There can be beauty in repetition, a certain grace in doing something well, then doing it over and over again.
This year, Operation Christmas Child turned the simple act of packing shoeboxes with holiday gifts for needy children into a spiritual, statistical and international milestone.
Just before Christmas, the annual effort by the Boone-based nonprofit Samaritan’s Purse will send off its 100-millionth shoebox. Evilyn Pinnow, a Wisconsin seventh-grader and campaign volunteer, will make sure it arrives in time for Christmas, to a child in the Dominican Republic.
Tuesday morning, hundreds of volunteers from across the country streamed to the Charlotte processing center for Operation Christmas Child to follow a time-tested script. They filled shoeboxes with age-specific gifts. The shoeboxes were packed in bigger boxes. The bigger boxes scooted down long conveyor belts for waiting forklifts.
Frank Waldrop worked the conveyor, making sure the bigger boxes ended up where they needed to go. He’s been volunteering at Operation Christmas Child for more than a decade, and this year he was one of two dozen volunteers from First Church of the Nazarene in Harrisonburg, Va., to make the 300-mile trip.
“It’s great to pack the boxes,” he said. “But it’s the interaction every year with the other volunteers, to hear such great stories of how God works in other people’s lives.”
Since 1993, the gifts have reached 130 countries. Put back-to-back, the shoeboxes would circle the globe twice.
Franklin Graham, president and CEO of Samaritan’s Purse, first got involved when he was asked to join an overseas effort to reach children in war-torn Bosnia. Calvary Church of Charlotte provided the impetus that came up with 11,000 boxes that first Christmas season. But then “God breathed his blessing on this program,” Graham told the hundreds of helpers on hand Tuesday, and, well, things just took off after that.
This year’s celebration looked and sounded like most of the others. The Tommy Coomes Band rocked through some Christmas hymns. A past recipient of one of the boxes – this time former Russian orphan Elena Hagemeier – spoke to the power of a simple gift. Fox News talk show host Greta Van Susteren also returned to speak, and will accompany Graham to Latin America this month to hand out shoeboxes.
Evilyn served as mistress of ceremonies, introducing Graham to a sea of volunteers, dozens armed with cameras. Graham again asked that volunteers put their photos in every box they packed, and to pray for the child who opens that box.
“I don’t know who that will be,” he said. “But God knows.”