Grace Church among many packing shoeboxes for Operation Christmas Child

Published 9:30 am Thursday, November 16, 2023

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Every holiday season, churches from around the country start packing shoe boxes with toys to be collected by Samaritan’s Purse for Operation Christmas Child. “We’re trying to reach children for Jesus,” said Viviana Cooper. She organizes the program for Bainbridge’s Grace Church. “We give them a box full of toys, and every time Operation Christmas Child delivers boxes, they present the gospel of salvation.” The gifts and the gospel are sent to children around the world for Christmas. Grace Church initially sent boxes home with church members to fill on their own accord, but when the results were lacking, Cooper stepped in to fill the need. “We used to just have boxes at the church that people could fill in their homes,” Cooper said. “But then they wouldn’t turn them in. We used to have 35 to 50 boxes every year. So we said, ‘Let’s do a packing party and see how that works out.’” In 2016, Grace Church began buying supplies for the children a few weeks before packing the boxes in one day. Their first packing party total was around 150 filled boxes. “It was kind of rough the first year,” Cooper said. “But after that, we started smoothing things out, and every year has been better.” The success of the project has skyrocketed since 2016, and Cooper’s goal this year is to fill 2,000 boxes. “I have some people that shop throughout the year,” Cooper said. “If I see something that is on sale, I text the group chat and say, ‘Hey, there are dolls on sale, go get them.’ October 1 is our kickoff. That’s when we start buying stuff all the time.” Cooper assigns different people in the church to shop, using funding that Grace has provided and personal donations that members contribute. Grace Church packs necessities like toothbrushes and toothpaste, socks, and school supplies, but they also pack 1,000 dolls and 1,000 soccer balls to bring children the joy of receiving toys on Christmas. Operation Christmas Child packers are encouraged to send letters with their boxes to be translated for the children. The impact of these gifts exceeds a simple act of kindness. “There are some kids that have never heard the words, ‘I love you,’” Cooper said. ”And this is a tangible way for them to feel that somebody loves them. Not just somebody that sends them the box, but God ultimately.” Cooper went on to explain how the program also impacts the lives of the community around the kids. “The kids take the message of the gospel to their families and friends. Some communities have started churches. African Bible College, based in Liberia, started two churches with these boxes.” Cooper has a personal connection with the program, having received a box when she was younger and living in Nuevo Laredo, Mexico.“My box was before the beginnings of Operation Christmas Child,” Cooper said. The program started to take form around 1983, and she received her gift before it cemented. “I got a box full of toys, and that’s why I know it makes a huge impact on somebody’s life.” Cooper’s experience with the boxes has allowed her to share her testimony and the impact they hold. “We’re not just sending toys, but it’s a message that goes with the box. And that is my biggest thing about this ministry.”

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