Viviana Cooper: giving her heart to the ministry that showed her love

Published 7:00 pm Thursday, February 29, 2024

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In the border town of Nuevo Loredo, Mexico, a 10-year-old Viviana Cooper watched two vans pull into the parking lot of her church. They parked, and the passengers hopped out and walked to the double-door trunks at the back of the vehicles.

“They opened the back doors of the vans,” Cooper said. “It was full of gifts. Like, I had never seen so many gifts together in my whole life.”

They brought Cooper and a group of children from her town into the church and gave each child a box. 

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“They had a countdown,” Cooper said. “‘One. Two. Three.’ And everyone started opening their boxes. It was just so much joy.”

Toys, school supplies and personal care items filled the boxes, and each box was made for each child. It was the late 1980s or early 1990s, a few years before 1993 when Operation Christmas Child began. 

“When I got my box, it was not Operation Christmas Child,” Cooper said. “But it was at the beginning of [Operation Christmas Child], because, back then, it was like different churches would get boxes together to send out.”

Operation Christmas Child is a ministry that sends boxes of gifts to children in impoverished and underdeveloped countries around the world. Fast forward 30 years, and Cooper now leads an Operation Christmas Child ministry at Grace Church in Bainbridge. 

“I know exactly how it feels to get a box,” Cooper said. “And to be in some part of the world where you think nobody cares about you, and then, all of a sudden, you get a gift from a complete stranger, and you feel, like, that God cares about you… It gives joy to my heart that I’m impacting other children’s lives, and that they get to know about Jesus, and that they get to know about how God loves them.”

Every October, Cooper starts campaigning for the ministry to Grace Church. “Buyers” spend the month purchasing supplies they need to fill boxes for boys and girls aged 2-14. Volunteers gather for a “Packing Party” on the second Sunday in November, where they pack each box with supplies and get them ready to be delivered worldwide. 

In 2023, Grace Church packed more than 2000 boxes in less than an hour at its Packing Party. 

“It’s hard not to [get emotional],” Cooper said about being at the packing parties. “We put together all these boxes, and then you just think about the fact that every single box represents a child, someone around the world that is going to get these toys that you are touching, that you are putting in the box.”

Cooper said her experience of receiving a box as a child motivates her to lead the ministry today.

“Many, many, many kids in the world have never heard the words ‘I love you,’” Cooper said. “This is a tangible way they can hear ‘I love you…’ There’s so much darkness in the world, this is the first time they feel actual love.”