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Joy In Giving

It’s that time of year. There’s a tangible buzz in the atmosphere, almost as thick as the sweat on our brows, the flies on our food and the sound of three chord choruses gracing our shopping centres.

The chocolates in advent calendars are disappearing, as are the hardened layers from the Grinch-like hearts amongst us, revealing a warm, fuzzy, nonsensical sentiment. How could anyone resist the lure of eating when full, the warzone-like carparks, or those lame one-liners found within our Christmas crackers? There’s so much ‘Christmas cheer’ to be found in the flashing little lights that creep through our blinds when we’re trying to sleep at night and so much ‘elegance’ in those dangly earrings that never should’ve left the Christmas tree to begin with. Albeit, Christmas is a wonderful time to celebrate the birth of our Saviour with family and friends.

There is nothing wrong with all that ‘silly season’ stuff, but for me, most things this time of year don’t really make a great deal of sense. However, this year, something happened in amongst the craziness that grounded me in purpose. It was during the Operation Christmas Child Project run by Samaritan’s Purse. There was a specific moment where the light bulb inside my disorientated little heart lit right up. I was driving my tiny two-door car, filled to the brim with over 80 little shoebox presents blocking my rear and side view. I felt like the tightly packed pressure could’ve caused my doors to burst right off their hinges, like some giant Christmas piñata. I remember being concerned by the possibility of getting pulled over – but giggling at the excuse I’d have to give police when I explained that I really was just a modern day “Mother-Clause”.

It was that “thrill of the drive” and feeling like I was part of something much bigger than me that made me excited. That drop off, of over 80 boxes was just a tiny fraction of a total of more than 322,000 boxes processed this year! Each and every box signified one person/family who chose to give and more than that, each and every box represented one more child receiving a gift this Christmas and experiencing the hope of not being forgotten. I felt great happiness and I shared in the joy that all those in my church felt. I’d mistakenly ordered just 50 boxes for those in the congregation that might want to give. After just the morning service, we had none left! I’d underestimated how contagious the joy of giving would be and I quickly had to work out a way to find more! People saw an opportunity to cut through the fog of Christmas consumerism and do something totally culturally abrasive, and give. Not just give, as in clicking the “donate” button on a website (also good), but actually thinking about, physically planning, purchasing, packing and giving a gift to a child.

Parents also took the rare opportunity to engage with their children about the context of the giving. That is, chatted to their little ones about us having far more than we could ever need and that there are others with less – not just less, but far less. Children individually, considered and handpicked items for another child their age, placed each item carefully in its gift box… and gave to that child the only gift they would receive this year. It was the best opportunity to lift the blindfold and connect, to look through a tangible channel to those just like us, outside our country, and directly and personally touch their lives and in turn have our lives touched as well.

Ongoing aide and shoeboxes this year are being delivered to Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand, Vanuatu, Samoa, Fiji, PNG, India, Iraq, Philippines and Nepal (and potentially a few others too). What a beautiful thing to be part of an international community and not just in a network kind of way, but in the sense of being ‘One Body’ too. In predominantly Christian countries, like Samoa and PNG, we’re able to bless and build up our brothers and sisters in Christ who simply have less. In countries where Christians are persecuted, we’re able to relieve some of the despair and bring joy and a reminder of God’s love. Last year, Christian families (Yazidis), were surrounded by ISIS on top of Mount Sinjar with no food and very little water. Someone from Operation Christmas Child came with a leader from the Middle East who shared a Bible story and taught the children a song before gift-filled shoeboxes were passed out.

In countries where few know Christ, for example Cambodia and Thailand, where over 160 000 boxes were delivered to a population where 1% identify as Christians, we’re able to bring joy and the message of hope. The boxes are often delivered firstly to local Christian churches where the community then meets up for the distribution. What a wonderful way to join in the mission of Christ, partnering with believers who have hearts for their communities. Pastor Batzorig, in Mongolia, recalls the brutal winter of 2010 that left families stripped of livestock, without food and completely lost. Samaritan’s Purse came with emergency food, clothing, and medical aide and started a livestock recovery program. Over time, the families began to ask the Pastor about this “Jesus” who had brought Samaritan’s Purse to help them. In India, Samir, a seven year old said that, “I learned that Jesus loves me. After I received the gift I started coming to the church and my parents started coming with me”. Stories like this are endless and testimony to Jesus using this project to reach and love the least of these.

What I can’t wrap my head around is that something that’s often brushed off as a, ‘just something churches do each year activity’ actually means so much and is used for far greater good than we could’ve first anticipated. It costs but some time, a small fraction of money spent at the local ‘cheapie’ shop and $9 worth of postage. Yet the enormity of the blessing to the child, family and community that receives it, is monumental. Really, we are truly the ones who are blessed by this project. The opportunity to take part in such Kingdom Work, where cultures collide, the international body of Christ works as one, and the ‘least of these’ are blessed with love and hope, is an opportunity that should have us bursting with the desire to take part again and again.

In their despair, poverty and potentially, their hopelessness, they receive a free and undeserved gift of love. What a beautiful platform to bring the message of Jesus, who came to us in our despair, went to the cross, and gave us hope through the undeserved gift of eternal life. As they say at Samaritan's Purse, “Great Joy – Good News”!

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Jenna Cera is an Occupational Therapist, wife of Jared and member of Disciples Church Springfield. She co-ordinated DC's inaugural involvement in Operation Christmas Child, an initiative of Samaritan's Purse.