When I left the church I attended for thirteen years I had to give up many things: friendships, positions, opportunities to serve and something I hold very dear, an established ministry of sending Christmas shoe boxes to children around the world. While the casualties of our move were great, the reasons to change were even greater and the need was real.
So I entered our new church with the same heart that served me in my time in our last congregation, but a situation where the opportunities were much different. For one the new church had an established food bank ministry, something I had craved at our old church, but understood was a major commitment we could not financially support.
As it happened, I shared a post about our success in our shoe box ministry with some friends at the new church. I was gratified to receive an inquiry if that could be done at our new church, and if so if i would consider leading the effort. At once I was interested, of course, but knew from experience the time involved and that it was more like a year long campaign.
You see gathering the particular items for a quantity of packages to send away is not cheap. Also, for diversity of items you have to begin looking as soon as the Christmas holidays end. Most stores have limited shelf space and seasonal items become a liability as soon as their particular calendar date has passed. If you are a seasoned bargain hunter as I have learned to be, you can get some really good deals.
Beyond that though, it was a matter of getting guy in from other congregation members. You have to explain and show others how it can be done and the benefit not only to the children we are trying to bless, but how the blessing can be returned to us.
We are blessed with a fine cadre of not only mission minded folks, but kids wanting to do their part. While the approach to each is different, both groups are integral to the overall success of the project. The boundless energy of young ones, when harnessed correctly, can get you through a lot of tedious work.
When you can make a connection from your children to the children in another country it just makes everything seem more real. Even though we live in a technology filled world, distance is still real and the opportunity for children to learn about another country and culture still fascinates them.
As part of the overall work to establish a similar ministry to deliver shoe box gifts our pastor, two others from our congregation and I made a trip in December of 2012 to the Central America country of Belize. What this did was three fold: first it made a real life connection with the children receiving our gifts. Also, it initiated the first foreign mission trip for our church. Lastly it allowed us to assemble shoe boxes for a specific region, knowing exactly what was needed as far as shoes, and clothing.
Lessons learned from this trip allowed us to make better plans for the 2013 campaign. Also we were able to incorporate a plan to get the kids involved by asking them to bring spare change and specific items that we inserted into the packages. We also learned that shoe boxes weren’t durable enough and were not reusable after making the 1,300 mile trip to Belize. Instead we chose to use canvas backpacks, which could be reused for various practical needs.
To motivate the children I offered to let them put a pie in my face if they could deliver more coins and goods for the backpacks than I delivered. This was a brilliant strategy, if I say so myself, and the kids responded overwhelmingly. I think even some of the adults added to the effort, eager to see me covered in the white stuff.
The kids got their reward at the Vacation Bible School graduation as several cans of whip cream and a package of paper plates combined to make me one sticky mess. It seemed a very small price to pay for the excitement and commitment to serve others we ultimatley want our kids to learn. I considered it a team-building type of effort and feel the results were better than I imagined.
Pictures from our December 2013 trip helped the kids see their direct involvement and I know will help drive future efforts.