Thursday, November 5, 2015
by Jason McCutcheon
Any meaningful endeavour opens itself up to criticism. I wanted to share why I believe Operation Christmas Child (OCC) by Samaritan’s Purse is an endeavour that I participate in. I also wanted to give my thoughts towards those who may be critical of certain aspects of OCC’s ministry.
Criticism #1: OCC doesn’t bring lasting help to the developing world.
My Response: I’m not implying, and neither is Samaritan’s Purse, that just sending shoeboxes to children around the world will solve the challenges in developing countries. Even they are involved in other humanitarian projects. It is OCC that often provides the open door into these communities to do things like dig wells and provide disaster relief. Shoeboxes are meant to bring hope and a smile to children, and give an opportunity to share the Gospel of Jesus Christ in a tangible way that children can understand. When Jesus really changes a life, that does bring about change and real hope for the future, both for that child and the communities that child touches. If you don’t believe that, then please don’t pack a shoebox. Put yourself fully into other projects and make a difference in your own way. Also, shoeboxes often come alongside NGOs and churches already doing great work in the communities where shoeboxes are handed out. OCC depends on these relationships. Again, a shoebox is not designed to replace great work that is already being done by folks like World Vision and Compassion.
Criticism #2: OCC is accused of promoting unsafe and unfair labour practices in developing nations because items are often purchased at low priced, discount retailers such as dollar stores. Therefore, it is said, it would do better to send the money instead.
My Response: The power of OCC is the connection that the giver feels to the child receiving the shoebox. For many families in the West, OCC provides a clear and tangible opportunity to help their children think of others first in the face of Christmas traditions that can be very selfish. OCC creates a connection between people. When someone places an item in a box they know that an individual child will receive that gift. That is a significant difference as opposed to just writing a cheque. Sending money is certainly more efficient, but the power of OCC is the human connection. Often, the human connection is lost when it’s just money changing hands. And it’s hard to put a shoebox “in your back pocket”. In other words, money is easier to abuse then something tangible like a shoebox.
Criticism #3: OCC (or any organization that sends things overseas) is sometimes accused of harming the local economy. Again, it would be better to just send money.
My Response: There are certainly economic issues to address in relation to shoeboxes, but I believe the issues are often over generalized. Yes, there are unsafe and unfair labour practices in developing countries that need to be addressed. These are often, although not always, related to discount retailers. But not every factory is unsafe and unfair to their workers. The need to address those that are unsafe and unfair isn’t an OCC issue as much as a “Western culture” issue. And if this is a concern, make sure and fill your shoeboxes with items that you’re comfortable in purchasing.
Criticism #4: All the gifts are thrown out within a few days.
My Response: Stories and testimonials don’t support the idea that “all items sent will end up in the trash in a few days”. That is probably true in the West, but many of these children in developing countries have never received gifts like this, ever. They often cherish them for years. Certainly there may be some effect on the local economy, but I have to wonder how much harm there is when these children would never have been able to afford these items to begin with. Many times you’re not giving these children something they would have been able to purchase. And OCC’s goal is to provide a shoebox once in a child’s life. Often only coming to a community once. It’s not as if these children depend on OCC to provide all their school supplies each year, for instance.
In Closing: Operation Christmas Child provides a tangible way to share the love of Jesus and helps spread hope. Most of all, it provides an opportunity to share the Gospel of Jesus Christ, which is the point of Christmas to begin with. If you’re concerned about any charity, investigate and make your decisions on good information. But never use cynicism or negativity as an excuse to do nothing. Whatever you do to love and serve others this Christmas season, do it with all your heart. I’ll be packing my shoeboxes as a part of what I do.
Rev. Jason McCutcheon
Laurentian Wesleyan Church
North Bay, Ontario, Canada