We Aren’t Packing Shoeboxes This Year


For the last 5 years, we have packed shoeboxes for Operation Christmas Child. This year, we won’t.

Operation Christmas Child is a branch of Samaritan’s Purse that delivers millions of shoeboxes to children around the world. The shoeboxes are packed by families in the United States, Europe, and Australia, collected at church sites, and then shipped in bulk overseas.

Shoebox packing is an exciting event in our home.

We pack a box for a boy and girl the ages of my two children. I take each of them to the store and have them shop for things they would love themselves along with soap, toothbrushes, etc. for the box. My daughter even suggested we make a special dress for her box last year as she treasures her dresses I make her.

It has been a great opportunity for discussion on what we have, what others don’t, and the importance of sharing resources.

The sweet memory of watching my 4-year-old want to pack his favorite car in the box to share with someone he doesn’t know is a moment I will forever treasure.

But recently, I read this blog post from a missionary in Zambia, one of the destinations the boxes go.

It shares the high price that the communities overseas have to pay for the boxes to make it to their communities.

I had no idea. I thought my $9 that I included with the box covered that.

[It has since been clarified that the pastors are not buying the boxes but instead paying for transit to their communities. But the cost is still a burden.]

Furthermore, she goes on to share that the money that is spent on packing and shipping a box could roughly cover any of the following in rural Zambia: 60,000 liters of potable drinking water, 100 kg of maize meal – feeding a family of 5 for 4 MONTHS, school fees and uniforms for 6 elementary kids for a year, 2 breeding goats, 6 insecticide-treated mosquito nets, 15 gallons of soybeans, or wages for 3 weeks of farm work.

All of those sound like a much better investment than a dose of American consumerism.

In the last week, I have done a lot more reading from on-the-ground missionaries who receive the boxes. The reality they portray is a stark contrast to the upbeat OCC videos of life-changing distributions. I’m disappointed, and, frankly, I’m kind of mad.

I’m mad that I was deceived as to what my funds actually cover. I’m mad that the gifts we lovingly packed were turned into a burden on communities instead of a blessing.

I’m sad that I had the best of intentions, but I still failed.

I know the ill-effects that tourism ministry has on communities. Somehow I overlooked the consequences of consumerism ministry.

I’m determined to find a better way to direct those funds this year. To connect directly with a missionary overseas or provide for a family in our community. Perhaps participating with our church’s partnership with a West Virginia community or covering someone’s heating bill.

I’m giving up the boxes, but I’m not giving up the idea of the boxes: sharing our resources along with the life-changing joy and promise of Christmas.

I grew up under the magic of Sgt. Santa in Richmond. I want my kids to understand and embrace that there isn’t a magic land where toys and resources come from. In order to give to others, we must give ourselves.

We must be intentional about teaching our children generosity. We must be explicit in helping them understand the needs to share our resources, not just at Christmas, but at all times.

In addition to her original blog post we shared above, Bethany Colvin, the missionary on Zambia, has shared an update on the situation on her blog that I find disheartening.