Operation Christmas Child is a family-friendly event for Hesston congregation


Packing shoeboxes has become a discipleship opportunity

by Myra Holmes

Like many USMB congregations, Hesston (Kan.) MB Church (HMBC) participates every year in Operation Christmas Child (OCC), a global outreach of Samaritan’s Purse, a non-denominational evangelical Christian international relief organization based in Boone, NC. For the last several years, they’ve turned packing shoeboxes into a discipleship opportunity by making it an all-church event.

OCC encourages individuals and families to pack shoeboxes with small gifts. The boxes are distributed to children in need around the world, where local churches can follow up with a gospel message. Typically, churches collect the packed boxes and deliver them to a community drop-off point. 

That’s all good, says J.L. Martin, pastor of children and families at Hesston MB. But he wondered if the church might amplify the impact by working together. So about eight years ago HMBC cancelled regular Wednesday night children’s activities and invited children and their families to pack boxes together. That effort has expanded to an all-church event that not only packs a significant number of boxes, but also encourages multigenerational interaction.

The date of the event is always determined by OCC’s collection week, which this year is Nov. 14-21. Instead of asking families to bring prepacked boxes, the church distributes a list of suggested items and collects donated items before the event. On the chosen Wednesday, the entire church family gathers for a meal, activities, worship, a brief Bible lesson and packing.

Activities are fun and family-friendly. Last year, during the popularity of the “Minions” movie, the activity was a game-show-like challenge called “Minions or Messiah.” Other years, it might be a word puzzle or Pictionary-type game with Christmas themes.

Youth pastor Jared Redding leads a brief time of worship, often calling upon the talents of church youth. Lead pastor Brad Burkholder gives a short, gospel-oriented message to remind those gathered of the meaning behind the holiday.  

Then, of course, children, parents and grandparents pack boxes. An assembly line of tables with donated items and signs with instructions makes packing a simple process. Children help load finished boxes into Martin’s vehicle for delivery to the local drop-off location the next day.

Martin says turning OCC into a multigenerational event has several advantages, like giving regular Wednesday night workers a break and helping church attendees get to know each other.

But the biggest benefit is the discipleship that happens as those from different generations interact. Like when grandparents and grandchildren fill a box, then pray together for those who will receive it. Or when excited children want to keep a toy they see, and adults have an opportunity to talk about blessings, poverty and generosity.

“So often we think we have to separate to reach the different generations,” Martin says, “but there’s something valuable about all of us coming together and being united around a specific purpose.”

The success of the shoebox packing night has encouraged HMBC to try other multigenerational events, like packing school kits for Mennonite Central Committee, seasonal “gospel parties” or a craft night. “This kind of idea can be more than at Christmastime,” Martin says.

More details about Hesston’s shoebox packing night can be found by searching for November entries on Martin’s blog, daddy4ms.blogspot.com/ or the Hesston MB Facebook page, www.facebook.com/hesstonmb  —Myra Holmes

Photo: Last year children and adults at Hesston MB Church packed 165 shoeboxes for Operation Christmas Child. Photo provided by HMBC.


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