Thinking Out Loud

December 8, 2013

Reconsidering Christmas Shoeboxes

Operation Christmas Child BoxesSeveral years ago I wrote a post here asking some questions about the whole Operation Christmas Child (OCC) thing. As I said a year later, I didn’t want to be a “grinch” when it came to OCC, I just wondered about some big picture issues.  Then last year, I reformatted the whole article to include some points that a reader had left in a comment.

This year, I was prepared to lay the whole subject to rest. Besides, collection for the boxes in our local churches has come and gone. But the article keeps attracting readers, and last week Lucy, a reader, left a comment that reminded me that as OCC grows — now with an online component that allows you to pack and ship a shoebox from the comfort of your own home right up to a much later deadline — people still have misgivings and second thoughts about the program.  Here’s what she wrote:

Thank you, thank you, thank you. I thought I was the only one who had serious reservations about the OCC program. I just see it as a well-intentioned venture that, in reality, exports Western materialism. Even given the potential spiritual good, do we want children associating Jesus with wrapped goodies? Isn’t that enough of a problem here in America?

I’m a Christian who thinks Samaritan’s Purse has done wonderful things in helping people around the world. But let’s help children by really making a difference in their lives. World Vision and other ministries have programs where you can contribute toward gifts such as farm animals, wells, small business opportunities for women, etc. Much, much better than trinkets.

And thank you, Lucy for that comment. Organizations like Compassion, Partners International, The Christian and Missionary Alliance and Gospel for Asia are among the many — and I chose ones with both American and Canadian websites —  that allow you to make significant, life-changing donations to an individual or an entire village of the type Lucy describes.

Shoebox sized giving will produce shoebox sized results, and furthermore runs the risks she described in her comment. If you’re reading this on a computer — even in a library somewhere — you are among the richest people in the entire world. This Christmas, literally share the wealth.

There is a saying, Do your giving while you’re living, so you’re knowing where it’s going. The Christmas “gift catalogs” of the four organizations listed above allow you to know exactly where your money is going. Don’t lose this opportunity.

Comments can be made at the original article — first link above.

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November 1, 2012

Hurricane Sandy: The Unheard Story

Today’s guest post is by Ruth, aka Mrs. W., the better writer in the family.


Hurricane Sandy came ashore.

Dozens dead. More dozens missing. Thousands homeless. Damage and repair costs in the hundreds of millions. Transportation crippled. Livelihoods destroyed or at risk. Infrastructure wiped out. Government in crisis. A population of in the range of 10,000,000 souls thrown into chaos once again, while still in recovery, still living with the ghosts of that earlier devastating hit.

Hurricane Sandy’s ‘hype’ has given way to the reality of trying to clean up the mess and put lives back together.

Oh, sorry. Did you think I meant New York?

Haiti and neighbors such as Cuba and The Dominican have been ploughed under yet again. And yet again they’re stumbling to their feet, shaking the mud out of their hair and looking around, wondering what the heck happened. The images are horrific. The statistics are numbing.

Most American and Canadian news coverage in the last few days has been focused so close to home that we’ve heard little about the three day drenching that has damaged more than 70 percent of Haiti’s food supply and created fears of a cholera epidemic like the one after the great earthquake. The epidemic that killed 7,000 people.

The poor are getting poorer.

New York has suffered a terrible blow. They have lost good and beloved people. Homes. Businesses. Entire neighborhoods. It’s easy to look at the pictures online of a damaged roller coaster and a yacht on the train tracks and forget that our friends to the south are genuinely suffering far more than just inconvenience. They are grieving and wondering how to rebuild.

But, like we in Canada, they are among the wealthiest people in the world. The poorest American is richer than the bulk of the people in other parts of the world. We have resources and forces and systems in place that are effective and well trained. Haitians have no such reservoir to draw from.

It’s time to look further than the six o’clock news and see the need that is born out of need. Lack upon lack. New York will take time to put things together again. Haiti doesn’t have that luxury.

New York needs our prayers and encouragement. Haiti needs our support. Food, medicine, building supplies. Find out how you can help.

~ Ruth Wilkinson

October 19, 2012

The Shoebox Thing Again

No post here ever got me in so much trouble as this one, when it ran in 2009 and 2010 and I became the Grinch that stole Operation Christmas Child.   I just wanted to be “thinking out loud” and look at the thing from all sides.   That doesn’t mean I would never fill a shoebox. I might just fill it differently. Besides a good blog is nothing if not provocative, right?   Or would you rather not think at all?

Comments are again closed here, but there’s a link to the original November 24, 2009 post where you can add your two cents, or whatever the equivalent is in euros. HOWEVER, this time around we’ve added some additional questions and concerns that came about when Sarah posted her comments. They begin with number 9 in the list below; items 14-16 are from an article she linked to in her comment.

For many years now, I’ve been a huge fan of Franklin Graham’s Operation Christmas Child project. To see the look of ecstasy on the faces of the children in the promotional videos is to really know the joy that comes with giving even something small.

To critique the program would be unthinkable. It would be like criticizing motherhood or apple pie or little kittens. But I have some concerns about this that I had not seen in print or online when I wrote the original post and thought I’d wade out deep into dangerous waters:

  1. A lot of people fill their shoeboxes with trinkets from the dollar store. When these items break — which they will — how will third world children deal with the disappointment that Western kids are accustomed to? Especially if they don’t own much else.
  2. Which begs the question, how are such items disposed of — sooner or later — in countries that don’t have an active recycling program? What happens to all those boxes? As barren and arid as some of those places are, dotting the landscape with red and green boxes seems a bit irresponsible. Maybe they can use the boxes for something.
  3. What’s the mileage on some of the trinkets and toys? Check out the country of origin, factor in the purchase point in the U.S. as an example, and then plot the destination point. We’re talking major carbon footprints. And not the Margaret Fishback Powers kind of footprints.
  4. What about the inequities of what the kids receive? One kid gets a cuddly Gund-type plush animal, while another gets socks. I would be the kid getting the toothpaste and cheap sunglasses, while my friend would get some kind of awesome musical instrument toy. Socks don’t make noise. I would learn jealousy and covetousness all in a single day.
  5. Which begs the question, is there ever theft? World wars have started over lesser things. Do kids in faraway places take the inequities into their own hands? Do they revere the licensed pencil case more than the one with geometric shapes and colors? Is there trading? If so, who sets the rules?
  6. Maybe not. Maybe they share better than kids in the West do. But somewhere along the line, it’s got to create a situation of personal private property. I live on a street with ten houses where everybody owns a lawnmower. We all could probably get by with one or two. What I really need is access to a lawnmower. But human nature being what it is, it rarely works that way unless you’re Shane Claiborne, or you live on an Operation Mobilization ship, or you’re one of the aging hippies living in the Jesus People project in inner-city Chicago. (Apologies to Glenn Kaiser.)
  7. What about expectations? If my kids don’t get what they’re hoping for there is always a great disappointment, and trust me, this year they aren’t getting what they’re hoping for. Reminds of me that old song, “Is That All There Is?” Some people get downright depressed after Christmas. BTW, anyone remember who the artist was on that song?
  8. What’s the follow-up for the giver? None. Unlike sponsored children — which is another discussion entirely — the gift is really a shot in the dark, unless in next year’s video you happen to see a kid opening a box containing a rather unique action figure and a pair of furry dice which you know could only have come from your attic storage the year before. (But furry dice? What were you thinking? The kid’s expression is going to be somewhat quizzical…)
  9. Does this encourage children to value Western cultures more than their own?
  10. Do “shoebox” gifts become better than something simpler made lovingly by a family member?
  11. Are they introducing commercial gift-giving into a culture that doesn’t celebrate Christmas in that way?
  12. Do they respect people of other faiths who don’t celebrate Christmas at all? Is our intent to evangelize or convert with our gifts?
  13. Do they portray one race/culture as being better or more successful than others?
  14. When we include personal care products such as soap and toothpaste in our gifts, are we sending a message that we feel they are not able to maintain their personal hygiene?  Toothpaste may be perceived as candy. Should we be rethinking some of our efforts to help people?
  15. How do they work to bring about real change, in places where the needs are for justice, peace, and access to the necessities of life?
  16. Imagine yourself as a child living in a family where all resources go to obtaining food and shelter and suddenly you receive a package with a doll or a toy car. What does it feel like to receive something from someone who has such excess income that they can buy something that is not needed?

The link Sarah provided contains many, many position papers on the Shoebox program, that are good reading for any thinking person. Click here to access the .pdf file which contains notes from people who were actively involved in the distribution. Sadly, that article is no longer online.

Okay, so maybe there is  good that outweighs any potential downside. I am NOT saying don’t do this.  But it’s philosophy that I majored in, so somebody’s got to view things from outside the box — the shoebox in this case —  once in awhile. That’s why I call it thinking out loud.

Comments are closed here so that you can add your comment to the original collection on November 24, 2009. Click here.

November 23, 2011

Wednesday Link List

Wednesday List Lynx - The lynx is considered a national animal in Macedonia where it is featured on the five denar coin

I’ll have whatever links she’s having…

  • Let’s start out with some great music: A new song by Northpoint Community Church’s Eddie Kirkland; help yourself to a free download of Here and Now.
  • Maybe your marriage isn’t in trouble, but it’s in struggle.  Justin and Trisha Davis offer four reasons why some marriages are hurting.
  • Julie Clawson has a very short, but very profound piece about how the spiritual conversion journey does not end with finding Jesus; in other words, finding Jesus doesn’t complete the process.
  • It’s possible that Charles Spurgeon’s view of Arminian theology wasn’t shaped so much by reading as it was by the stage in history where the movement was when Spurgeon wrote.
  • InterVarsity Press, aka IVP, has purchased Biblica Books, a publisher whose 170-plus titles are truly a great fit for the Illinois-based company.
  • At The Ironic Catholic, this take on Genesis 3: 16-19 — “There are three aspects taken from a casual reading of the passage: 1) God makes childbirth painful, 2) Eve and all women get cursed by God as a punishment for sin, and 3) Adam appears to get off way easy.”
  • Not sure of David Brooks’ spirituality, but this NY Times article shows how certain kinds of inequality are tolerated, and certain types of inequality are not.
  • I know there’s a word that means “fear of the number 13,” but what about phobias about “666”??  Refusing to wear the number on religious grounds got this Georgia man fired.
  • Of the making of Calvinist/Arminian T-Shirts there is no end.  The one pictured at right is for those who prefer the middle of the road. Click the image if you want to buy; click here for the backstory at More Christ blog.
  • For those of you who use small-group discipleship curriculum, this video about a whole new paradigm from Downline Ministries is going to rock your world.
  • Jon Acuff explains why it’s possible to have the congregation extend you some grace when yours is the first cell phone (that’s mobile for you Brits) to go off during a church service, but why you don’t want to be the second person to have it ring.
  • Some of you may know more than I about the Duggar family, but apparently they are expecting their 20th child.  (HT: Clark Bunch)
  • Michael Hyatt thinks novelists should offer a “director’s cut” of their work at their blogs; along with twelve other blog ideas for writers of what we could call non-non-fiction.
  • C201 highlights this week: A 30-minute video interview with N.T. Wright, and a summary of C. Michael Patton’s Why Do We Love C. S. Lewis and Hate Rob Bell?
  • Tomorrow at Thinking Out Loud: Remembering Family Circus cartoonist Bil Keane.  Today the comic is drawn by “little Jeffy” who is actually, at age 53, not quite so little, and continues to feature church-based themes like this one from a week ago Sunday:

October 29, 2010

Rethinking Rethinking Shoeboxes

Hey, give me a break.   I don’t want to be the Grinch that stole Operation Christmas Child.   I just wanted to be “thinking out loud” and look at the thing from all sides.   That doesn’t mean I would never fill a shoebox.   I might just fill it differently.   Besides a good blog is nothing if not provocative, right?   Or would you rather not think at all?

This time around, comments are closed here, but there’s a link to the original November 24, 2009 post where you can add your two cents, or whatever the equivalent is in euros.

For many years now, I’ve been a huge fan of Franklin Graham’s Operation Christmas Child project. To see the look of ecstasy on the faces of the children in the promotional videos is to really know the joy that comes with giving even something small.

To critique the program would be unthinkable. It would be like criticizing motherhood or apple pie or little kittens. But I have some concerns about this that I haven’t seen heretofore in print or online. So I thought I’d wade out deep into dangerous waters:

  1. A lot of people fill their shoeboxes with trinkets from the dollar store. When these items break — which they will — how will third world children deal with the disappointment that Western kids are accustomed to? Especially if they don’t own much else.
  2. Which begs the question, how are such items disposed of — sooner or later — in countries that don’t have an active recycling program? What happens to all those boxes? As barren and arid as some of those places are, dotting the landscape with red and green boxes seems a bit irresponsible. Maybe they can use the boxes for something.
  3. What’s the mileage on some of the trinkets and toys? Check out the country of origin, factor in the purchase point in the U.S. as an example, and then plot the destination point. We’re talking major carbon footprints. And not the Margaret Fishback Powers kind of footprints.
  4. What about the inequities of what the kids receive? One kid gets a cuddly Gund-type plush animal, while another gets socks. I would be the kid getting the toothpaste and cheap sunglasses, while my friend would get some kind of awesome musical instrument toy. Socks don’t make noise. I would learn jealousy and covetousness all in a single day.
  5. Which begs the question, is there ever theft? World wars have started over lesser things. Do kids in faraway places take the inequities into their own hands? Do they revere the licensed pencil case more than the one with geometric shapes and colors? Is there trading? If so, who sets the rules?
  6. Maybe not. Maybe they share better than kids in the West do. But somewhere along the line, it’s got to create a situation of personal private property. I live on a street with ten houses where everybody owns a lawnmower. We all could probably get by with one or two. What I really need is access to a lawnmower. But human nature being what it is, it rarely works that way unless you’re Shane Claiborne, or you live on an Operation Mobilization ship, or you’re one of the aging hippies living in the Jesus People project in inner-city Chicago. (Apologies to Glenn Kaiser.)
  7. What about expectations? If my kids don’t get what they’re hoping for there is always a great disappointment, and trust me, this year they aren’t getting what they’re hoping for. Reminds of me that old song, “Is That All There Is?” Some people get downright depressed after Christmas. BTW, anyone remember who the artist was on that song?
  8. What’s the follow-up for the giver? None. Unlike sponsored children — which is another discussion entirely — the gift is really a shot in the dark, unless in next year’s video you happen to see a kid opening a box containing a rather unique action figure and a pair of furry dice which you know could only have come from your attic storage the year before. (But furry dice? What were you thinking? The kid’s expression is going to be somewhat quizzical…)

Okay, so maybe the good outweighs any potential downside. I am NOT saying don’t do this.  But it’s philosophy that I majored in, so somebody’s got to view things from outside the box — the shoebox in this case — once in awhile. That’s why I call it thinking out loud.

Comments are closed here so that you can add your comment to the original collection on November 24, 2009. Click here.

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