Saturday, 15 October 2016

Questions about Operation Christmas Child Shoebox Campaign

Too early to think about Christmas?  Yesterday our church launched the first foray into the Christmas activity.  I must say I was surprized as it is only Thanksgiving and there isn’t even Christmas music in the stores yet.  However, it wasn’t truly a launch of the Official Christmas activity.  Our congregation launched its Operation Christmas Child Champaign where parishioners are given the opportunity to fill a “shoe box” with toys and other items for a needy boy or a girl in a faraway land. 
I must admit that this caught me a bit off guard as I hadn’t expected the campaign to start so early.  My mistake, as the campaign will end on November 20th which understandably allows time for the shoeboxes to be collected and sent to those children in faraway places.  The reality of the start of Operation Christmas Child motivated for me to share with you some of the strong reservations that I have about this project.  Now you may well be wondering how anyone could object to what seems like a wonderful effort to send some Christmas cheer to needy children.  That is exactly what my thoughts were about the undertaking until recently.  Indeed I joined in the activity and had fun selecting what I thought were appropriate items for the shoebox and adding it to the growing pile at the front of our church. 
My first doubts about the campaign were raised when I read a news item about an Operation Christmas Child volunteer coordinator of seventeen years who was not allowed to continue because she would not sign an “updated statement of faith” from Samaritan Purse which included statements that that marriage is intended to be between a man and woman only, and that abortion should not be permitted.  Here is a link to the news item if you would like to read it in full,
After reading this rather unsettling piece I decided to do some research into Samaritan Purse and the Christmas Child Shoebox Campaign.  What I found out left me with even more questions about the appropriateness of supporting such a program. 
First, I have strong reservations about the parent organization, Samaritan Purse.  It is the run by Franklin Graham who is the son of the renowned evangelist Billy Graham.  I discovered that Franklin Graham has an understanding of Christianity which is much different from mine.  The Wikipedia article on Franklin Graham include disturbing items such as:
  • Graham has made controversial remarks against Islam saying "True Islam cannot be practiced in this country,"
  • In the August 30, 2010 issue of the Time magazine, "Does America Hate Islam?" Graham reportedly said that Islam "is a religion of hatred.
  • On August 19, 2010, when asked by CNN correspondent John King if he had doubts that President Barack Obama is a Christian, Graham stated, "I think the president's problem is that he was born a Muslim, his father was a Muslim. The seed of Islam is passed through the father like the seed of Judaism is passed through the mother. He was born a Muslim, his father gave him an Islamic name."
  • Graham claimed that Obama had "allowed the Muslim Brotherhood to become part of the U.S. government and influence administration decisions,"
  • In a March 2011 interview with Newsmax, Graham said the 2011 earthquake and tsunami in Japan "may be" the second coming and Armageddon.
  • Graham supported North Carolina Amendment 1, which was passed by a voter referendum on May 8, 2012, prohibiting same-sex marriage and all domestic partnerships
  • Graham has commented on Hinduism as well, saying, "no elephant with 100 arms can do anything for me. None of their 9,000 gods is going to lead me to salvation"
There have been troubling accusations regarding the Samaritan Purse relief efforts accusing them of tying relief aid to attempts to convert people to Christianity. One example quoted below states:
Other relief organisations were scathing of Samaritan's Purse's actions in Nicaragua in the aftermath of Hurricane Mitch in 1999 which left over ten thousand people dead or missing and considerably more homeless. Rather than focus on helping people, Samaritan's Purse used up potential relief money arranging an evangelical concert at the national baseball stadium in Managua. 50,000 children - mainly Catholics - were whisked away in rented buses to the stadium to listen to Graham, who flew in on a private jet, preach his brand of Christianity - asking them to accept Jesus as their saviour and be born again, and be rewarded with a shoebox of gifts and a Bible - the Catholic church was furious[1].
Samaritan Purse also includes religious tracts with the Shoeboxes. This is not made clear to donors.  These are also included without the knowledge of the recipients.   These promote Samaritan Purse’s particular brand of Christianity which I find problematical.  As noted in one site critical of the activity, “The booklet is not a "simple booklet of Bible stories" but is designed specifically for converting young children into Christians and comes complete with a "sinner's prayer" of conversion and a pledge card.”[2] In addition this is part of the attempt to convert children by stealth which can be against the wishes of the parents.
Finally and for me most telling, is the inefficient form of charity that this takes.  It may allow the participants in Canada to feel they are doing good works of Christian charity as we are called to in following Jesus.  However, it is not the best use of our gifts if the goal is to help the recipients. As noted in one critique these types of schemes, “are not good value for money, they waste resources, don’t meet local needs or help solve local problems, and don’t support the local economy”.  They are imposing our understanding of what the needs of others are without consultation. 
There are numerous alternatives to the Operation Christian Child Shoebox campaign if you would like to consider an alternative.  Here are some suggestions:
  • The Primates World Relief and Development Fund (PWDRF) is the Anglican Church of Canada arm for aid and relief in different categories including Food Security, Health Care ,Poverty, Relief/Refugees, and Human Rights/Peace.  There are many different  worthwhile project such as:
    • Water Project Pikangikum Ontario First Nation
    • Nanganga, Tanzania health clinic
  • Canadian Foodgrains Bank which has the goal of a world without hunger.  They do this by working “ toward this goal by: providing food in times of crisis for hungry people in the developing world; helping people grow more food to better feed themselves and their families; and providing nutritional support to malnourished people with a focus on pregnant and breastfeeding mothers and young children”.
  • Oxfam where you can donate a flock of chickens or a camel, or textbooks or dinners for a third world school. For these and many other life-changing or life-saving gifts go to
  • Canassist African Relief Trust which funds infrastructure development in East Africa
The spirit of Christmas is one of generosity and giving to others to show the love of Christ to the world.  I hope that you will express this love in your lives this coming Christmas and every day.  It is my hope that you will consider ways which will best do this.  Peace. 

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