Hope and hugs in a shoebox

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, October 2, 2002

We’ve all heard the old saying about watching someone’s face light up like

&uot;a kid at Christmas.&uot; However, for the millions of youngsters living in countries plagued with disease and poverty, for children struggling to survive in lands torn apart by war, the Christmas season isn’t such a merry time.

‘Operation Christmas Child'(OCC) attempts to brings smiles, help and a message of hope to millions of these children in crisis each year.

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Now entering its ninth year of service, OCC is a project of the North Carolina-based ‘Samaritan’s Purse’ Christian relief ministry.

The OCC ministry starts with a simple, ordinary shoebox and an individual’s desire to share the true spirit of Christmas.

Last year, more than 4.5 million shoeboxes, each filled with toys, games, school supplies and personal care items, were sent to boys and girls in over 90 nations worldwide (including Native American children here in the US).

Greenville’s Linda Horn is acting as the area coordinator for this unique international relief program.

Horn has been busy meeting with churches, civic groups and &uot;anyone else who will listen&uot; as she enthusiastically shares how the people in Butler, Lowndes and Crenshaw counties can become involved in this program.

&uot;If many of these children in impoverished, war-torn countries are to have any chance to comprehend God’s love for them, they’ve got to first realize it from fellow human beings.

&uot;OCC allows us to do that, to send some Christian love, compassion and joy directly into their lives.

With this terrible international crisis we’re in now, we need more than ever to pull together and send a positive spiritual message out to the world,&uot; emphasizes Horn.

Operation Christmas Child is definitely a ‘hands-on ministry’.

&uot;This is an absolutely wonderful project for the whole family, for a classroom, a scout troop…. the kids can help shop for and choose the items they want to send, pack the boxes, wrap and label them…OCC also encourages everyone to include a snapshot of themselves and/or their family and a handwritten note to really personalize the gift,&uot; explains Horn. (The ministry will send a special book outlining the Christian plan of salvation,

&uot;The Greatest Gift of All&uot;, to each shoe box recipient.)

Participants may choose to put together a box for either a boy or a girl in one of three age categories.

&uot;We have detailed brochures that give gift suggestions and explain exactly how to pack and prepare the boxes…it’s very simple and it’s so much fun,&uot; notes Horn.

While several churches throughout the area have participated in OCC in years past, Linda Horn’s dream is to see this become &uot;a true community-wide effort&uot; in 2002.

&uot;Operation Christmas Child is such a blessing and a lesson for our children and youth…I hope to see lot of teachers, parents and others involve their children in this project,&uot; she notes.

A kick-off meeting for the program is slated for Monday, October 7 at 6 p.m. at First Baptist Church in Greenville.

Horn stresses this is the only general meeting for OCC in the area.

She encourages all those interested in learning more about the program to attend.

&uot;We are going to need people who can ‘man’ our local Relay Center a few hours each day, so all willing volunteers are certainly welcome,&uot; Horn says.

Collection dates for the shoe boxes will be November 18-23 at the Family Life Center of First Baptist Church.

For more information, contact Linda Horn at (334) 382-4092 or log on to the organization’s website at www.samaritanspurse.com. &uot;What a great opportunity this is…it’s a time we want everyone to really think INSIDE the box,&uot; says Horn.