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Churches sending love overseas in boxes

Through Operation Christmas Child, people can make a child’s day while spreading the gospel.

Every year, Samaritan’s Purse — a non-denominational evangelical organization — collects Christmas boxes around the world to distribute far and wide.

“Not only do they want to go to the regular areas they have been going to for years. They are truly desiring to get the message out to every nation and every tribe,” Operation Christmas Child volunteer Juli Mills said.

Mills has been working as a year-around volunteer for Operation Christmas Child for 10 years now. She started out, like many others, boxing gifts at her local church. Now she volunteers in the church relation team, acting as a liaison with 22 churches across an eight-county area.

While individuals can donate, Mills said the program is most effective when whole churches get involved. Participants pick a gender and an age group — 2 to 4, 5 to 9 or 10-14 — and start packing a box. While any shoe box will do, Samaritan’s Purse does provide pre-printed boxes with quality cardboard to churches, according to Mills.

Boxes should contain what Samaritan’s Purse calls a “wow” item — a larger toy like a stuffed animal or an inflatable soccer ball with a manual air pump — and then the box should be filled with toys, hygiene items and school supplies.

“Hygiene (items are) extremely important,” Mills said. “We’ve had stories… of people in orphanages that share one toothbrush.”

There are a few restrictions on what can go in the boxes. Liquids and candies are not allowed because of customs regulations, while war-related items like toy knives and army men are not allowed because of the wide variety of locations that the boxes are shipped to — including some places that might currently be affected by war.

Local churches will deliver boxes to First Baptist, and on Nov. 25 the boxes will head to McComb. From there, the boxes are sent to a distribution center in Atlanta, Georgia, then around the world.

The gifts given by Operation Christmas Child volunteers don’t just serve a humanitarian purpose, they also serve an evangelical one, with some of the children becoming ministers of the gospel. Mills is herself fond of what Samaritan’s Purse calls “full circle” stories of adults who were recipients of the boxes as a child.

“They realized there was someone across the world that loved these people enough to send these boxes,” Mills said. “These children… as adult(s), they are giving boxes.”

Last year, the Brookhaven area donated 3,942 boxes to Operation Christmas Child. Mills said the ministry is goal-oriented and always trying to challenge itself to do better, and the goal for 2019 in Brookhaven is 4,336. About 40 churches across the county are packing boxes, Mills said.

With over 500,000 worldwide volunteers, Mills said Operation Christmas Child is the largest Christmas mission project in the world. The project has delivered more than 168 million shoe boxes to children in more than 160 countries. The world-wide goal for Operation Christmas Child in 2019 is 11 million shoe boxes.