Once there was a man who went out to sow grain. 4 As he scattered the seed in the field, some of it fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up. 5 Some of it fell on rocky ground, where there was little soil. The seeds soon sprouted, because the soil wasn’t deep. 6 Then, when the sun came up, it burned the young plants; and because the roots had not grown deep enough, the plants soon dried up. 7 Some of the seed fell among thorn bushes, which grew up and choked the plants, and they didn’t bear grain. 8 But some seeds fell in good soil, and the plants sprouted, grew, and bore grain: some had thirty grains, others sixty, and others one hundred.”
I love seeds. So much life and potential exist in a teeny tiny container. Each type is unique. As a gardener, I can easily tell a zinnia seed from a Morning Glory seed. They are different, but once planted, each has the ability to grow and become more than they were. Just one small marigold seed can grow into a flower that yields 50 new seeds.
I also love the ministry of Operation Christmas Child. As I take my empty shoebox and pack it with things I chose especially for “my” child across the world – -a blue hat and gloves, a stuffed red dog that matches the cover of the coloring book I found, a blue toothbrush, a red washcloth, a bag of candy canes, etc., my box is slightly different from every other one packed and sent. It’s uniquely mine and is full of potential, just like a seed.
Over 10 million shoeboxes will be distributed this year in over 100 countries around the world, taking the Good News of Jesus Christ “to the farthest parts of the earth” Acts 1:8. How exciting to think that my simple shoebox gift will travel by truck, boat, canoe or camel to reach just the right child – to tell him that he is loved by His Father in heaven. Although I’ve packed shoeboxes for almost 15 years, I still get tingles to think of how God will use or “sow” this small seed!
When a child receives their shoebox, they are also handed a colorful gospel booklet, “The Greatest Gift of All” about the gift of Jesus. I’ve seen many photos of children putting away the toys and candy and pouring over the book, often with their friends and even their parents. The seed is beginning to grow. But then what?
The Greatest Journey“” discipleship series was developed to be that next step to help these children become lifelong followers of Jesus. To nurture and grow their young faith, these lessons are offered to the children after they receive their shoebox through the churches in their neighborhood.
Years ago I was asked to teach a Sunday School class, but I had no training, no experience, and no lesson plans. I began with good intentions, but quickly became discouraged and confused. Operation Christmas Child understands that not only are the children who receive the gifts living in poor and desperate conditions, but also their local churches. Through “The Greatest Journey” discipleship program, Sunday School teachers are encouraged and provided with all the training, booklets and materials! Since 2009, more than 104,000 local teachers have been trained. I asked the National Team Leader from Belize, how this affects the churches. She said that training them how to share the gospel with their children, taught them how to share the gospel with their own family and neighbors. The teachers grew in their own faith, and more seeds are planted.
“The Greatest Journey” has 12 sections:
- Lessons 1-4 are about God’s gift of forgiveness and salvation in Jesus Christ.
- Lessons 5-8 helps children to grow in their walk of faith in and knowledge of Christ.
- Lessons 9-12 guides children to tell others the exciting news of what God has done for them. The children are asked to pray for nine of their friends and taught how share their faith with friends, family, and neighbors, multiplying the Gospel message.
When the children complete all the lessons, there is a joyous graduation ceremony! Their families are invited, many hearing the gospel for the first time. Each child receives a certificate and a New Testament in their own language. Some of these children will never be able to complete regular school, so for them this graduation is even more meaningful. “I give thanks to God for the opportunity He gave me to study the Bible lessons,” said 14-year-old Gimena from Paraguay. “Through them, many children have met Jesus. I invited my friends to the classes, and many of them received Jesus as their Savior too.” The seeds have grown and now yielded new seeds.
What a precious opportunity we have been entrusted with! God is at work and it is exciting and humbling to be a small part of something so great – over 2.8 million children have already completed these lessons with more than 1.1 million making decisions to follow Jesus! The goal of Operation Christmas Child is to enroll 5 million children around the world in “The Greatest Journey” each year. How will God continue to use these seeds?
How can you and your family get involved? You can pack a shoebox! Collection Week is always the third week of November, but many of us shop and craft for our boxes all year long. For more information about how to pack a shoebox check: www.samaritanspurse.org/operation-christmas-child/pack-a-shoe-box/
There are also many ways to get involved with providing “The Greatest Journey” lessons to children around the world, from sponsoring one child for $6, to sponsoring a church for $600, or even an entire community for $6,000 www.thegreatestjourney.org.
Mary Rucci co-writes a blog, ClipWithPurpose.com that has a simple mission: to help as many people as possible pack as many Operation Christmas Child shoeboxes as possible and pack them inexpensively by teaching how to find bargains and make crafts.