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Putting faith in action with Operation Christmas Child boxes

Juli Mills loves to watch her grandchildren pack shoeboxes with toys, games and fun things that kids on the other side of the world will enjoy.

They always add the important things, too, like socks, soap and a toothbrush for a child who may have been sharing one with his or her family.

That’s difficult to comprehend, said the Brookhaven woman, who is a volunteer with Operation Christmas Child.

In her eight years with the program she’s seen thousands of boxes, packed and ready for shipping, come through the local drop-off center — First Baptist Church. She prays for them when they come in and when they go out that each will find its way into the hands of a child somewhere who needs to hear the gospel of Jesus Christ.

FBC Brookhaven is collecting filled boxes from churches, businesses and organizations, and individuals from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. through Friday and 2 to 4 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.

Empty boxes are available at the church during those times. Average size shoeboxes or plastic shoeboxes can also be used.

A list of suggested items to pack and items that can’t be included is available at www.samaritanspurse.org. Directions for packing a box are included as well.

Boxes should be packed for either a girl or boy, ages 2 to 4, 5 to 9 and 10 to 14. Samaritan’s Purse suggests selecting a medium to large “wow” item, such as a soccer ball with pump or a stuffed animal, then fill with other fun toys, hygiene items and school supplies. A personal note and photo of yourself and family is an important addition but not mandatory.

Every box needs a $9 donation to provide for collecting, processing, shipping and other project costs. If packers make the donation online at the Samaritan’s Purse website, the individual can follow the box and receive a tracking label.

Mills said some people may not have the time to shop and put together boxes so she suggests “Build a Shoebox” online at the Samaritan’s Purse website. Individuals can choose items to include from a list of items in each of the suggested categories for a $25 donation. There’s even a place for a message and photo. Or click the “Build a Shoebox For Me” option for the same cost.

Brookhaven Academy has sent shoeboxes overseas for over two decades.

“It’s a great way for our students to put their faith in action and serve children around the world,” said Brian Emory, director of development at the K-12 private school. “Some are introduced to the idea of giving internationally for the first time through OCC. Many of the students serve our community in different ways, but some of the students, especially the younger ones, seem to be so excited about giving to other children around the world.”

Several other schools and churches have packing parties and shoebox collections to participate in the program. Mills attended the BA dedication Wednesday and saw them pray over 542 boxes that will be trucked over to FBC.

Walmart picks up all the boxes from the church and takes them to Southwest Community College in Summit. From there the boxes from Southwest Mississippi will head to Atlanta, Georgia, where volunteers from around the country will check each box to remove items that aren’t allowed like toothpaste and candy. Items removed go to other charitable organizations for use, Mills said.

Mills and others from the area have gone to the processing center in Atlanta to help sort the containers and check for items that aren’t allowed to be shipped. A message about Jesus is included in each box, printed in the child’s language, before it is sent on to its final destination.

“I always thought it was about packing a box and giving it to needy children that were affected by war or disease or famine or poverty. But I learned it was so much more than that,” she said. “It’s just to the heart about what’s really important in life. We are such a blessed people.”

Mills has also been on overseas missionary trips.

“I’ve seen those faces of those little children. It just ignites me every time I go. I just can’t get enough of trying to reach out to these little children,” she said. “Truly, this may be the only present they’ve ever gotten before in their life. They are just so grateful.”

She said volunteering with the project has also showed her where to focus her energy.

“It’s really been a great teacher to me,” she said. “The whole ministry has helped me get more grounded in what’s really more important in life.”

For more information, call FBC at 601-833-5118.