An on-the-scene look at Operation Christmas Child

       Operation Christmas Child - an annual drive to send gift-filled shoeboxes to millions of needful kids in less fortunate parts of the world - might seem like a distant concept to many folks.

Al Pittman, the senior pastor at Calvary Worship Center, spends time with one of the Operation Christmas Child shoebox-gift recipients at a center outside Panama City, Panama last February.
Courtesy of Calvary Worship Center

       Al Pittman, the senior pastor at the Calvary Worship Center, got the chance last February to follow some of those shoeboxes. He was among a group selected to fly to Panama for 3˝ days and to be on hand several times when the gifts were handed out. The presentations occurred in different impoverished areas that make up about 30 percent of Panama City, where many children are orphans and even victims of human trafficking and the drug trade.
       “We'd go to places with programs that feed local children and provide instruction to them,” Pittman described. “The kids were very orderly and they'd sit down and be given their boxes. But when they were told they could open them, then you'd see the paper flying.”
       Everything was in Spanish, which Pittman does not speak, but it wasn't hard to feel the joy. “Kids are kids everywhere,” he said. “A smile, love and caring transcend all language barriers.”
       Gifts in each shoebox include small toys, hygiene items, school supplies, candy, books, clothing, jewelry and handmade crafts.
       Pittman's invitation came by way of Samaritan's Purse, an international ministry that's the umbrella organization for Operation Christmas Child. Through a complex delivery network, starting with shoebox packages put together at various churches, combining them into bigger boxes at relay and collection centers, and eventually flying shipments out of vast warehouses, the program annually sends boxes out to 8 million children in 100 countries.
       The numbers are so large that deliveries don't just occur at Christmas, but year-round. This was why, Pittman explained, the Panama City presents were handed out in February.
       Calvary has been supporting the effort ever since Pittman came to the church in 1997. He had first experienced Operation Christmas Child while working as an assistant pastor in Albuquerque, New Mexico, at which time he decided it was “the coolest thing.”
       Seeing the delivery first-hand in Panama expanded his appreciation. “It was a tremendous honor to be there,” he said. “It forever left an impression on my heart and mind. These are kids who've never gotten anything. It means far more to them than we can imagine.”
       With the gift effort Christian-based, Pittman also believes the presents represent hope to the young recipients, in “the message of God's love and forgiveness, that they're unique and special in the eyes of God.”
       Calvary's “packing party” for this year's Operation Christmas Child will be Saturday, Nov. 9. The church is at 505 Castle Road. Last year's total came to 660 boxes, a number they hope to exceed. Anyone is welcome to join the effort or drop by with their own shoebox gifts between 1 and 3:30 p.m.

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