Funk on Faith

Franklin Graham’s Operation Christmas Child rules out Harry Potter, Pokemon toys

Part of the fun of being a reporter is that I get to poke my nose into things I’m curious about and ask questions.

Last week, I did some poking and asking at the Charlotte Processing Center for Operation Christmas Child. It’s a warehouse where 1,000 or so volunteers from all over the country inspect, tape and pack shoe boxes filled with gifts for kids around the world.

About 2.4 million boxes are expected to be routed through Charlotte this year. They’re sent in by churchgoers and others, who fill them with everything from toys and toothbrushes to socks and scarves. The boxes are destined for poor children in more than 100 countries.

It’s a project of Boone-based Samaritan’s Purse, a Christian charity headed by Franklin Graham, who was also there last week.

So here are three things I found out:

1. If you’re donating a shoe box filled with gifts, don’t bother including anything featuring Harry Potter or Pokémon. The inspectors have been instructed to remove them.

I saw the list of “inappropriate items” that volunteer inspectors are expected to ditch before the boxes go on to be taped and packed for delivery.

Some are inappropriate because they don’t ship well or could cause a mess. So no liquids, breakables, or “melt-able chocolate food,” though Tootsie Rolls are OK.

Others items are removed to protect the dignity or safety of the children who get these boxes. So no used or dirty clothes, and no meds.

But last on the list: Harry Potter and Pokémon.

Harry Potter, the young wizard featured in a series of novels and films, may be beloved by millions of kids and grownups. But some conservative Christian leaders – most of them evangelicals – are suspicious of author J.K. Rowling’s books and claim she’s promoting pagan imagery.

Ditto Pokémon, the animated creatures featured in popular video games, TV shows, movies and card games.

I asked Joey White, assistant director of Operation Christmas Child, to explain. “There are some references that may be questionable,” he said. “There’s a possibility (Potter and Pokémon) could interfere with our ministry to share the love of Christ with kids around the world.”

2. Graham has dismissed Islam as a wicked religion, but many of the shoeboxes will be going to children from Muslim countries.

I saw only one obviously Muslim country – Indonesia – on a list of countries provided by Operation Christmas Child under the heading “Where will the shoebox gifts go?”

But Graham and his aides told me boxes have gone in the past to Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, Syria and Sudan. The hope, they said, is that children in most or all of those predominantly Muslim countries will also get gifts this go-around.

And though Graham, like Donald Trump, wants to keep Muslim immigrants out of America for now, he said refugee children from Syria and some other Muslim countries will also get Operation Christmas Child shoeboxes filled with gifts.

“A lot of these boxes will be going to refugee children – you know, these kids coming out of the Muslim countries, coming to Europe,” Graham said.

3. Some boxes include Christian tracts and trinkets. Others do not.

White said Operation Christmas Child does not add “religious materials.” But they also don’t remove any that are in the boxes when they arrive.

“We leave that to the donor,” he said.

Tim Funk: 704-358-5703, tfunk@charlotteobserver.com, @timfunk

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