Beneath Each Box: The Hands of a Hero

By   •   December 4, 2009

Sorina Riddle was 11 when Operation Christmas Child (OCC) made her dream come true. Growing up in communist Romania, her family didn’t have much. “The only thing I wanted for Christmas was a banana or an orange, because that is what they imported once a year to Romania,” Riddle told an audience of fellow volunteers who gathered at the OCC Processing Center in Charlotte, N.C. on Dec. 3.

“That particular Christmas,” she said, “I wished for a scarf, hat and gloves because it’s really cold in Romania. I didn’t think that I would get them, but around Christmas, I was invited to a small Baptist Church.”

Riddle had never heard the name of God before, but she went anyway. The church had a children’s program and after they shared the Gospel with Riddle for the first time, “they gave me this shoe box and told me that someone at the other end of the world packed the box especially for me.”

When Riddle opened her box, she found the very things she hoped for: a brand new scarf, hat and mitten set. “I still have them today,” she said. “I can’t say that I got saved at the moment of receiving the shoe box, but I believe that God made my heart tender to come back to that church and at 17, I got baptized.”

The Connection Continues

Ten years after receiving the gift, Riddle was teaching English at a school for underprivileged children in Romania. Through a connection with Operation Christmas Child, the school received 500 shoe box gifts to distribute to the students who were poor and came from non-believing families.

“Our staff helped to distribute the boxes to the villages around our town. And I saw the smiles on the children’s faces who were receiving the shoe boxes – they were like my smile almost 11 years earlier.”

But that was not the end of Riddle’s contact with OCC. After she came to the United States to earn her Master’s degree in English and met her husband, she ran into a friend. “I said, ‘Rachel, who do you work for?’ And she said, ‘Operation Christmas Child!’

“I’m just glad to be here and encourage you to continue doing the work that you are doing,” Riddle told the volunteers. “My husband and I are packing shoe boxes now, so what comes around, goes around.”

“To hear stories like this young lady’s makes you realize that every box is important,” said Franklin Graham, president of Samaritan’s Purse/OCC and the BGEA. “I come today to thank all the volunteers – the pastors, the churches, the Sunday school groups, the parents and the kids.”

Both the number of boxes and the number of volunteers is staggering. Joey White, assistant director of Operation Christmas Child, said it takes close to 40,000 volunteers across the United States to process approximately 5.2 million boxes in seven different processing centers.

Charlotte, which is the largest, will see close to 2 million boxes pass through its doors this season, utilizing approximately 1000 volunteers every hour.

Another 3 million shoe boxes will be collected and processed in 12 different countries including the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, Germany, Ireland, the Netherlands, Spain, Hong Kong, New Zealand, Austria, Switzerland, and Finland.

“Today is a great day for us to celebrate what the Lord has provided through our volunteer efforts,” said White. “The volunteers will know when they leave here they are appreciated and they are the heartbeat of what we do at OCC.”

Blessing in Return

The volunteers stress that each hour spent brings multiplied blessings. “OCC has really taken me on a journey of faith,” said Kathy Schriefer from Erie, Pa. “In 1996, I packed five boxes but read about a woman who packed 200. That was so great but I thought it would be an unattainable dream.”

In 1998, Schriefer took a course where she was challenged to pray and ask God to do something only He could do. “So I asked him to let me pack 250 boxes. In the year 2000, through a series of miracles, He answered that prayer.”

Now Schriefer has personally sent 32,998 OCC gifts. This year alone, she packed 10,223 shoe boxes.

“God has used OCC to give me just a tiny glimpse of how great He is and it has revolutionized my life,” said Schriefer. “I am just standing on tip toes waiting to see what He will do next.”

Schriefer is one of 191 volunteers who are coordinators in this area of the United States. She oversees a team of 14 year round volunteers working to generate gifts.

Volunteers Kathy Schriefer (left) and Joel Snyder

But there are close to 100,000 short term volunteers, too. Joel Snyder, for example, has brought a group to serve for the last 14 years. As the youth pastor of Richfield Mennonite Church in Richfield, Pa., he likes to show youth the entire process, beginning with packing a box to helping with the final steps at the processing center.

“We emphasize that each of the shoe boxes represent the only Christmas gift these kids will ever have,” said Snyder, “the only gifts they may get for the entire year, and how thankful we need to be for what we have. Because we are blessed, we need to bless others as well.”

Snyder likes to tell the kids they are sending God’s love so that other kids can come to know Christ.

“I love to watch our kids get involved,” he said. “I think they are changed just as much.”

Jerry and Judy Schuster from LaPorte, Ind., also enjoy showing God’s love to the world. “I’ve always been interested in missions,” said Judy, “and this way, I get to touch the lives of so many children. It’s an easy ministry to get involved in and it gets children involved in giving.”

At the end of the event, Franklin Graham emphasized OCC’s Gospel mission. “Thank you for your hours and hours of labor,” he told the group. “We couldn’t do Operation Christmas Child if it wasn’t for folks like you, willing to come down here and work in these processing centers – opening the boxes, sorting the boxes, inspecting them, putting them in cartons, shrink wrapping them – all of that.

“There is no way we could do this without you guys. So as these boxes go, continue to pray. Pray that God will use these gifts in a mighty way to make His son known to these children around the world.”

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  • One way that BGEA supports the Operation Christmas Child effort is through a discipleship partnership. Learn more about the Greatest Journey.
  • The BGEA also partners with Operation Christmas Child to distribute shoe box gifts during Franklin Graham Festivals each year. Read about 2009 distributions.
  • Learn about the Bikers with Boxes collection event at The Billy Graham Library.

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