November 8, 2011
A few weeks ago I was looking at some promo videos for Operation Christmas Child like the one above. If you’re not familiar with OCC, here is a brief synopsis from their website.
“Operation Christmas Child was started in 1990 by Dave Cooke, a Welshman who felt moved to deliver gifts to Romanian orphans after seeing their living circumstances on television. In 1993, Operation Christmas Child grew and was adopted by Samaritan’s Purse, a Christian organization run by Franklin Graham.
To date, Operation Christmas Child has collected and distributed over 86 million shoe box gifts worldwide. Each shoe box gift is filled with hygiene items, school supplies, toys, and candy, is given to children regardless of gender, race, religion, or age. When culturally appropriate, copies of a book entitled The Greatest Gift of All, which has been translated into 130 different languages, are offered to children after the shoe box has already been distributed.”
After watching the promo videos I felt a floodgate of emotions coupled with a flurry of questions that I didn’t know how to answer. I remain in the same place as I write this admitting that I don’t have solutions nor alternatives. I also confess that I believe Samaritan’s Purse is doing a good thing and I have no intention of discrediting or undermining all the efforts, funds and energy put behind what they do. In fact, I think that by asking questions we can create a space for relief organizations like this to continue to evolve and adapt to a changing world. It is people like you and I who have the possibility to shape and influence the philosophy, ethos and action of NGO’s. I’m humbled by the heart of men and women who have taken the task of mitigating the effects of poverty through their blood, sweat and tears.
It’s in this spirit that I ask the following questions to myself about my involvement with Operation Christmas Child:
1. As I fill that box with “stuff” from the Dollar Store, am I actually doing it to help a child in need? Or am I satisfying deep seated guilt for living such a selfish, consumerist life? As I close shut the lid to the box, do I crave that feeling of “doing a good thing” without considering that I’ve attempted to buy “peace of mind” for twenty dollars?
2. As I fill that box with “stuff” from Wal-mart, do I recognize my own poverty? Am I deceived into thinking that because I’m the one sending “a gift” that I’m the one “more blessed”? Does the illusion of having “buying power” lead me to conclude that my life is complete?
3. Is my image of the people of Africa, Asia, Latin America, Eastern Europe distorted by the images I’m shown? What assumptions do I make about the people receiving these gift boxes?
4. Is a box of “hygiene products, candy and toys” the best gift I can give a child “in need”?
Is this what children really need? Is there something more “costly” I can give a child?
5. When I consider that 1 in 10 children in Alberta live in poverty, the question that resounds loudly is: what am I doing to alleviate impoverishment in Edmonton?
Or is it easier to send a box overseas and tell myself “somewhere out there a child is happy because he/she opened a box full of goodies that I filled” and then continue living the same self-centered life?
My prayer as I navigate through these questions is to embrace my own brokeness and neediness, because if I fail to do that, I am likely to do more harm than good.
…speaking of Africa, check out the new song for November.