children and parents who hear the truth about Jesus Christ and the life change that comes from receiving Jesus as their savior. The 12 step discipleship program that is making ways for kids to want to become Pastors and missionaries and present changes in the community. You feel like this is just about slinkies that get delivered and are misunderstood, it makes no difference what is in a box. The difference comes from a changed heart after the box is given and the gospel is preached. Every single year thousands hear the gospel message through OCC praise God for that!!! Someone is doing something to advance the kingdom of God! You should never put to shame giving and blessings and this is such a discord to the Community of Christ and the Gospel Message.
Thanks for the info. I will revert from donating anything to any cause in another country other than where I live. No gifts, no sponsorships, nothing. I’ll let the missionaries do their job they feel called to do and they can figure out however they will get their funding or supplies. I support my church with advancing the kingdom finances and they go over to other countries, plant church’s, offer medical care and other missionary trips. Other than that I will help those in need here in my own area and that’s it. But will never think twice about supporting happiness or sustainability of any means when it comes to gifts
Do justly, love mercy, walk humbly with thy God. As an American Christian, this was a difficult article to read.. I do feel like the author’s tone was a bit harsh, like she had an axe to grind with OCC. However, in order to walk humbly with our God, we need to learn to process criticism, glean the good and let the rest go.
I actually really like the point about letting the parents give the gift,
Yes, we need to guard against giving to assuage our guilt
Work towards giving sustainable solutions
Criticism of American Christians as a category o people lumped into one narrow class
“Fake” stories of kids being happy about boxes and having it staged as a photo op.. that is a really broad generalization
Attempt at guilting Christians about sending a gift that steals parent’s dignity and tries to change their religion. I think that trivializes the gospel to put it in that way…
Anyway, may God bless the author for the work that she is doing, and may God bless all those who give to OCC sacrificially as well. What a great thing to be teaching our children! Folks, don’t be weary in well doing and don’t be discouraged- getting your kids off the couch, phones, and video games to invest in the lives of others is ALWAYS worth it!
I love this article. It gives me the perfect excuse to not give to anything – because if SP does such damage certainly other orgs do too. And I sure wouldn’t want to inflict further pain upon the poor. Thanks for helping me out of a big conundrum – how do I clothe the naked, feed the poor, visit those in prison, etc and still buy all the stuff I want. Now I know I don’t need to worry about them. After all, my helping only hurts them in the long run. They need to learn to deal with the hand they were dealt. Thanks again.
Since Operation Christmas Child has been around a long time, I have searched the internet for kid recipients (now adults) and/ or their parents complaining about boxes. Can you show me any articles like that? I just have not found any.
[…] 13 Things I Want American Christians to Know about Stuff You Give Poor Kids (by yours truly) […]
Just cause you have one bad experience doesnt mean that every organization that is actually trying to help people like mine, I do my own small ministry with my mom and its not about me or her its about the few people we can help each year and it may not be alot of people but we try to make a difference so im sorry this one organization gave you problems but don’t sit there and shit on the work and meaningful work mind you that other people are trying to achieve. We get more done through action versus you people who sit on the internet bitching about everything quit bitching and go make a difference. I am proud of the work me and my mom do whether we can help everyone or not. More people would be helped if more people were doing what me and my mom are doing otherwise I think it best to take a seat and shut up. And yes I am being rude I have no patience for people like you that make it into a bad thing you can’t make one bad experience with abad company effect everyone else cause not all of us are trying to do anything bad. As far as for me and my group I can speak for us when I say its always been about the people we help and thats it.
Your choosing to look at the seeds that may not grow, but I’m choosing to see a beautiful garden full of lives changed by this ministry. Yes, maybe some boxes were not distributed how they were intended, but can’t God still use those boxes to help those in the hospital that received them? Infact, I would argue that that was God’s plan all along. There were children in that hospital that needed to be reached and each shoebox contains a gospel booklet. The fact is that God calls us to scatter seeds. Some will grow and some won’t but yet we are still called to scatter seeds.
Interesting perspective. Definitely worth pondering all of your points. I see the same with “voluntourism” (going to cool places to ‘help’ — but also to do some cool touristy stuff!)
Good advice my lovely wife tells me often, “Don’t break the 8th Commandment; you’re assuming (lying) much about the hearts of others.”
Should we consider the outcomes of giving to different charities/organizations? sure. However, we should also be careful not to be the rich man judging the poor widow that simply wants to give of herself for the benefit of God’s Kingdom.
Happy Hubby in Idaho