Since 1993, Samaritan’s Purse has delivered an astounding 77 million gift-filled shoe boxes to impoverished children worldwide through its Operation Christmas Child project. Just imagine the delight of these boys and girls at receiving their very first Christmas presents!
Yet for many of these children, the impact of the project goes far beyond the presents in the box. These simple gifts mark the beginning of a journey of faith. “The Greatest Journey” is the exciting follow-up discipleship program used by Operation Christmas Child to help young people become faithful followers of Jesus Christ.
“The Greatest Journey” begins after local churches and ministry partners distribute shoe-box gifts, when children are offered free Gospel storybooks provided by Samaritan’s Purse. “The Greatest Gift of All” booklets–printed in more than 70 languages–contain colorful illustrations that explain the Good News of Jesus Christ in a simple, engaging style.
The most far-reaching impact comes later, as Christian workers invite children to participate in the voluntary Bible study course produced by Samaritan’s Purse, in partnership with the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association. The 12-lesson course guides young people through a study of who Jesus is, what it means to follow Him and how to share this exciting message with others. After children complete the program, they are presented with a personalized certificate.
To help these young people continue to grow in their faith, Samaritan’s Purse provides them with their very own copies of “The Greatest Gift of All” New Testament. This special edition also includes selected Old Testament stories, a dictionary and a section that encourages the children to memorize Scripture.
All of the materials used for “The Greatest Journey”–the Gospel booklets, Bible study course and New Testaments–are supplied at the request of local churches and ministry partners.
This follow-up discipleship program has borne much fruit during the past decade. More than 14 million boys and girls from 70 countries have enrolled in the Bible study course, and some 3 million have made decisions to follow Christ.
One of those children is Perlita. At a small church in the Philippines nine years ago, she received her first Christmas gift–an Operation Christmas Child shoe box. When she opened the package, she found not shoes but a box full of toys and candies, and a handwritten note and Scripture verse.
Just 6 at the time, Perlita prized the gift. A family she had never met had taken their time and money to package the toys and candy for her. She held the items close, especially the Scripture verse. Eager to learn more about the Bible, she attended the special Bible lesson series the church hosted for children who had received the shoe-box gifts.
“Even as a small child, I had heard about God,” Perlita says now.
Though young, she understood the central message of the Bible lessons–that God loves little children like her and that He sent His own Son, Jesus, to save her from her sins. At one of the lesson meetings, Perlita gave her heart to Jesus and, like the shoe-box gift, He became her very own. But unlike the candies and toys, He would be hers forever. He would never leave her; in fact, she would someday go to Heaven and live with Him forever.
“After receiving the shoe box and doing the Bible lessons, that’s when I completely dedicated my life to the Lord,” Perlita said. “The shoe box encouraged me and taught me that even in small ways, I can help people. That’s when I got excited about serving Jesus Christ.”
Perlita, now 15, continues to love Jesus and to grow in her faith journey. She teaches Sunday school and participates in music ministry at her church, and she is energized by seeing other children come to know Jesus, too. In January, she helped her church hand out Operation Christmas Child gifts to children whose homes had been heavily damaged by flooding from last fall’s deadly typhoons.
“I am so excited to be a part of this work,” Perlita said. “Now many more children just like me will receive shoe boxes and know that Jesus loves them.”
The impact can be immediate and widespread, as seen in the Francisco de Macoris Province of the Dominican Republic. More than 90 churches in the region offered the follow-up discipleship program, and some 10,000 children were reached through the Bible lessons.
“Your support has helped us to start a new church and a new children’s ministry, that way having the opportunity to teach more children about God’s Word,” said Pastor Miguel Mendoza. “Thank you for making it possible for us to receive all these blessings.” d: ©2010 BGEA
For more information about Operation Christmas Child and “The Greatest Journey” discipleship program, visit greatestjourney.org.