The love of Jesus wrapped up in a shoebox

Lauren and Jackson sit under our Thankful Tree with the shoeboxes they packed for Operation Christmas Child.

What if we could send Jesus’ love directly to a child on the other side of the world who desperately needs to know God is real and He deeply cares for them? What if through one simple gift, we could be a part in introducing a young person to the life-changing Gospel?

Missions is personal, just like God’s grace. When God gave us the Great Commission, He didn’t intend for us to just give money and let other people do the work. God wants us to get our hands dirty, to be directly involved in sharing His message of hope with people all over the globe who Jesus died on the cross to save.

That’s why my family has wholeheartedly taken on the ministry of Operation Christmas Child.

OCC_logoThe world’s largest Christmas project of its kind, Operation Christmas Child, uses gift-filled shoeboxes to demonstrate God’s love in a tangible way to children in need around the world. Since 1993, Operation Christmas Child has delivered gift-filled shoeboxes to more than 124 million children affected by war, poverty, natural disasters, and other crises in more than 150 countries and territories. They then partner with local churches to share the Good News of Jesus Christ with those who receive shoebox gifts and help them understand what it means to follow the Lord and share their faith with others. This nondenominational ministry is part of Samaritan’s Purse, led by Franklin Graham. For more on this amazing mission endeavor, visit www.samaritanspurse.com/occ.

I remember packing shoeboxes when I was a kid with my family, but as an adult, I didn’t continue my participation in the ministry. I had been praying this fall about how my husband and I could do missions with our kids, when God arranged for me to reconnect with an amazing woman of God who really mentored me in ministry when Matt and I were first married. She is a regional coordinator for Operation Christmas Child (OCC), and invited me to revisit OCC’s vision. My heart beats for evangelism and international missions, and God swung the door open wide for me to join in and be a part of impacting children around the world. God brought together an amazing team from my church to serve alongside, and our church has refreshed our involvement in OCC and is a drop-off location for shoeboxes in our community, the first here in our town!

When I was reviewing promotional videos for OCC at home trying to decide which ones to show at church, my son Jackson began to watch with me. At one point, I turned around to see if he was still interested, and he was crying. God had touched his heart with the thought that our shoebox gifts could introduce these children to Jesus, and how the gifts could make a difference in their lives. He bought into the vision.

Lauren loved shopping for the gifts to fill our shoeboxes. She went with me several times to pick up items, and thought about what they would mean to the child who would receive them. In fact, over the course of the last few months as I have been involved in the organizational planning for OCC locally, she shared her excitement with her teacher at school, and her Kindergarten class is packing two special boxes.

I love this ministry because our family can be hands-on with missions. We can know our boxes will impact lives. That children somewhere else in the world, perhaps hurting, hungry, alone and in difficult situations, will know that there is a family out there who loves them and wanted to share a shoebox full of gifts with them. And if someone loved them enough to do that, maybe, just maybe, there is a God out there who loves them, too.

Operation Christmas Child is praying for 11 million boxes to send to children in need around the world in 2015. This morning, my church family came together and brought our boxes forward to dedicate them and pray over them. I just wanted to cry out in praise to see people of all ages, from young to old, bring their gifts to the altar asking God to use these boxes and to use them personally to bring God glory. Each box represents a life that we pray will be impacted for eternity.

National Collection Week for Operation Christmas Child shoeboxes is Nov. 16-23. It’s not too late to pack a box and drop it off at collection centers around the country (find one closest to you)!! You can also go online and build a shoebox – an easy way to be a part of this ministry.

We can bring good news and great joy to children around the world. As we join in the ministry of Operation Christmas Child, we are sending the love of Jesus wrapped up in a shoebox to a child who needs to experience Him.

Gardening with a little girl (involving children in ministry)

Lauren choose all pink flowers to plant

Lauren chose all pink flowers to plant

Involving children in your ministry can be messy. They will have the potential to be exposed to things you’d rather shield them from. A schedule will be harder to keep. They will see you at your very best and sometimes very worst.

Your children will also get a front-row seat to grace. They will get to experience what it means to be the Body of Christ first-hand. They will see the joy of serving others. They will witness prayers answered, and what it means to wait on the Lord. They will learn that being a Christian isn’t passive, it is life in action.

Children need to see their parents loving Jesus out loud through ministry. They need us to involve them in tangibly loving others and sharing the Gospel, even if it’s inconvenient and not as “efficient” with little ones in tow.

Last week, Lauren came home from church with a flower for me. She was so excited about this little flower, I decided that we would plant it, along with several other flowers in a few pots to add some color around our house. And, by color, I mean pink, because that’s the only color that was acceptable to her as we walked through the garden center at Walmart. For those who know me, and how hard I avoid gardening of any kind, this was a big deal!

We got all our supplies out, and then began getting the pots and dirt ready for the flowers.

Lauren thought she would go play on the swing-set and enjoy the flowers once they were planted. I had other plans.

I knew it was important for her to experience the planting process, to see for herself what it was like to plant and take care of the flowers she had been given.

So, for the morning, I got to garden with my little girl.

She helped put the dirt in the pots, which was not her favorite part. Her hands got dirty, which was terrible to her. She filled the watering can and lugged it back to the pots. She watered the dirt to prepare it. She helped plant the flowers and bury the seeds. She watered everything once more.

She now had ownership in these flowers, and has been tasked to water them, especially now that the weather has skipped right into summer this week.

plantingflowers

Ministry should not just be for adults, for mommy and daddy only. Our kids need to be involved, take ownership in areas they can take on, be involved in prayer for people and needs. They need to understand that ministry is hard work, and be along with us to do that hard work whenever possible and appropriate.

I am by no means a perfect parent and I often fail in the areas God has given me to serve Him. But, my children can also see God’s grace and forgiveness at work, even in me, when ministry doesn’t go the way I had hoped or when I make mistakes.

One of the most beautiful results in gardening is seeing flowers grow and bloom. You play the small part of digging the dirt and scattering the seeds, while God brings the sun and rain and life.

Ministry is like that, too. God brings the results and new life. But, He invites us to get our hands dirty and love people, sharing the hope we have that comes from Jesus.

When we bring along our children to work with us in ministry, they see Jesus alive in us, and how He can and will transform people, just as He makes the flowers bloom.