Saturday, March 4, 2017

boxing up expectations: reflections on OCC and the church


It was a fairly typical Thursday in our house. My husband went to the Mansa Pastor’s Fellowship, the meeting ran late, he got home and scarfed a “used to be warm” meal and gave me the run down of news from our region’s pastors.

So the boxes came up again, he started. I paused from my counter de-greasing to hear this one. Just a few days prior at the Fellowship’s Valentine’s Day event - capping off an otherwise delightful evening of food, love and laughter - the issue of “paying for our boxes” came up in the announcements. Through the thick murmur of voices, we gathered the sound bites of boxes, pay, free, why and no. Missionaries are really good at rolling with confusion so we held onto our questions. (And it was late – the newlywed game went long because we could not stop cracking up.)

Thankfully, at the next weekly meeting of the Fellowship, the topic came up again, and this time, being a more appropriate venue and atmosphere for discussion, the voices of all were heard, one at a time, and a thorough conversation went on and on.

Livid, Jeremy told me. They are livid. These pastors are the most gentle shepherds, so I had to know more. In bullet-point format, Jeremy explained that the Operation Christmas Child boxes had reached the warehouse in Ndola and that the Mansa churches needed to come up with eight kwacha per box for 5,000 boxes to receive their shipment. That’s $4,000USD, Jeremy said, telling me what I had already calculated. He continued to share that comments from the pastors ranged from, “We don’t have this kind of money,” to, “Aren’t these boxes supposed to be free?” to, “Next year, let’s just refuse the boxes all together!”

We haven't always been at these gatherings during OCC distribution time, and so we were back-peddling a little to make sense of these statements. Wait, wait, wait…  is this how it always is? What’s the money going for? Who is responsible for it? Despite the remaining questions, two things were crystal clear: the pastors were forking over cash for OCC boxes, and they were NOT happy about it.

Truth telling and transparency are core values for me, and the details out of that Thursday’s conversation just felt like something that needed to be shared.




This went up on my facebook wall and I honest to goodness didn’t expect much interaction with it. After all, it was a fairly bland statement – I didn’t flavor it with any personal opinions or emotional judgment. I posted because I myself was wrestling with unmet expectations, and I figured a few others out there might be as well. My goal was to describe the gap and let it speak for itself.

Days later, that conversation was still going, and I started composing this post as a way of saying all that I couldn’t say in a comments section. (Speaking of which, I made that particular post public so that anyone can read the full comments … in case you wanted to catch up…)

Having taken time to both dialogue and reflect (thank you, by the way, to everyone who shared thoughts and opinions with me,) I have observed that many, if not most people who engage with Operation Christmas Child do so with three main expectations. I will describe those below along with my observations regarding how those expectations seem to be playing out in Zambia.  


a quick side note...

(Before saying anything further, I need to make the disclaimer that the following opinions are 100% my own and not necessarily representative of anyone I work with or for. Furthermore, my opinions are drawn from my experiences in Zambia alone and may not be reflective of every country in which OCC operates.)

OK back to business…


Expectation one: The $7 shipping cost gets the box TO THE CHILD

This is certainly the most flagrant of unmet expectations. In my initial quest to understand why the churches of Mansa were paying to receive their boxes, I learned from OCC USA directly that the $7 only ships the container(s) of boxes as far as the central warehouse in the country – in our case, Ndola. It is OCC policy that the National Leadership Team (volunteers, and all Zambian) be responsible for distribution and raising funds to cover in-country transportation costs. Historically in Zambia, this has meant levying a transportation fee/payment amongst the churches in each district. This fee is not optional – this is not a free will offering – and it is announced to the churches that those who do not pay will not receive.

OCC policy clearly states that boxes are not to be sold. However, the Leadership Team’s directive to “raise funds” and their decision to do so by levying a “standard transportation fee” has effectively translated to a system of selling and buying the boxes – the National Team sells and the churches buy and that money takes care of the in-country transportation cost as per OCC’s plan. Some churches have chosen to absorb the cost on behalf of their congregants; others have merely fronted the costs and will then re-sell the boxes to the families themselves.

In dialoguing with many box senders in America, it is clear to me that no one actually wants to be a burden to the recipients. A lot of discouragement was generated by the thought of the rural poor having to scrape together funds to buy presents, and I was asked if there was a better way. Well...

I spoke directly with OCC USA regarding the policy and potential solutions. We didn’t have a particularly thorough brainstorming session, as that wasn’t the point of the call, but it did stand out to me that all “solutions” mentioned still kept the burden of transportation cost on the rural communities. Again, this is OCC policy. It was explained to me that OCC strategically does NOT charge the sender $7+K8 in order to ship all the way to the children because they WANT the churches to pay something. As an organization, they do not want to create an unhealthy dependency

This comment about dependency leads me to my second unmet expectation:

Expectation two: The gifts are HELPFUL both in evangelistic outreach and material aid

I’ve already written a full post outlining my thoughts regarding OCC and the coupling evangelism with Christmas gifts. I’d encourage you to read that post as well as I don’t intend on going into it here, but the spoiler is that I thoroughly disagree with this methodology for moral, cultural, and theological reasons.

As for the second element – helpful material aid – when the kind OCC staffer in North Carolina told me that they insisted that the churches pay so as to “avoid dependency,” I heard in that word choice the patent use of “development worker speech.” I started to wonder, just how many people really consider the shipping of these boxes to be an effective form of relief and/or development aid? It seems like Christmas presents don’t necessarily need to be sustainable, so… are our friends packing their boxes full of socks and washcloths and toothbrushes and Band-Aids because they believe they are supplying items that the child actually, desperately needs?

It may be quite right that a child would not have gotten a new toothbrush without that box, and that makes us all feel so useful on this planet, but if material aid is the expectation, this is not good stewardship of resources. For the cost of that new (American) toothbrush, a child in Mansa could buy 10 toothbrushes in the market. This pattern holds true for many of these “necessity” items.

A cost analyses on the boxes as a whole is even more striking. Expenditure certainly varies, but if we guestimate that the average box – contents plus shipping – is worth roughly $30, then have we done a good job of counting the “alternative cost?” Have we considered what could be done with that money instead?

in rural Zambia, $30 can pay for…

60,000 liters of potable drinking water

100 kg of maize meal – feeding a family of 5 for 4 MONTHS

school fees and uniforms for 6 elementary kids for a year

2 breeding goats

6 insecticide treated mosquito nets

15 gallons of soy beans

wages for 3 weeks of farm work
           
            
The families are not consulted, of course, (further evidence of poor development practice) – meaning, no one has ever asked them directly, “would you rather have a box of assorted American goods, or would you rather send all of your kids to school this year?” Yikes. Do we even want to know the answer? Would it bust our expectations left and right? And if it did, are we courageous enough to do something else?

community based needs assessment is not an optional step

One thing I did learn from the comment thread on the original post is that there are plenty of families who do NOT share in this expectation. They fully recognize that this is maybe not the best evangelism tool, and it is without question NOT the best aid, but they do it anyway because of the benefit to their kids. I thought about that one long and hard, and to this group I say – despite all my other feelings – GOOD ON YOU, parents, GOOD ON YOU. You have taken intentional action to make your privileged children more generous, aware and missions minded, and this is so very worthwhile. I have heard your question, “is there a better option?” and I desperately want there to be. The impetus is on the local church and its sent-out-missionaries to strategize and facilitate this caliber of experience. We have not done all that we can do, and for that, I am sorry. Nevertheless, you deserve all the props for being both third world savvy and good disciplers of your kids.

As a final observation, I’ll share a third expectation:

Expectation three: A reputable organization like Samaritans Purse can be trusted to  provide oversight

The first responses to hit the wall after my post went live were filled with disbelief. What? How is that possible? There must be an explanation! Not Samaritans Purse!?!?!? Even after I shared “the rest of the story” (that OCC knows that the recipients pay and actually expects them to pay), a handful continued to defend OCC by offering a variety of positive examples from around the world. The sharers of these stories are likely believing that these gold-star results in one location are representative of results everywhere.

As I said at the outset, my perspective is 100% Zambia specific. All I know is that the disappointment over the cost of the boxes HERE is unmistakable. Every other commenter with experience in Zambia said the same thing.

What for all the yeah but… yeah but… yeah buts…stemming from those alternative examples from other countries, still, as far as I’m concerned, ^^^ this means something.

An addendum to the above expectation would be that we expect uniform results across the board. However, a basic rule of a GLOBAL aid organization, is that one-size-fits-all (and works for all,) is not a thing. The cultural climate, relationship to the west, perceptions of power/respect/authority – these all matter hugely.

OCC handles its oversight requirement largely by working with National Leadership Teams, seconding to them great authority in each state of the process. Here, the Team in Ndola – for cultural and other reasons – was not shuttling report of the discontentment across the ocean. The American representative told me that he works closely with the Ndola team and would follow up with them… I was only mildly comforted considering that this voice was 7 time zones away. “Work closely with” can mean so many things… I mean, Jeremy and I would say that we “work closely with” our local pastors; and by this we mean, we know them. Henry Mumba is a jovial leader who almost fell in our pond going down our zip line… Pastor Bwalya fasts and prays quarterly at our farm and never lords his title of Chairman of the Fellowship over anyone… Bishop Chimanga prays for provision while refusing to takes a penny from his extremely poor congregation whose roof we re-constructed this year… Reverend Mwansa is a phenomenal worship leader who is always helping others despite having nine kids of his own. These partnerships are relationally rich – and effective for that reason.



I’ve always been an advocate of supporting the little man because THIS is where accountability WORKS. No one has ever had to call us from another continent to tell us that one of our programs is not working. When something flops, we know it in about twelve seconds because the casualties of that flop usually come knocking on our door. In the same vein, if someone has a question or concern and would like an audience with the top-of-the-top of our organization, I’m pretty sure I can arrange that – dinner is at 6 and please don’t mind if my children throw peas. They lose their minds when we have visitors.

Scope and size of impact grow as an organization gets larger and larger, but quality control is almost always inversely impacted, and that is an understandable tradeoff.

Actually, so much of what we’ve observed with OCC is “understandable” and this is why I “stated the gap” without overt judgment. On some level, I get it. My point in sharing what I have is that the massive donor base of North America is not well versed at vetting, monitoring and evaluating the projects that our funding goes to. We trust the big names – sometimes too much.

At the end of the day, each donor is responsible for his or her investment, and no one else’s. Merely assuming that the stewards of your money are living up to expectation benefits no one. Asking questions and following up need not be hostile or cynical; BUT, with great (financial) power comes great responsibility.

Also, I concede that a lapse in expectation need not be a deal breaker. This too is a personal choice. For me, the unmet expectations outlined above are not palatable, and I will probably never participate with OCC for this reason, nor would I recommend others to participate either. But this is just one opinion, and my perspective is both biased and inherently imperfect. I appreciate the others who have shared their perspectives with me and expanded my understanding. You make me a better missionary, and I thank you.




*** UPDATE ***

Due to the outpouring of concern generated by this post, Operation Christmas Child has issued a formal response. Prompted by further reader concern, my response to that communication can be read: HERE. Please take the time to read the follow-up post as it is comprised of direct statements from the local pastors. I hope you'll find it as helpful as I did. 

Also, please note in the comments below how many people have shared similar examples from countries OTHER than Zambia. OCC continues to paint this as a localized problem. The testimonies below give credence to the fact that it is most certainly not. 

153 comments:

  1. This is Mary. Thank you, Bethany for your further comments and especially about OCC's ability to follow through. That they had not known about this, speaks to our experience with many Christians who can't "get" that there is still such a huge gap between Blacks and Whites in the USA, to mention just one thing. People think they are communicating, but not really hearing.

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    1. I'm sorry, but what does race in America have to do with this issue?

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  2. Thanks for your articulate and thoughtful reflections on this topic, Bethany. You reported accurate observations and inferred reasonable conculsions from your experience. I agree with your assessment (especially on the topic of dependency) and want to believe that SP/OCC leaders will pay attention, ponder and adjust their approach in the future. However, I'm not optimistic that they will change without a burst of external pressure. Keep up the good work and I pray for God's continued blessings. Roger

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  3. Wow. Eye-opening. Thanks, Bethany, for taking the time to write this.

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  4. I too am really appreciative of the thorough explanation and thoughtfulness put into your two posts about this (the prior one and present). You have much to do with your time, and investing in helping us to understand is worth it, I think. It's a long road we're all on to knowing when and how to help/be involved - boy, do we need God's grace and wisdom and a huge amount of humility.

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  5. Hi Bethany,

    Thank you for bringing this concern to our attention. Since our representative from Operation Christmas Child headquarters called to speak with you, we have been able to investigate this further.

    This was addressed in person—our volunteer National Coordinator in Zambia traveled with two staff to meet our regional volunteer leadership team in Mansa, and local Mansa Pastors. From the perspective of our local ministry partners this misunderstanding in Mansa is resolved.

    May God bless you in your ministry in Zambia,

    Operation Christmas Child
    occinfo@samaritan.org

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    1. Thank you for your note -

      I do believe this is the story that you have received from your Zambia team (Mr. Simangalo?) It is a shame that you weren't able to talk to the Chairman of the Fellowship on the phone at the end of that meeting. He waited for that opportunity and unfortunately was not given it.

      This topic took center stage at yesterday's regular Fellowship meeting, and it is clear that there's a lot to the story that America has not heard. We've encouraged the MPF to write a letter directly, which hopefully they will do despite having been told that if they complain to America, they will be blacklisted like other place in Zambia who have complained have been in the past.

      I don't think anything in this country (because to be frank, the problem is Ndola, and Ndola controls more than just Mansa) will be resolved until you commit to sending an independent auditor to go over financials and to talk to people outside of your leadership team.

      Please let me know if there is a specific person the Fellowship should address their letter to.

      Thanks,
      Bethany

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    2. Dear OCC,

      I have written a response in conjunction with the Mansa pastors that indicates the ways in which the matter has not been resolved. I hope you find this additional information helpful.
      http://bushbabycolvin.blogspot.com/2018/10/pastors-response-re-occ.html

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    3. Good afternoon,

      i would like to know how a local church in Zambia can partner with Samalitian purse ? our church would like to be part of the shoe box distribution to the kids and orphans . thank you

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  6. Hi Bethany,
    Our family has always done the OCC shoeboxes, but reading this has made me seriously question how we can truly help make a difference in the lives of others. Do you have any suggestions for organizations, or ways we can put our money to better use? Thanks for bringing this to our attention...

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    1. Thanks for your concern! I've always been an advocate for partnering with smaller organizations with little overhead and direct involvement in communities. This is the best way to meet real needs in real time for maximum impact. Last year, we had several people contact us to say that they wanted to "give gifts" but not through OCC, and we gladly stewarded their funds to meet local needs and afterwards then let them know what we had done. Instead of shoeboxes, we were able to give roofs and shoes and pots and blankets and chickens. =) I can honestly say it was a beautiful season and all sides were blessed. I'm most acquainted with our own ministry (choshenfarm.org) but there are also others that are highly relational, well integrated, and very intentional about stewarding donor funds. I hope you can connect with those who share your heart and can are able to partner with you to make a difference!

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    2. It is $9 per box to add for postage from Hawaii. I have wondered if the money put intovthe things in the box plus the $9 donated to the local churches directly night be more helpful .

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    3. Anonymous, I was wondering the exact same thing. In fact, my inquiry is this; Bethany, you mentioned that $30 could buy a LOT of valuable commodities for families or even a community in Zimbabwe. Is there an organization we can just donate cash directly to that can use those American dollars more wisely? Or should we just contact Hiefer International and hope our gift gets to the best place?

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    4. Even the smallest non-profit's IRS report can easily be viewed through Charity Navigator links. Larger organizations like Heiffer have detailed reports on NGO finances.
      I myself have sent OCC shoeboxes, but the most effective results I have found are in education. (Compassion International which is enormous and Heart for Ethiopia which is relatively small).

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    5. Dear Readers,

      I've added an update post to help answer further questions. I think you'll find it useful: http://bushbabycolvin.blogspot.com/2018/10/pastors-response-re-occ.html

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  7. Was this ever resolved? If the churches have to pay for the boxes then it doesn’t seem like OCC is a worthwhile endeavor.

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    1. Thanks for asking! After writing this blog, I reached out to OCC a few times and never heard back. It would appear that nothing has changed, but box distribution doesn't happen until April usually, so I'll have to wait and hear from the local churches how things are proceeding at that time.

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    2. Wait. They don’t get the boxes for Christmas?

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    3. I also am a missionary....Botswana...and we did the shoeboxes many times before cutting it loose...it is quite costly on the receiving end. We were paying P100 = $10 for each box we wanted to give to a kid. That was to cover the ground transportation/ customs duty to cross from South Africa to Botswana / and storage fees at the port from the day of arrival until delivery to the capital of our country. Then further ground transportation from that city to the villages we worked with 6 hours north. This all seemed too much. for that P100 we could rather buy things that were more suited to those we were trying to reach. Also, the boxes never arrived until March or April anyways...so we either did the boxes and kept them until that following Christmas or usually used them and then spent funds again at Christmas time for whatever outreaches we wanted to do to focus on HIM at that time of year. If used correctly and as an evangelism tool the BOXES can be effective...but from a missionary viewpoint...so many wasted funds for items that can just as easily be bought or more appropriate things bought IN MUCH LARGER QUANTITIES and to further aid economy in our own countries...rather than being spent on a shoebox from abroad.

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    4. Bethany, you said that you never heard back from operation Christmas child. When reading the above blog, I see that OCC did write you back above. Wow, this is all too eye opening. Makes me sort of sad....
      They said:

      Operation Christmas ChildMarch 6, 2017 at 12:17 PM
      Hi Bethany,

      Thank you for bringing this concern to our attention. Since our representative from Operation Christmas Child headquarters called to speak with you, we have been able to investigate this further.

      This was addressed in person—our volunteer National Coordinator in Zambia traveled with two staff to meet our regional volunteer leadership team in Mansa, and local Mansa Pastors. From the perspective of our local ministry partners this misunderstanding in Mansa is resolved.

      May God bless you in your ministry in Zambia,

      Operation Christmas Child
      occinfo@samaritan.org

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    5. TrostleTeach320,

      You might have seen above that I did respond to OCC's original comment, letting them know that the issue was not at all resolved by that action, and that the story they heard from their Team was very different than what transpired. After that I sent a few different e-mails trying to reach out and dialogue and all communication was rejected.

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    6. FiddleDebbie,

      The boxes do not come for Christmas. Usually March or April.

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    7. Thank you for your response. I do see your response to OCC above. This article made many people think. Here is a positive article from other people who are also in Zambia who receive shoeboxes. http://www.simplyshoeboxes.com/2017/05/a-missionary-in-zambia-shares-stories.html

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    8. here is the official reply.... https://www.samaritanspurse.org/article/official-statement-on-manza-zambia/?utm_source=OCCFacebook&utm_medium=social&utm_campaign=m_YOCC-18SM&utm_content=10-25-Zambia-Statement&fbclid=IwAR3Byu6sJdw-B-2axv1n74S_ucWX7YZkI8XMGVnu2T2TB3UXE0SCgJF

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    9. Wow, Bethany, you got an "official statement!" :-)

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    10. Friends, I've written a response to OCC's official reply which I think you'll find very helpful as it directly quotes the pastors of our region. I've updated this blog post with the link to the response and I'll paste it here as well. Thank you for your ongoing concern!
      http://bushbabycolvin.blogspot.com/2018/10/pastors-response-re-occ.html

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  8. The book "Helping without hurting" addresses this subject with great wisdom and compassion! Often what we assume to be need in fact undermines the work of the church and community, and does greater damage than good!

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    1. I agree, great book! It's difficult because people really like the "hands on" approach, yet sending items is not particularly stewardly. I work for an organization, World Renew, that has a gift catalog similar to Heifer International. We work through local churches to do asset based community development. Our field staff have similar stories about the shoe boxes and are not in favor of them.

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  9. My husband has written a book called Breaking the Broken: Debunking the Myth of Social Justice, that explains a Biblical model for serving the poor and is applicable to both local and international ministries. The key to effective ministry is relationships and that is hard to accomplish without investing in local organizations that have a direct involvement in their communities.

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    1. Sounds like a book after my own heart! I'll have to check it out. Thanks for sharing!

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  10. Wow! Thank you so much for this insight! We've been doing the OCC boxes for over a decade! Do you know about the other items available for "purchase" through the Samaritan's Purse such as Goats, cows, cookstoves, chickens etc.? Do the people have to pay for something on the other end for those as well?

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    1. I don't have any first hand experience with other Samaritan Purse programs as only OCC operates in our region.

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  11. If you really want to "serve the poor", I GUARANTEE there are needy people IN YOUR OWN TOWN who need food, healthcare, clothing, childcare, to have their lawn mowed, or any number of other things. Keep your money local. You have much more oversight over the local food bank or women's shelter than you do with a global cash grab like Samaritan's Purse. You really want to "make your privileged children more generous, aware and missions minded"? Have them serve at the local soup kitchen or pass out socks to homeless people IN YOUR OWN TOWN.

    You really want to help the poor and destitute in the 2/3 world? Vote. Elect people who support just foreign policy. Elect people who oppose needless war on poor, brown people across the globe. Elect compassionate people.

    And stop supporting religious colonialism like "missionaries" and other evangelistic aid groups.

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    1. THIS^^^^
      Turning what is supposed to be a way to help impoverished people really about teaching your privileged children a lesson is just about the most tone deaf, self-centered thing I've ever heard. There are PLENTY of ways to teach your kids about serving others in ways that will actually help.

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    2. Matt McGraw, absolutely to everything you said until the last. There are many (many) missions helping people out of absolute poverty by healthcare, assistance to stay in school, microloan programs, and skills training / marketing. Of course missions do it in the name of Christ. But try finding a medical relief organization in any area of real need without Christian compassion at core. A few are Muslim, Jewish,MSF, and the UN. But over 90% are Christian. Education support (sponsoring children or schools) is also very effective relief. If you think these projects are just colonialism, travel more. See what folks in absolute poverty are up against. See first hand what NGOs are accomplishing.

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    3. I agree with Handmade Journals. My in-laws served for over 40 years, alongside other committed families, at a hospital, school and a work program for the handicapped in Bangladesh through a Christian mission group. Without the support of individuals and churches, they would never have been able to provide that region with critical aid that the local government could never afford. Why did they spend the majority of their lives in a 3rd world country working tirelessly to help those in need in a place halfway around the world from their own comfort zone? Because the love of Christ implored them to dive in and give everything they had to show the Bengalis that there is a God Who loves them enough to send them doctors, nurses, lab techs, teachers, and workers who will invest in their daily lives and basic needs. Politics only goes so far and is not empowered by love and servitude, as much as our hearts desire it to be so. Helping locally is definitely our calling and responsibility as a community. But helping globally is also our calling and responsibility. And if you're not going to go across the world, and I'm not going to go, then we should certainly send support to those who are willing to abandon it all to go. And the majority who have the heart to do that are generally the ones whose hearts are filled with the love of God because it's within His nature to rescue the perishing.

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  12. This is not the first time I've heard about serious issues with OCC from people 'on the ground', and if the sadly dismissive comment above from OCC is anything to go by, it's really no surprise.

    I love what you say about being relational - both in terms of genuinely knowing one another, and being intimately aware of the local context. Trusting 'big names' has created an awful mess in the church - and elsewhere.

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  13. Thanks for writing this.
    It's hard not to notice that Franklin Graham's salary from SPurse is around $1million.
    The more you look, the more you notice that these big American ministries are actually businesses.

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    1. I thought everyone already knew this!! Any preaching ministry you see on t.v. is an actual business. When will people stop supporting these millionaire preachers and their lifestyles???

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  14. Hi,
    My husband and I are missionaries in Uganda. I was shocked when I heard the pastor of a very rural, very poor church was selling Christmas boxes. I’ve been enlightened by your article. Thanks for doing the homework for me and getting the facts.
    My trouble with this, besides what you mentioned, is that the locals were buying the boxes at the cost of a day’s wage! And the content was a mystery to them until they purchased. A woman sat me down and asked me to explain what the items were in the two boxes she bought (a spinning top, and other toys she had never seen and considered garbage to be burned). The prize in the box was the bar of soap and very thin wash cloth. She actually gifted them to me because she knew their value. I was honored.
    I will stick with community development through healthcare, education and the precious Word of God.
    Blessings,
    Rachel

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    1. Rachel,
      Thank you so much for sharing your experience. In my communications with OCC, they have insisted that this is an isolated issue (i.e. just in our little region), whereas testimonies like yours and others help all see how the corruption and mis-management are actually a much broader issue. I hope many will see your comment and take note. Thank you again and blessings to you as well.

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    2. After reading this article I was concerned. I've packed many shoeboxes myself and as a children's pastor have encouraged many others to do so as well. I asked some of the missionaries we're connected with about their experience on the receiving end. They've always encouraged us to pack shoeboxes when they've come back to visit. They confirmed that they too (in Eastern Europe) have always had to pay the inland distribution fees (so that confirms what you've found in Zambia). However, in their context they consider it well worth the cost. They've had plenty of positive feedback and gospel impact through the boxes. This confirms other testimonies I've heard from kids getting letters back (because they've provided their addresses) from the recipients saying how thankful they were.

      My own opinion is that the shoebox isn't about being fiscally responsible (which isn't they same as saying we SHOULDN'T be fiscally responsible), but rather about giving a gift. A gift should be over and above the regular and ongoing support we give to those we care for. A Christmas gift, ideally, is about sharing the love of Christ with someone else by communicating the thought of "I'm thanking God for you, I'm thinking of you, I want to bless and encourage you and I want you to know that I love you." I understand that parents may want 100kg of corn maize. That's a good investment. Thinking as a fiscally responsible parent, perhaps I should just tell my sons that this year for Christmas I'm going to pay for their groceries for the next few months... except, I want to be more than just a fiscally responsible parent... I also want to communicate love in a language that the receipt will understand and appreciate. That's why a kid will get more out of a shoebox than just its monetary value: $30. At the end of the day, although we absolutely need to be giving regular sustainable support that's helpful and not harmful (which means understanding differing contexts, being relational, and thinking small as well as big), I think we also need to understand that giving a Christmas gift is not primarily about fiscal responsibility, it's about communicating Jesus-inspired love. Wherever the shoeboxes will or have succeeded, it's because that's occurred.

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    3. I agree, Doug. I believe the heart behind the shoeboxes is different than when we give money to buy food for a family. Both come from places of love and care for others, surely. However, the shoeboxes offer that idea of sharing the love of Christ through special, fun items that give children the delight of opening their very own gift box. With that being said, the issue of churches having to pay to receive the boxes is concerning when poverty is an issue in many countries/towns/villages/cities. I'll have to mull that over a bit more.

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    4. Doug, I'm not sure if you'll see this reply, though I hope you do!

      I think its great that the missionaries you've been connected to have had good experiences. I've found in talking to many people that the program seems to work very well in Eastern Europe. I wish I knew why - whether its because if the sizes of countries or local culture or the organizations that OCC/SP partners with or the relationship of the national leaders to foreign money/aid... I have a hunch its a combination of factors. But Rachel's comment reflects what I've heard from missionaries all over Africa and I feel like that's a significant observation.

      And as for the nature of gifts. I think that gifts being "extravagant/frivolous/unnecessary" is something that western culture has created as a definition of gift in a way that other cultures do not share. It would be ok to go above and beyond IF every single child who received a box were simultaneously receiving on-going sustainable support. Your kids would be bummed if you bought them groceries instead of toys because they know that you were going to buy them food anyway.

      I actually wrote a post to address this exact topic and I hope you'll have time to read it. It's also in my top ten list on the home page, or you can see it here: http://bushbabycolvin.blogspot.com/2017/10/why-you-should-think-twice-about-giving.html (blog title: why you should think twice about giving "gifts" to the poor. I really hope you find it helpful.

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    5. Read it (both the reply and the other blog post), with pleasure I may add. I really appreciate your thoughts, insight, and most of all the clear passion you have for serving the Kingdom thoughtfully and sacrificially. Without your work I never would have given the OCC project even a second thought. I think your points about American culture with regards to gift giving are all valid and true, as is your point about it being crucial that we, as the ones seeking to help, at least make an attempt at meeting the needs first. I could not agree more. You are - rightfully - helping us not to gloss over such faults, and as an international worker, we (in NA) need to pay great heed to that wisdom.

      At the same time, this side of the new creation - before Jesus sets all things to right - we'll always have needs to be met; there will never be a time when that's not the case... What I'm learning throughout this discussion is that despite some of (what I believe are) SP's best efforts as an international relief organization, they can't meet all the needs and their strategies aren't perfect. And I think if we're honest with ourselves, no one can. Even the most down to earth, sustainable, relational support networks are going to have some faults in them. Only by God's grace do even our best attempts at true religion (caring for widows and orphans) actually make an eternal impact. I'm very disappointed to learn that some families have to buy their boxes, I don't think that's right or what's intended on the part of the box packers. But I am very grateful that by God's grace, OCC is seeing 1.8 million children are finding Christ annually and receiving truly, the greatest gift.

      I'll continue to think and pray this all through. It may be that next year I look into an alternative approach. Blessings,

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    6. The other piece to this "gift" is if I'm paying to send a gift to someone that is a gift of blessing. If I'm sending someone a gift "charge on delivery" and it's costs them to receive it, that is a gift AND a burden. And only the recipient knows what the tipping point is for when that gift becomes a burden. If there is a way to give and it be freely given then that is the option that is most helpful. This is a broken system if it gifts with a burden. :-(

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    7. A GIFT is intended by the giver to be FREE.

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    8. Friends, I've written a response to OCC's official reply which I think you'll find very helpful as it directly quotes the pastors of our region. I've updated this blog post with the link to the response and I'll paste it here as well. Thank you for your ongoing concern!
      http://bushbabycolvin.blogspot.com/2018/10/pastors-response-re-occ.html

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  15. We are bombarded at Christmas time with the notion of sending these boxes. I've packed many myself, usually going to Haiti as that's a country that captured my heart years ago but never knew the local churches had to foot the bill to get them to the locals nor did I really think about the cost of what I packed versus what the same cash amount could pay for locally. Really breaks my heart that this isn't communicated more clearly. Thank you for sharing your experience so we can steward these gifts better. My question is: what is better? Are the programs to "adopt" a child/adult better managed? Do those monies make their way to the local family better?

    My church partners with several local pastors/churches in different areas, one of which is in India and we send a team every year with supplies and funding. That team returns with photos of locals that need extra support all year and our members can "adopt". This works well for us on a small scale obviously because we work directly with the local pastor/church and there's no big agency overhead. But what about those that do go through larger agencies to "adopt" a child?

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  16. Thank you for this post. I have been advocating against Samaritan's Purse in particular for many years, and I am glad to have your first hand experiences in-country to support my arguments. It is a shame that this is done in the name of Christianity. I wish there were more experiences shared like yours so that organizations like this would lose their credibility in North American society. I was shocked to hear that public schools in Canada still support OCC, particularly schools in multicultural and multifaith communities, especially given Franklin Graham's well-documented anti-Muslim stance. When we discovered that our small rural high school was supporting OCC several years ago, we lodged a complaint with the administration, with what little supporting documentation we could find, and they pulled their support. There are many reputable organizations who do good work, and there really isn't any valid reason to support OCC and Samaritan's Purse, in my opinion.

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    1. Dodie, may I respectfully request clarification about your statements "shame that this is done in the name of Christianity" and "especially given Franklin Graham's well-documented anti-Muslim stance"? I for one am not sure I am following what you mean by "this" in the first statement, and why you bring up the fact that Graham is on record as saying Islam is a false religion. Many thanks.

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    3. Dodie, are you a Christian? I only ask in order to gather context for your comment. Further, does anyone have proof that Samaritan's Purse is corrupt or disreputable? While the original author seems to question the effectiveness of OCC's methodology and protocol, I didn't see an exposure of unethical practice.

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    4. Friends, I've written a response to OCC's official reply which I think you'll find very helpful as it directly quotes the pastors of our region, and mentions unethical practice. I've updated this blog post with the link to the response and I'll paste it here as well. Thank you for your ongoing concern!
      http://bushbabycolvin.blogspot.com/2018/10/pastors-response-re-occ.html

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    5. Franklin Graham is a well-known Islamophobe and anti-LGBTQ bigot. The largest Muslim association in the UK called for Graham to be denied a visa because of his inflammatory and bigoted remarks: From The Guardian, "The preacher, who said Trump’s election victory was evidence that “God’s hand” was at work, has called Islam “evil” and “wicked”, claimed Barack Obama’s “problem is that he was born a Muslim” and said Satan was the architect of same-sex marriage and LGBT rights." Several mainstream Christian leaders in Canada have also spoken out against him: here's a link https://www.premier.org.uk/News/World/Canadian-Christians-boycott-Franklin-Graham. I live in Boone where Samaritan's Purse is based, and I have never met a person who works there who isn't lovely and kind. At the same time, I will never support this organization because of the person at the top. My aid dollars go to the Episcopal Relief Fund and to HIAS, neither of which demonizes others in the name of God.

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  17. I think if you could share this information a little more concisely and a tad more objectively you would reach more people. It might go viral among those who care the most and Samaritan’s Purse might be forced to respond publicly.

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    1. Hi Jessie, I'm open to suggestions on how to be most effective/helpful. If you have any ideas, feel free to share! Thank you for caring.

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    2. Jesse, I don't know that I managed concise, but I hope that my follow up post with direct quotations from the pastors qualifies as objective. You can see the response post here:
      http://bushbabycolvin.blogspot.com/2018/10/pastors-response-re-occ.html

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  18. Thanks so much for writing this Bethany! My husband and I work for an international relief and development organization that operates in 35 countries and we also struggle with watching thousands of families in our area eagerly pack OCC boxes, but decline donating money to our organization which focuses on empowering locals with local resources and relationships that provide long lasting self-sustaining change. If anyone is looking for a better Christmas alternative you can donate a goat through Global Hope Network International's Goat Loan program. We call it a loan because by asking the recipient to pay back the loan, they will be more intentional to manage their goat business in a sustainable way because they are invested. Also when they pay back the loan (usually in the form of one or two of its offspring) we can pass the goat along to another family who wants to start a goat business. The goats are sourced locally supporting the local economy and ensuring that they are goats that already thrive in the area. Bringing in outside food or goods as charity can be so damaging to local economies and small businesses. It sounds like Bethany's organization is a good one to donate to. For alternatives you can check out us- Global Hope Network International at GHNI.org and look into donating a goat to one of our African or Asian villages, or supporting a refugee family while they go through income generation training. Feel free to email me with questions: Lisa.Inman@ghni.org

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    1. Thanks so much for sharing this! What a great way to empower a family and help them become financially independent. I will look into it more!

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    1. Bethany, My family and I have long participated in OCC and I contacted SP/OCC about this issue after having read this blog article of yours. I received an almost identical reply as Eddie Knight. It would be helpful to get your perspective on the "correction of the misunderstandings" in Mansa and for any other updated clarification you can give on the situation since your original writing. Also, to learn if you ever received credible information of similar situations occurring anywhere else across the globe. Thanks.

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    2. Eddie and Kevin,
      Thanks for your comments. This is the exact response that pretty much everyone who has e-mailed OCC on this issue has received back. It comes down to how you perceive the handling of money. OCC does not sell, nor condone the selling of boxes. However, the organization does expect the churches to cover the transportation costs. The churches must transfer the cash before their boxes will be delivered. OCC calls that a contribution. The local churches call it a payment.
      It is true that the National Team was dispatched to Mansa and OCC USA called the matter finished. I informed them that this was not at all true and they care to hear why. I'll report to you that the National Team's path to "resolving the misunderstanding" was to yell at the local pastors for tattling and to curtly explain, "It costs to ship the boxes and YOU have to cover those costs. This is the way it is and if you complain about it again, you'll be blacklisted."
      So in short, the policy remains that the churches shoulder the burden of receiving boxes. They do not receive until they pay. It's up to the individual donor to decide how they feel about this, and whether requiring poor churches to hand over money to receive boxes is a breach of expectations. My blog argues that it is. Others may see it otherwise. SP as a whole certainly does.

      As for similar situations, I've had many missionaries reach out to me from other African countries saying the same thing: the boxes are too expensive, the churches sell them, families buy them and then resell them if they don't like their contents. I will concede that this problem seems to be exclusively African, and I have not heart any negative stories from other continents. But across Africa, it does seem to be par for the course. You can see Isaac Rachel Mubezi's comment above for a first hand report from Uganda.

      Again, thank you for your concern.

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    3. Bethany,

      Thank you for your diligence in replying to me and many others who have commented here or have had questions. If this is true that the receiving organizations / churches must cover the transportation costs in order to receive the shoeboxes, then that is certainly troubling as the impression given by SP/OCC is that the $9 covers all needed administration/shipping/transportation costs to get the boxes to the end receivers. From what is being said here, it would seem the need to cover transportation costs is standard across all regions, although it seemingly poses more difficulties in some regions, like yours in Africa. Am I understanding this correctly?

      One other question of clarification: The stories of churches or families selling the shoeboxes, that would be after they have gotten the boxes from SP/OCC, correct? Thanks.

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    5. Friends, I've written a response to OCC's official reply which I think you'll find very helpful as it directly quotes the pastors of our region. I've updated this blog post with the link to the response and I'll paste it here as well. Thank you for your ongoing concern!
      http://bushbabycolvin.blogspot.com/2018/10/pastors-response-re-occ.html

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  20. A spur of the moment thought. Perhaps the reason people give funds to a USA-based structured organization is that there is an uncertainty and fear about giving to a local entity for which there is no personal ability for follow-through. I only have my own personal situation to bring to bear here, but we tried to give effectual dollars to a group of churches in Haiti by giving to a Haitian pastor who worked directly with those many churches. We went to Haiti, met the people, returned home full of ideas generated from the pastors we met, issued his call to action to many area churches, packed a semi-sized crate full of rice and cement forms and cement mixers and 2x4s and tools and many other items, paid to ship them to Haiti and then never heard a word past the Pastor asking us to wire several thousand dollars to pay for the entrance tax and the guards protecting the crates. We then received at least 8 letters from individuals invoking the pastor's name asking for personal financial help, which we would have responded to had we not realized that the letters were identical in wording though not in hand. It was a troubling situation, feeling hopeful that our efforts could help, yet fearful that we were creating a problem, not helping to alleviate one. I noticed that no vetted alternative for OCC was offered in the original post; I am open to ideas for providing local aid that are fully vetted. What are those ideas?

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    1. Andrea, I hear you and I can appreciate the disappointment that went along with that experience in Haiti. With many third world countries, the relationship to aid/donor money has made such a mess of what could otherwise be beautiful partnerships. We've witnessed similar stories here and I sympathize with you.

      I think the best way to provide local aid is to have someone on the ground who stands nothing to gain from having funds pass through his/her hands and can help ensure accountability from everyone involved. For example, if someone were to contact us and communicate that they wanted to meet needs amongst churches in Mansa who cannot afford OCC boxes, we would encourage people to send us money and then we would sit with a committee to assess what the most pressing needs are and we would provide follow up to make sure that all recipients did with the funds what they said they were going to do, and we would shield the donor's information from the recipients to avoid a never ending train of requests. I hope that that doesn't sound controlling or colonial, but we've had many of our partner churches explain that the temptation for financial mismanagement is so high in impoverished areas and that having a third party to keep the records and make sure everything stays above board is actually helpful for EVERYONE involved.

      I don't know if that answers your question. It's true I didn't offer any vetted alternatives in my original post, largely because I know very few organizations intimately enough to recommend them fully, and I felt like recommending our own ministry would come across as a conflict of interests. I do feel like we steward funds amongst local communities with great intentionality. If you'd like to know more about what we do specifically, you can visit us at choshenfarm.org or drop me an e-mail.

      Thanks again for your thoughtful comment!

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    2. Andrea Salzman
      I hope you see this. I feel so sad when I see Americans give & get burned. It can sour people on giving.
      Please look at Charity Navigator. All large NGOs are analysed, and even the smallest charities have an easy link to
      detailed IRS reports.
      It's free and fast to give responsibly, and I have been in your situation so I'm aware of how disappointing it is to have my hard earned money go missing.

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    3. Andrea, can I ask what organization that was?

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  21. Forermore, Samaritan's Purse's (SP) president has a salary of $880,000. [Data from 2016, combining his salarly from SP and from BGEA. For details see my white paper vetting selected missions agencies that help refugees here and abroad. https://drive.google.com/open?id=1_Rs-mGxffGheBDjVO2tdWdbmHNafRnW6 ]

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  22. There is so much amazingness here, but I feel like you live at my house - "dinner is at 6. And please don't mind if my children throw peas. They lose their mind when we have visitors." I thought this was only my children!! Thank you so much!

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  23. Our family has been very active in the support of Samaritans Purse, volunteering at isaster sites as well as filling and sending shoe boxes. After reading these comments, I feel I must make my comments on this issue. 1. Samaritans Purse is very upfront on the cost of sending shoe boxes and what that cost will do and not do. We know it is the countrys responsibility to distribute when they arrive in a country. 2. Samaritans Purse does not force the shoe boxes on anyone. If you dont want to receive them, they will not send them to that country. 3. If the countrys religious organization says yes, and then passes that cost on to their local churchs/ missions, and you feel it is too expensive, then you have a problem with your local organization, not Samaritans Purse and you should solve it at your level and not criticize and hurt the efforts of Samaritans Purse. 4.Those of us that purchase these items to be sent are well aware that an individual child could probably buy more items with what we pay for that same item in America. But there is no way we can be guaranteed that any cash we send to an individual in country charity will not be decreased by administrative costs or by graft. So let us spend our money in what we feel is an appropriate manner to do what Samaritans Purse says they will do with the items.5. Lastly, what is the soul of a child worth?

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    1. Thank you so much for your comment! I appreciate the insight from someone who has volunteered closely with SP in the past. I think what makes your comment so helpful is that you've always known that it is the receiving country's responsibility to distribute the boxes. In this process of sharing I've discovered that the majority of people did not know that - they truly believed that their $9 was getting their box all the way to the child's doorstep. I'm sure your clarification will be helpful to many. Thank you.

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    2. Thank you, Unknown! :-)

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    3. In my mind there is a huge difference between knowing the recipient countries are responsible for distribution and knowing that it will cost someone $8-$10/ box for that distribution to occur. I am saddened by this and disturbed by the thought that what we freely give as gifts to children cannot be freely received. And as far as the soul of a child's worth- that question can certainly be flipped back around. Can OCC or SP not find someway to cover this as well. And the comment made by OCC about not wanting to create dependency makes my blood boil. I will not be doing shoe boxes with my kids this year. I will help in some other way.

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    4. We've done boxes for 10 years and I never knew until now that my check for each box did not cover the cost all the way to the child! I'm appalled that the local churches have to pay further costs. It's deceitful.

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    5. Yes, yes, yes! We need to remember why we are filling the shoeboxes. What is the soul of a child worth? May we continue to share His gospel through the shoeboxes in that each of these children receive the Greatest Journey, which is the where they get to make a decision for Christ. Mark 16:15
      15 He said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation.http://www.simplyshoeboxes.com/2017/05/a-missionary-in-zambia-shares-stories.html

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    6. I've filled shoe boxes since my teen years, and I'm now 34. Never did I even consider that my $9 shipping fee didn't get the box actually to the child! Now that I think about it, it seems a small price, but Never in my wildest imaginations would I have thought that the recipients were paying shipping for their own box!

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    7. Friends, I've written a response to OCC's official reply which I think you'll find very helpful as it directly quotes the pastors of our region. I've updated this blog post with the link to the response and I'll paste it here as well. Thank you for your ongoing concern!
      http://bushbabycolvin.blogspot.com/2018/10/pastors-response-re-occ.html

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  24. I contacted my representative Cam Brown, and she in turn contacted the local representative in the Adirondack's of NY Rita Alford. Rita kindly contacted our regional representative Cecil in Albany NY. This is his response to reading your blog above:
    From Cecil our Regional Director in Albany

    Please convey the following message:
    “Selling or charging for shoebox gifts is against our training and policy. If you know of instances where individuals are required to pay for gifts in order to receive them, please email details to us at occinfo@samaritan.org so our teams can investigate further.



    Regarding this blog post, when it was first published in early 2017, our staff promptly investigated further.
    This was addressed in person—our volunteer National Coordinator in Zambia traveled with two staff to meet our regional volunteer leadership team in Mansa, and local Mansa Pastors.
    As a result of this investigation, we discovered there were misunderstandings about our training in this region that have since been corrected.
    It is against our policy and training to sell shoebox gifts or require payment from Ministry Partners in order to participate in Operation Christmas Child.”
    I hope this helps you.

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    1. Thank you Gramma Tricia for your leg work in contacting your local reps! The response you received was exactly what I was told. It is true that OCC does have a policy against selling and charging. However, OCC admits that it expects the churches to cover in-country transportation costs. When the National Team was dispatched to Mansa, the Nat. Team explained, "you have to pay for the transportation of the boxes, or you will not receive boxes." This was never a misunderstanding. It was a complaint - a complaint that they had to come up with money and transfer it to Ndola before boxes would be sent. This complaint still stands, as it is still OCC's policy.

      The purpose of my post is to inform box-packers that their $9 does NOT get the boxes to their child, as many have expressed concern about that. Thank you as well for caring.

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    2. You just agreed "OCC does have a policy against selling and charging". But then you claim that they are also saying "you have to pay for transportation costs". That isn't exactly right though. The local, in-country churches and ministries are responsible to distribute the boxes to the children. That is true. And it is the best way to get the right kids the boxes. BUT, how they distribute is up to the local, in-country groups and not OCC. If they decide to ship them, then the cost is certainly on them. But if they decide to take the boxes and pass them out themselves, hipping costs are averted. And that is how most do it. I don't know why Mansa is doing it this way. I don't now why they are shipping we this sort of cost. But to be clear, I do not believe these boxes are being held hostage by OCC.

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  25. This post was eye-opening for me, as OCC is a program that has been near to my heart for many years. I certainly want to know more and want to be sure I am a good steward of my own resources. I am curious what SP stands to gain from running this very large program if it doesn't benefit the recipients in great ways? Why do they continue to run it? Do they make money off of this program, and if so, in what capacity? They only money they receive from the box packers is the $7 to ship, so are they pocketing some of that money? Do they make a profit off the churches who receive the boxes?

    Second, my thoughts as I read this post: a common effect I have noticed of those who become more involved in ministry, whether it's through foreign missions, adoption ministry, homeless ministry, etc., there is the arrogance that seeps into those who become wise to the unique challenges each ministry faces, the secrets of poor management and misuse of funds, lack of accurate communication, and the frustration with the pure ignorance of Americans. That arrogance is so incredibly frustrating to me. "The poor privileged, stupid, naive, Americans who sit around with their big houses and fancy cars and use Christmas shoe boxes as a way to teach their kids a lesson about poor people." This is a general feeling I get from those involved in missions, and I have to say, it is so discouraging. I have contributed many hundreds of dollars to OCC over the years, and I have done so with the encouragement and endorsement of many churches and community agencies supporting this program. Organizations that I have trusted to vet the programs they recommend. Maybe I am naive and ignorant--I certainly feel that way now. But understand the vast number of Americans who shop and pack those boxes do so with a purely missionally minded heart and attitude behind it. My children LOVE to pack the boxes, and we watch video after video of the kids opening boxes with such joy. How could we have known that there was a potentially questionable story behind it all? For parents of young children, the boxes are a very tangible and relatable way to teach children how to think of others and understand that the things we take for granted are huge blessings from God that we can share with others. Sure I can buy 10 toothbrushes in Africa for the price of 1 in America, but my child will never know or see that. For my children, looking at the choices and picking one for another child to have, that means something. Getting to put all these goodies in a box, it's such a huge way for my children to begin to understand the world extends far past their own little world full of countless blessings, which I pray daily will pay off in dividends as they grow up and desire to impact the kingdom in much bigger ways. It's just one of MANY ways I try to teach them to be missionally minded and to pause and realize that we can choose to share blessings and love others.

    Continued...

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    1. Will we still pack boxes this year, knowing what I know now? I'll certainly research it more. But I don't regret every washcloth and bar of soap and toothbrush I have bought over the years, every child we have prayed for, every little hand that has opened those boxes, and every family that has hopefully been blessed even in a small way. I am choosing to believe that God can use every gift in a miraculous way because He is so much bigger than all of these issues. I believe these conversations are important to have, but in loving and positive ways and in knowing and respecting the platform you have, the extent of it, and how your influence can impact the kingdom and the organizations who seek to further the kingdom, as well. I understand your experience with OCC has not been a positive one in your location, but you have discouraged unknown amounts of people from donating to OCC, admittedly without knowing the full extent of how your own experiences extend to other locations, and also putting a shadow on the reputation of Samaritan's Purse with little or no evidence other than your own experience with just one of their programs in one location. That's a pretty big deal, considering you have zero control over the reach your post could have now that it is on the internet.

      I understand this is intensely personal for you because you see and love the people who are most impacted, first hand. You know how resources and funding can be better used to support and bless those you serve, and it is frustrating to see it mismanaged. I can completely understand all of that and relate to it in big ways. I can't begin to wrap my head around the ways you serve on a daily basis and the sacrifices you have made to do it. I understand your passion and your desire to communicate and educate your supporters and readers so that we can all be more mindful and better stewards of our resources. I hope that as you continue to share and give more information on how Americans can support foreign missions and the people they serve, that you also understand that giving is intensely personal and intimate and a form of worship, so gentleness and humility are always appreciated.

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    2. You hit the nail on the head! ""The poor privileged, stupid, naive, Americans who sit around with their big houses and fancy cars and use Christmas shoe boxes as a way to teach their kids a lesson about poor people." This is a general feeling I get from those involved in missions, and I have to say, it is so discouraging.” I’m not sure why this situation needed to be broadcast to the world. It should have been handled privately between SP and the region. It looks like an effort to publicly shame them. It saddens me.

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    3. Wells said! A blog like this does potentially far more damage than the supposed issues with OCC. I do not believe the situation in Mansa is the norm. Sounds more like a local problem rather than a OCC problem.

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    4. Anna, I went the "private" route at first and only when I learned that OCC not only knows but expects local churches to foot the bill for in-country distribution costs that I decided to share with others for whom that is an important point. I'm not looking to shame but to educate.

      And Jackie, the policy of churches paying for the transportation of the boxes is global, so definitely the norm. Stories about boxes being "too expensive," sold, etc. are coming out of many areas beyond ours. It is not a local situation only.

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    5. Could you add resources where it states that OCC expects local churches to pay for in country distribution costs? I would like to believe what you are saying...yet I do not know you personally and would like concrete evidence.

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    6. To Jackie Hill - I wish it wasn't the norm, but in our 12 years experience in missions, we have heard the same story repeated over and over, around the world. In some countries the cost of paying the customs at the port, hiring trucks to transport the cartons of boxes, paying for storage of the boxes in a central area, then paying to transport them to local churches, communities and groups, runs as high as $20 a box. Yes, the children are delighted to receive the boxes and yes it is an exciting time (I have been involved in distribution of the boxes) but for much, much less money, the same children's school fees could be paid, shoes purchased (in country) to wear to school and food purchased so they don't go to school hungry.

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    7. After reading this blog I was upset and wrote to OCC in NC (we have packed boxes for a few years) and got a response from them. They now have put out a statement from OCC, which I noticed someone has posted way down at the bottom. I feel it needs to be put at the top with the original blog - They pay all expenses for the boxes and the booklet which teaches about salvation to get to the 'distribution' areas in the various countries. The missionaries who are going to distribute the boxes have to pay for the gas to go get the boxes and if they want to do any decorations. That statement is from OCC headquarters. It is disappointing to see this still circulating and causing confusion/division (isn't that from someone other that the Lord?). I do understand those who say money needs to be spent on other items - shoes (which some people do put them in the boxes), food, etc. and those are good BUT these boxes are used as a ministry to reach the children and then the families for ETERNITY. I have heard of and read stories of many children and then parents who have accepted Christ as their Saviour because of this ministry and the booklet that is part of it. There have been areas that missionaries have not been able to go into, but because of the boxes they have been able to go and eventually been able to start churches. There are adults who have come to the U.S. and shared their story of receiving a box as a child and that it was instrumental in their learning about a Saviour who died for them. If your motive in making this blog was pure and honest, I wish you would now make it right by posting the official statement from OCC about the situation and their policies about the boxes and stop causing the confusion (it did for me for a while). This needs to be posted at the very top of the blog for everyone to see. Praying for the many children and families who will be reached for eternity because of the ministry of OCC.

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    8. Brandi--
      As another missionary in Africa (Tanzania) who has publicly blogged against shoeboxes, I really appreciated your thoughts on this issue, especially that these kind of "missionary" posts come across as arrogant. That's going to be rolling around in my head for quite a while, because I didn't really think about it that way, but I can see how it can seem that way.

      I know, for myself, when I've written about shoeboxes or poverty alleviation on my blog and sounded critical, it's come from a starting place of learning the lesson myself the hard way. Sort of like an "aha" moment when I realized my thinking/actions were wrong, and then thinking, "Why didn't anyone in the States tell me this before? Americans need to know this!"

      I felt uneasy about shoeboxes for a long time but never publicly said anything because I didn't feel it was my place, or rather--I was afraid of sounding arrogant. What spurred me on to do it was when local Tanzanians started speaking out, and no one would listen to them. I don't know Bethany, but I think that was her motive as well. So is there some arrogance there? I'm sure there is, and your words are convicting to me. But I also feel a genuinely pure obligation to speak up on behalf of the Tanzanian church. I think Bethany's post has the same motive. https://gilandamy.blogspot.com/2018/03/opening-up-christmas-shoeboxes-what-do.html

      Delete
    9. Amy, I value your willingness to listen to the local people and speak on their behalf. To me, that speaks of a heart to serve (rather than dictate what 'should' be done).

      Delete
    10. Friends, I've written a response to OCC's official reply which I think you'll find very helpful as it directly quotes the pastors of our region. I've updated this blog post with the link to the response and I'll paste it here as well. Thank you for your ongoing concern!

      http://bushbabycolvin.blogspot.com/2018/10/pastors-response-re-occ.html

      Also, my apologies if any of you are seeing this comment more than once. I wanted to make sure that those who asked for a response were notified.

      Delete
  26. OCC has corrected this issue. This blog should be removed. Gleaning likes, views, and popularity at the expense of a ministry is wrong. OCC requests that any issues with boxes being mishandled be brought to the IRS attention. This blog also does not even address their number one minsistry in this, sharing the Gospel.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hello,

      I'm curious what has led you to believe that the issue has been corrected. Neither I nor any of the churches we work with across the province have learned of any changes in policy.

      Delete
    2. Bethany,

      In further correspondence I have had with SP/OCC, I have been told that the issue was corrected in your region where the local leadership team for OCC was "encouraging" funds to be raised to cover in-country transportation and that some partners ended up making payments to receive shoeboxes. I was told this was addressed and corrected and now no fundraising is allowed where payments are required or encouraged in order to receive the shoeboxes. So some believe that the issue has been corrected and settled based on SP/OCC's communication. But from what you are conveying from your perspective, it would seem you are saying that this is not the case. I am not a professional investigator of any sorts but have taken to asking questions as I was concerned after reading your blog posting and wanted to do at least a little due diligence since my family has regularly participated in doing the shoeboxes with OCC. I would hope that you would be able to share with us any more information or even documentation on the issue that you believe to be true. Thank you.

      Delete
    3. Friends, I've written a response to OCC's official reply which I think you'll find very helpful as it directly quotes the pastors of our region. I've updated this blog post with the link to the response and I'll paste it here as well. Thank you for your ongoing concern!
      http://bushbabycolvin.blogspot.com/2018/10/pastors-response-re-occ.html

      Delete
  27. That should say OCC attention. Not IRS, although that is fine too. They have nothing to hide . Sorry for auto correct.

    ReplyDelete
  28. Bethany, the conditions for box distribution in your area are disturbing. In your posts, I don’t see any mention of the Greatest Journey program. How is that received and what is the effect on the community?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. in my follow up post, the pastors speak to the evangelism piece. I think you'll find that their description answers your question best:
      http://bushbabycolvin.blogspot.com/2018/10/pastors-response-re-occ.html

      Delete
  29. This comment has been removed by the author.

    ReplyDelete
  30. We published this last year (now approaching 500K hits) and have received comments ranging from "thank you for informing us" or "yes, we've experienced this on the mission field too" to "you're not christians for talking badly about OCC" or "how could we take the name of Samaritan's Purse in vain". https://baptistnews.com/article/stuffing-shoe-boxes-for-the-worlds-poor-maybe-you-should-reconsider/#.W8-DVBpKjOQ Now a year and half later, we're certain there are more stories to write. Would it be possible to contact you for further follow-up? Info@baptistnews.com

    ReplyDelete
  31. We published this last year (now approaching 500K hits) and have received comments ranging from "thank you for informing us" or "yes, we've experienced this on the mission field too" to "you're not christians for talking badly about OCC" or "how could we take the name of Samaritan's Purse in vain". https://baptistnews.com/article/stuffing-shoe-boxes-for-the-worlds-poor-maybe-you-should-reconsider/#.W8-DVBpKjOQ Now a year and half later, we're certain there are more stories to write. Would it be possible to contact you for further follow-up? Info@baptistnews.com

    ReplyDelete
  32. Sadly I see that OCC is still saying this is "handled". Is the cost of transportation upon every church/area when the yarrive in country. Our $9 only covers, processing and shipping from here to the country then from there, there is another cost (if i'm understanding correctly). I wonder if there is a way that the $9 oculd be moved up to $12 and that cover the WHOLE process. Not sure exactly cost wise, how much per box it costs to "ship again"

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Dear Hess Family, your understanding is mine as well, and when I asked OCC why they couldn't charge America a little bit more to bring the boxes the final leg, they told me that they WANTED the churches to contribute to promote sustainability and to not have the churches be "dependent." However I think many, many supporters would rather just pay the extra dollar or two and not have any burden be on the receiving churches. As you pointed out, OCC is saying this is handled, but the policy has not changed, so far as I know. I think the issue is getting muddled when people contact SP and ask, "are churches buying boxes?" and OCC says NO, when in reality the question is, "Does OCC deliver the boxes all the way to the churches so that they can hand them to their congregants without any financial burden?" I'd love to hear how OCC answers that direct question.
      Thank you for your concern.

      Delete
    2. Friends, I've written a response to OCC's official reply which I think you'll find very helpful as it directly quotes the pastors of our region. I've updated this blog post with the link to the response and I'll paste it here as well. Thank you for your ongoing concern!
      http://bushbabycolvin.blogspot.com/2018/10/pastors-response-re-occ.html

      Delete
  33. I have volunteered for OCC for 15+ years and I have had the privileges of distributing shoeboxes in Jamaica. I have also met national leadership teams from several different countries. All of them realize that they mirror what we do here: we give our talents, resources and monies to move the shoeboxes to a Collection Center or Processing Center so that OCC can send them to other countries. The Nat’l Leadership Teams give their talents, resources and monies to move the shoeboxes from the port to the recipients. Every Team member I spoke with did this service to God with a happy heart, knowing it wasn’t about the boxes or contents of the boxes but the opportunity to use them as an avenue to share the Gospel.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Lori,
      It's possible that the Jamaican National Leadership Team uses their own money to move shoeboxes from port to recipients, but in Zambia, the National Team levies those funds from the churches, which is expensive and a true burden to most of the churches here. Similar stories have been shared from across Africa. I'm trying to highlight these stories which have been pushed aside in favor of rosier ones from places like Jamaica where things are working properly.
      Thanks for sharing.

      Delete
    2. Is there a missing piece of the conversation regarding government mail/ shipping / customs costs?
      Many countries in Africa are still working on providing reliable affordable shipping free of extortion.

      Delete
    3. Handmade Journals, I think if you read the follow up post you'll see that the missing piece of the conversation has to do with the OCC National Team.
      http://bushbabycolvin.blogspot.com/2018/10/pastors-response-re-occ.html

      Delete
  34. I also am a missionary....Botswana...and we did the shoeboxes many times before cutting it loose...it is quite costly on the receiving end. We were paying P100 = $10 for each box we wanted to give to a kid. That was to cover the ground transportation/ customs duty to cross from South Africa to Botswana / and storage fees at the port from the day of arrival until delivery to the capital of our country. Then further ground transportation from that city to the villages we worked with 6 hours north. This all seemed too much. for that P100 we could rather buy things that were more suited to those we were trying to reach. Also, the boxes never arrived until March or April anyways...so we either did the boxes and kept them until that following Christmas or usually used them and then spent funds again at Christmas time for whatever outreaches we wanted to do to focus on HIM at that time of year. If used correctly and as an evangelism tool the BOXES can be effective...but from a missionary viewpoint...so many wasted funds for items that can just as easily be bought or more appropriate things bought IN MUCH LARGER QUANTITIES and to further aid economy in our own countries...rather than being spent on a shoebox from abroad.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you so much for sharing! I sincerely hope everyone reads this comment!

      Delete
  35. This has been an incredibly informative post - especially the comments. One quick question for clarification - when we visited SP several years ago we were told that OCC boxes are a one-time event, meaning they are only given to specific areas/churches/children once and then that’s it. But the post and comments seem to suggest the boxes are sent to the same area (same people) year after year. Is that accurate?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yes, they are often given to the same country year after year. It is the responsibility of the local church leaders to make sure the same children do not get the boxes each year. But that is certainly rarely possible.

      Delete
    2. Thomas R. Feller, our local pastors gave a good answer to this question which you can read in the follow up post:
      http://bushbabycolvin.blogspot.com/2018/10/pastors-response-re-occ.html

      Delete
  36. This is not a problem exclusive to Africa. We were missionaries in India for nearly ten years and observed the same thing happening there. Our local pastors complained about having to pay for the boxes and that he contents were usually things the families could buy in the market for less than they paid for the box. :(

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you so much for sharing your experiences. I'm troubled by OCC's insistence that this was (is) an isolated problem that has been dealt with. Actually its rampant, and you've given testimony to that. Thank you again!

      Delete
    2. Certainly not isolated. Same in Senegal, West Africa where we served for 12 years and other countries where we have missionary friends.

      Delete
  37. very good posts. We will find another method to brighten a child's Christmas this year. We will likely give more to Presbyterian Missionary efforts. Thanks for all the information.

    ReplyDelete
  38. Thank you for articulating this so well. It is nearly identical to our experience with OCC in West Africa. I am sharing your post, so more can be informed. God bless you and your work.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Sharon, Its so important for OCC and their supporters to acknowledge that this is not a Zambia specific story. Thank you for sharing.

      Delete
  39. Good to learn that OCC just delivers them to the country, not to the actual children. I understand them wanting local teams to take ownership within their countries, but it sounds like this strategy does not work well in all countries, especially Africa. My son, who we adopted at the age of 14, out of a Ukrainian orphanage received a shoebox. He only received it once, though he lived I n the orphanage for many years. That Shoebox gave him his first toothbrush. It gave him hope that someone cared enough to do all that for him. He felt love and those items were the only things he ever could call his own. It totally impacted him and was so worth the money spent to get it to him. He said, that we will never understand what that Shoebox did for him. So from a mom whose child was so touched by a Shoebox, it is a worthy thing to do. I also don't know of too many ministries where a child can becomes aware of things beyond our American boarders. They learn the vast differences between what they have compared t children else where. They spend their money on someone else. My understanding is that before boxes are handed out, the gospel is shared. Afterwards the local church invites the families back to discipleship, etc. I am very sorry that in Africa this program does not seem to work. We aren't a one size fits all. I'd say the team in Africa might want to let OCC know not to send boxes there anymore because it it more a hardship than a ministry. I just hope what has happened in Africa doesn't make people think that it is that way everywhere. I have a friend in another country who hands out boxes and she says it's a wonderful way to reach people who won't ever come into their church otherwise. These people hear the gospel and see those chu ch members loving on their children and they are impacted.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Dan & Margaret,
      Thank sos much for sharing your story. I have heard mostly positive OCC stories out of Eastern Europe and mostly negative stories out of Africa, which I find really interesting and I'd love to know what has made the difference in the different regions. My hunch is that it has to do with which organizations/groups are in charge of the distribution... but I wish someone would do a proper study on it. Thanks again for sharing!
      PS, we are an adoptive family too. <3

      Delete
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  41. Hi everyone, did you read all of OCC’s response? They clearly say that charging for shoeboxes or requiring payment is against their policy and even give a way to report it so they can investigate it and correct it.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Amy L, I've written a response to OCC's official reply which I think you'll find very helpful as it directly quotes the pastors of our region. I've updated this blog post with the link to the response and I'll paste it here as well. Thank you for your ongoing concern!
      http://bushbabycolvin.blogspot.com/2018/10/pastors-response-re-occ.html

      Delete
  42. Have you all seen that Samaritan’s Purse shared an official reply today? Looks like they updated their training since this blog was first posted. I appreciate they looked into the matter and how they responded to what was learned. Here’s what they said online.

    A blog post was published in 2017 about an incident in Mansa, Zambia, where the local pastors were informed they had to purchase Operation Christmas Child shoebox gifts. Charging for shoebox gifts is—and has always been—against Operation Christmas Child policy and training. When we were informed of this situation, we immediately launched an investigation that included an in-person meeting between Operation Christmas Child staff from our international headquarters, our volunteer national leadership team in Zambia, our volunteer regional leadership team in Mansa, and the local pastors who are our local ministry partners.

    As a result of this investigation, we discovered there had been a misunderstanding during our volunteer training in this region. The local leadership team encouraged local ministry partners to raise funds to support in-country expenses. Although we never require a payment from local churches, this led to a miscommunication that resulted in some of our partners charging local pastors for shoebox gifts.

    We recognized this was a significant issue, and it was quickly addressed and corrected. We are deeply sorry for the confusion.

    Since then, we have updated our training program to ensure that our local ministry partners understand that we do not allow any fundraising related to the project. This update has been clearly communicated to our more than 75,000 in-country ministry partners.

    Recently, we also received a few questions about what the $9 per box suggested donation includes. The answer is that it covers all project costs, including the collection, processing, and transportation of shoebox gifts within the U.S. from our central drop-off locations to our eight processing centers, and the shipment of those shoeboxes to our 1,100+ delivery sites located across over 100 countries. It also includes the national training events and resources, along with copies of The Greatest Gift booklet in the local language.

    Shoebox gifts and ministry materials are picked up from the delivery sites by our trained local ministry partners—many times a local pastor—who are then responsible for taking them “the final mile” by bringing them back to their churches to give to boys and girls during shoebox outreach events. These volunteer ministry partners may incur occasional in-country expenses such as fuel for a van or truck. Churches may also choose to spend their own funds on items such as festive decorations or snacks for the outreach event. Every step of this process is part of a strategic plan developed by the volunteer national leadership team and Operation Christmas Child.

    We are very grateful for your partnership in this ministry, and we are committed to the good stewardship of the resources you have entrusted to us. For the past 25 years, the support of faithful believers like you has helped us reach millions of children with the Good News of Jesus Christ. We praise God for the way He has used this project to transform the lives of boys and girls and their families—and even entire communities—for eternity.

    For additional questions, please email Operation Christmas Child at occinfo@samaritan.org.

    https://www.samaritanspurse.org/article/official-statement-on-manza-zambia/?utm_source=12789&utm_medium=12789909090

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Amen and thankyou OCC. God is good!

      15 He said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation. Mark 16:15

      Delete
    2. Betsy, I've written a response to OCC's official reply which I think you'll find very helpful as it directly quotes the pastors of our region. I've updated this blog post with the link to the response and I'll paste it here as well. Thank you for your ongoing concern!
      http://bushbabycolvin.blogspot.com/2018/10/pastors-response-re-occ.html

      Delete
  43. This whole conversation brings up a very good point for us in America -- are we doing enough? Why not do a box or boxes, knowing full well it's not perfect but it is a gift, AND contribute funding for needs. The average American has not traveled abroad, but I am here to say WE ARE BEYOND WEALTHY in this country. We do not need more stuff in our houses or sitting in our garages. We need to begin to value the lives of others and GIVE CASH and our time to show that we value them. Maybe that begins with our neighbors. Maybe our hearts are drawn to a particular county. But give - of yourself and of your treasure. Sponsor kids, give money to families giving their lives to assist in other countries, send it via organizations that are having impact. Just give.

    ReplyDelete
  44. Thank you for writing this--I have had some concerns about the boxes...we already packed some for this year (because I bought the plastic boxes last year), but I had already told my daughter we might change direction next year. Your thoughtful response and perspective from the people impacted by the charges levied is so helpful.
    I know this kind of blog takes a lot of courage to publish, especially in light of some of the negative pushback you are guaranteed to get. Thank you for being brave and speaking the truth of the Zambian pastors' experiences with OCC. God bless you.

    ReplyDelete
  45. Bethany, Thank you for your first-hand account. It has caused me to look deeper into this issue and decide that my family won't be packing shoeboxes this year. With your permission, I would like to include a link to your blog post as well as a screenshot of your original Facebook post on the matter in an article I'm writing for a parenting blog.

    Thanks!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yes of course! Feel free, and I'd love to read your article when you're done. =)

      Delete
    2. Thanks! The blog when live today here: https://richmond.citymomsblog.com/christmas/no-operation-christmas-child-boxes/

      Also, it has sparked a discussion here: https://www.facebook.com/richmondmomsblog/posts/1070523076449635?__tn__=-UC-R

      Delete
    3. Marcie, thanks for both your blog post and the engaging comments on fb.

      Delete
  46. October 2018 ~ OCC now has a page / link on their website Specifically addressing this article that makes it *sound* like this has been addressed & No One Receiving the boxes EVER pays for them anymore, but from the comments here it sounds like their statement is inaccurate. How sad.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Very sad indeed. If you haven't seen it, do make sure you read this: http://bushbabycolvin.blogspot.com/2018/10/pastors-response-re-occ.html

      Delete
  47. I am a Zambian based in Lusaka and started life in a poverty context. I had the rare privilege of receiving a western education at masters' and doctoral level. I'm also a Christian and value the work that missionaries continue to do in our communities...I remain convinced that empowering the local church will help us develop the type of local leadership that will make a deference, so thanks to you all. This matter was brought to my attention by a dear friend in the US who is also passionate about missionary work, and has contributed to OCC programme. This is what I wrote them...I hope someone finds it useful.
    "I do not know much about OCC so my views come from reading the numerous posts on the article. I am inclined to agree with Bethany that the parcels could very well be meeting the needs of the sender and not the receiver. And if receiving one of these entails spending the little that people have, it worsens the situation. Without wanting to understand the origins of the OCC programme, I'd say that it assumes a number of things which may need to be re-assessed for validity.

    Firstly it assumes that children in low income households may be missing out on the spirit of Christmas (I'm not sure) with the obvious event being the opening of presents. Is this right? I don't know. I grew up in a slum and I remember Christmas for the special food we had (rice and chicken). There were no Christmas trees or an expectation to open presents. Fast forward to my own children, I borrowed from the west and introduced the whole gamut- xmas tree and presents- simply because I could now afford. I know that low-income households may not be in that position- cannot afford so will not be celebrating in the same fashion.
    The second assumption may be that if the locals pay a component of delivering the parcels, the programme becomes a bit more sustainable. This assumption could very well be one-sided and very narrow. One sided in that it would be looking at the cost of shipping these parcels from the US organisers' point of view. Who has checked if it is sustainable from the receivers' end? What does 'sustainable' even mean for them? I would say that one aspect of sustainability should be the capacity of the receiving family to continue with the tradition. Why expose children to something that will only occur the one time? If sustainability equals the locals picking up a component of the shipping cost, then the process is wrought with a problem for the receiver- they will not be able to afford even if they agree. I'd rather use even one dollar for a purchase I have chosen to undertake. I know there is the aspect of sharing the gospel- how can we do this without introducing a disadvantage to the hearers?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you so, so much for sharing your experiences and opinions! They are invaluable for people to hear as you bridge a very crucial gap. I hope that everyone who reads this post will also see your comment. Thank you again and blessings to you.

      Delete
  48. Thank you for this article. We are on a sail boat visiting beautiful places with indigenous people who are stuggling through the move from their subsistence life style into a world where you need a job to make money. What we do is give them stuff and sometimes money. What we realized this year is that paying their children's school tuition may be the most needec gift we can contribute.

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