Charity is a very personal choice and is often driven by an individual’s set of circumstances. In my case, I feel a deep need to give something back to Heartlink. This special charity supported our family through Emily’s open heart surgery. Some people give to charity as part of their faith and others, I’m sure select needy causes for a whole host of other reasons too.
Since having my girls, I’m more aware than ever of how lucky we are. To be raising children in a country where I have the freedom to right this very post. We live with clean water and world renowned healthcare. So many people are far less fortunate.
So when I was given a Christmas shoebox appeal leaflet recently, I thought it’d be a great way to give a little back over the festive period. Filling a parcel with a few gifts that will be shipped off and bring a smile to a little one’s face. What could be wrong with that? Even more, it would give me the opportunity to involve the girls in their first charitable act.
What we bought
First, they helped me choose who we should buy presents for. We settled on a girl aged 2-4. Next we went shopping to pick what could go inside. We picked a selection of toys, hygiene products, stationery and a cuddly little bear. When we returned home, I searched for a video to show Jessica and Emily where the box might end up. It was then I went down a rabbit hole I wish I hadn’t.
Before you read any further, please know I unequivocally believe everyone has the right to their own opinions and beliefs. That’s said, as I have written about previously, I feel very strongly that where children are concerned, we need to be incredibly careful. Religion and faith can be such incredibly powerful forces and should be embarked upon critically and seriously, rather than forced upon impressionable minds.
What I discovered, with a quick Google search, is that Operation Christmas Child is an initiative run by an evangelical US organisation called The Samaritan’s Purse. As an atheist, I was aware it was a Christian organisation. However, the more I read and watched, the more dishearten I became about what I’d previously believed to be a simple act of giving.
On their website they write:
The mission of Operation Christmas Child is to show God’s love in a tangible way to needy children around the world, and together with the local church worldwide, to share the good news of Jesus Christ.
Since 1990, more than 146 million children in over 150 countries have experienced God’s love through the power of simple shoebox gifts from Operation Christmas Child.
Ok so they are Christians and want to share their beliefs but it doesn’t end there. In the promotional video, it is explained that at each gift giving event, there is a 10 minute gospel presentation. When the children receive their box they are invited to enrol in a 10 lesson Bible studies programme. As a graduation gift, they receive a certificate and a copy of the New Testament. In countries where education is so incredible valuable and sort after, is it not manipulative to prey on the disadvantaged like this? What impoverished child is going to turn down a brightly wrapped parcel of goodies?
The evangelical US organisations makes no secret in the fact they are creating new churches starting with the children. Recruiting children with Christmas gifts appears to be something they are proud of. US boxes actually include Christian Literature. These bible messages are given alongside the boxes shipped from the UK. Although many UK box fillers are aware that The Samaritan’s Purse is a Christian group, it is not made clear that Christian literature and sermons are given alongside their gifts.
One rule for one
It is also quite deceptive to prevent “anything of a political, racial or religious nature” being included in the box without disclosing that the reason for this is so that the organisation can add their own religious material. Many thousand of children and families are unwittingly filling their boxes with the primary intention of giving disadvantaged children a Christmas gift. In fact, their parcel is being used as a Trojan horse and a duplicitous means of preaching to children.
My research made me wonder whether the sole purpose of this operation was to convert the underprivileged rather than spread joy and happiness during the festive season. I’m well aware that Christmas is perceived my many and socially accepted to be a Christian holiday. However it is the disingenuous nature of the operation that make me cross.
So what to do?
The gifts are bought and no doubt will make a little girl so very happy. To bring a smile to someone far away who may never have received a gift before, would be lovely. I feel torn. Knowing what I do, I don’t think I’d participate in this scheme next year. But this year, I think my box will be shipped with the thousands of others. I really don’t want the little girl, who we bought these trinkets for, to miss out. But, I also really hope her family aren’t coerced into anything just to receive it.
Does it even matter? What would you do?