First Baptist Church Vicksburg serves as collection site for Operation Christmas Child

Published 4:00 am Sunday, December 5, 2021

The large boxes that lined the walls of the Family Life Center at First Baptist Church Vicksburg are now long gone and on their way to their destination in a country somewhere on the other side of the globe.

Those large boxes contain shoeboxes, but a recipient won’t find a pair of Air Jordans inside; they’ll find something that will probably be more useful — things that may make their life a bit more enjoyable and possibly help them learn about Jesus Christ.

First Baptist serves as a central drop-off center to receive cartons of shoeboxes for Operation Christmas Child, a project of Samaritan’s Purse, a faith-based, nonprofit, nondenominational organization founded in 1970 by journalist and evangelist Bob Pierce to provide physical and spiritual aid to people across the world. Franklin Graham, the son of Dr. Billy Graham, now directs the organization.

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Operation Christmas Child began in 1993. Under the program, Samaritan’s Purse partners with local churches around the world to deliver 157 million shoebox gifts to children in 160 countries.

Each shoebox is packed by an individual or family with toys, school supplies and hygiene items and sent with a prayer that the child who receives it will experience God’s love through the gifts.

“The boxes are used as an opportunity to reach unchurched people and tell the story of Jesus Christ and the love of God,” said Kathie Sills, Operation Christmas Child director at First Baptist. “In many cases, this is the first gift the child has ever received.”

After the children receive their boxes, Sills said, they are invited to attend a 12-week study where they learn Bible stories and about the love of Jesus Christ.

“The whole purpose of the shoebox is the opportunity to share the love of Jesus Christ with a child and the family,” she said.

Sills said First Baptist has been involved with Operation Christmas Child since the program began, adding she became familiar with the program through her children, who packed shoeboxes.

The program at First Baptist’s participation was begun and chaired by church member Hester Pitts, who died last year. Pitts’ death, Sills said, “Left a big hole in our congregation.”

One of the pastors at the church then asked Sills to lead the ministry. Sills said the church has three packing parties, where the materials for the boxes are laid out for wrapping.

At one adult packing party, she said, about 50 volunteers attended “and they would pick up a shoebox and go down the aisle selecting the items to go in the shoebox, and at the end of the aisle we had men who were prepared to pack them into the (shipping) cartons and then we gathered up all those cartons to go on to tractor-trailers to go to Atlanta (Ga.) to a distribution center.”

On the program’s national collection day, Sills said, First Baptist serves as a local drop-off center where people and churches can drop off prepared shoeboxes to be packed in cartons for shipping.

The church became a central drop-off center this year, she said, and receives cartons of boxes from churches and organizations in Utica, Clinton, Crystal Springs and Wesson that are later shipped to Atlanta from Vicksburg.

She said 20,000 boxes were shipped from the church.

“There are a lot of volunteers who carry out this ministry,” Sills said. “It’s not only the people who prepare the shoeboxes but we have a group of volunteers who do the packing.”

She said men from Renewal House, a local faith-based recovery program for men, help lift the cartons of shoeboxes to pack the trailers.

“Once the boxes get to Atlanta, there are volunteers who check every shoebox to make sure there are no items in them that are prohibited,” Sills said. “We don’t allow liquid of any kind because things break. They don’t allow any form of war-related toys like guns or soldiers because some of these go into war-torn areas.”

After the shoeboxes are checked, they are repackaged and sent across the globe.

When the boxes reach their destination, Sills said, church members in those countries distribute the shoeboxes to the children.

Once the boxes are shipped, she said, planning begins for the net year.

“For my own children, we kind of shop all year-round,” she said. “If I happen to catch a clearance at summertime I try to get all the jump ropes I can find; school items. We would shop and then prepare our boxes in time for national collection week.

“It is a very large task; this is a year-round ministry.”

About John Surratt

John Surratt is a graduate of Louisiana State University with a degree in general studies. He has worked as an editor, reporter and photographer for newspapers in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama. He has been a member of The Vicksburg Post staff since 2011 and covers city government. He and his wife attend St. Paul Catholic Church and he is a member of the Port City Kiwanis Club.

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