Executive SummaryWhilst American Evangelicals are mostly aware of the evangelising purpose of OCC, this is not the case in the UK, where the presentation and information leaflets are quite different and the level of evangelism is downplayed in OCC's presentation to the public. The Chief executive officer of Samaritan's Purse is Franklin Graham, the American Evangelist and son of Evangelist Billy Graham. Franklin Graham earns $483,000 as president and CEO of Samaritan's Purse - in addition to the $633,722 he already earns as President and CEO of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association [reference]. Schools and individuals have traditionally been taking part in OCC for many years and until recently there was no hint of the evangelical nature of the shoebox distribution. It is only in the last few years, following complaints in the UK national press and an investigation by the Charity Commission that there has been any indication (in the UK at least) that OCC has much of a religious focus, let alone that evangelism is the primary purpose. To find out just how much religious proselytizing occurs took some digging around the Samaritan Purse websites and associated supporting sites and from phoning up and writing to those involved in the shoebox distribution. Subsequent discussions with schools and individuals revealed that many people have been doing the shoebox appeal as a Christmas present charity tradition for years before there was any indication on the leaflets handed out to schools and individuals as to what the shoeboxes were used for. Even now all that the UK leaflets say is that they distribute the shoeboxes whilst "sharing the good news of Jesus Christ" and that a "booklet of Bible stories" is "made available where appropriate". All this sounds very low key and no traditional givers, individuals, schools or non-affiliated shoebox collection points I have spoken to have even read or noticed this and are often shocked and embarrassed to subsequently find out the extent of what goes on. Even worse, in local UK press solicitations from OCC they present themselves merely as a Christmas present charity with no mention of any religious evangelism (I have searched through hundreds of local press announcements in the UK!). Organisations have a duty to be transparent with those they are soliciting donations from. So if your school or organisation is collecting for OCC are you aware of the material below? What would those you solicit donations from say if they knew you either had not done your homework or knew OCC was using donations for evangelism and hadn't been transparent? Were Samaritan's Purse transparent when they solicited your help? Don't you think you should be supporting a charity that all those you solicit donations from could support in good conscience? Read on!
This website expresses concern about:
If you think this is only something the American branch of Samaritan's Purse do, then see the page on the Operation Christmas Child distribution from the UK http://www.samaritans-purse.org.uk/the-greatest-journey which details the evangelism that follows the shoebox distribution.
The file MostImportantStory.pdf is the initial evangelising literature used with the shoebox distributions. As you can see in this photo this is given to children even before they receive a shoebox:
The other attachments at the bottom of this page are UK newsletters to the faithful which report on the successful religious conversions of Operation Christmas Child, further demonstrating the evangelical nature of the UK branch.
For brief information you can printout and use to warn people about OCC and suggestions for more appropriate charities, see the infopack.
For evidence that the UK branch mislead the general UK public by the way they solicit donations, see downplayed evangelism.
This site exists to help build awareness of the activities of the evangelical Christian group "Samaritan's Purse" who run the shoebox appeal called "Operation Christmas Child."
Did you know that Operation Christmas Child uses the shoeboxes in an evangelising mission, distributing literature alongside the shoeboxes that is directly aimed at religious conversion of young children and enrols children in the "Operation Christmas Child Discipleship Program"?
From a letter from Samaritan's Purse to an evangelical supporter of OCC concerned that they were not fulfilling their evangelising mission:
"Please be assured that the commitment of Samaritan's Purse to evangelism is as strong as ever.
Christian literature is not banned from Operation Christmas Child shoeboxes in the United Kingdom or any other sending country. However, there is a difference in the way the boxes are processed in the U.K. for overseas shipment. The U.K. program removes all religious items (Christian as well as other religions) and forwards any Christian literature to our National Leadership Teams working in countries where shoebox gifts are distributed, so the Christian literature can be used with children through the local church.
Samaritan's Purse staff in the U.K. is dedicated, as we all are, to ensuring that Christian literature given by donors is used in effective ministry outreach to children through Operation Christmas Child.
The Gospel is also presented locally as part of the distribution of the gifts, and wherever possible, children are offered a Gospel storybook written in their own language called The Greatest Gift of All. Many children are also invited to enroll in a 10-lesson follow-up Bible study program, and upon completion receive a New Testament as a graduation gift.
In the United States, Christian literature remains inside the shoebox gifts given by donors. We are developing and implementing standard operating procedures to ensure that this practice is followed in the U.K. and other sending countries."
OXFAM, DHL, the South Wales fire Service, the England Revenue and the Co-Op have all withdrawn their support for Operation Christmas Child. Schools in the UK have been alerted to check them out carefully before deciding to take part by the Standing Advisory Councils for Religious Education. Brendan Paddy, of Save the Children, when referring to OCC said it is dangerous when charities mix humanitarian work with the promotion of a particular religious or political agenda. Even other Christian groups have expressed serious concern [Ref.]. I am not aware of any other evangelical organisation or charities that have received such criticism. This should set up alarm bells for you that there is something wrong with OCC that other religious charitable organisations are not being criticised for.
The Rev David Applin, chief executive of SPI, admits that a religious pamphlet - "The greatest gift of all" - is distributed with the boxes (though not inside them). But he denies that the appeal is evangelical. "The word evangelical has connotations and I prefer to think of us as a Christian group," he says, adding that he does not regard SPI as a missionary agency.Likewise Sean Campbell, executive director of Samaritan's Purse Canada said:
"We're over there trying to help them, we're trying to make the quality of their lives better and we're not over there to convert them."Are Samaritan's Purse being transparent? They describe this literature as a "booklet of bible stories."
Here is a page from this "non-evangelical" religious pamphlet:
Above is a detail from the evangelising booklet distributed alongside the shoeboxes.
This religious pamphlet (that The Rev David Applin, chief executive of SPI denies is evangelical) is not just a "booklet of bible stories"
but a direct attempt at religious conversion of young children, compete with a "sinner's prayer" of conversion and a pledge card.
Now read the literature that is distributed with the shoeboxes and see for yourself if this is something that would be distributed by a group that should not be regarded as a missionary agency.
Click here to see a video of the evangelism in action
Child with shoebox and the literature handed out by Operation Christmas Child.
(Note that the booklet is called "The Greatest Gift of All" by UK distributors and "The Most Important Story" by American distributors, but the content is the same. For background on this see here).
We believe in the resurrection of both the saved and the lost; the saved unto the resurrection of eternal life and
the lost unto the resurrection of Damnation and Eternal Punishment
That's right - even the UK branch of Samaritan's Purse believe that people who do not accept their evangelising message are damned.
The conversion of the lost is the ultimate and expressed goal of Samaritan's Purse.
I get plenty of emails from evangelicals who claim that OCC is quite transparent and everyone ought to know that they use the shoeboxes for evangelism. I point out to them that they are transparent in evangelical churches, in the USA and with people who they think are sympathetic. In the UK national and local press they are more guarded, and often mislead people.
The Rev David Applin, chief executive of SPI, admits that a religious pamphlet - "The greatest gift of all" - is distributed with the boxes (though not inside them). But he denies that the appeal is evangelical. "The word evangelical has connotations and I prefer to think of us as a Christian group," he says, adding that he does not regard SPI as a missionary agency.
( http://society.guardian.co.uk/societyguardian/story/0,7843,861580,00.html )
However Compare this with what Samaritan's Purse tell the faithful in their Newsletters and on fundamentalist church websites:
"We shared the Gospel with them and distributed Bibles," Victor said. "Each time we do a distribution, it begins with a testimony that Jesus loves you and died for you...Operation Christmas Child is one of the best evangelistic tools because it is a gift," ministry partner Victor Kulbich said. "It opens the door to telling about Jesus."
If you've seen "The greatest gift of all" then it should be obvious that to deny its purpose is evangelical is completely dishonest.
Also contrast the following:
"We're over there trying to help them, we're trying to make the quality of their lives better and we're not over there to convert them." [Sean Campbell, executive director of Samaritan's Purse Canada.]
The Christian organisation "Ministrywatch" http://www.ministrywatch.org/mw2.1/H_Home.asp contains the following statement at
The conversion of the lost is the ultimate and expressed goal of
Samaritan's Purse. This fact distinguishes them from many other
relief and development organizations, even some others which are
Christian in name and in charter.
The reason why this website is required is that many people (at least in the UK) do not know the extent of the evangelical nature of OCC and that Samaritan's Purse downplay their evangelical nature in the UK publicity they give to the general public. When I have told people in the UK that OCC evangelises and shown them the booklet they hand out most people have been horrified and stopped taking part.
"These gift filled shoeboxes provide powerful tools the local churches can use to evangelise people."
In other words OCC use toys as tools to entice children to evangelical rallies. That is manipulative and is what has largely upset the Christian ministers who alerted me initially to OCC being problematic. (Note that the some of the strongest critics of OCC are Christian ministers- see the Guardian articles). Likewise Brendan Paddy, of Save the Children, when referring to OCC said it is dangerous when charities mix humanitarian work with the promotion of a particular religious or political agenda.
Another issue is that the evangelised children are misled. OCC are known to tell children that "these gifts were given by people who know Jesus." Whereas in fact the gifts are given by a cross section of people, many of whom are not Christian and would balk at being so included. Likewise senior representatives of Samaritan's purse have flatly stated that OCC is not an evangelical mission which is dishonest.
I am so pleased I checked the Internet for information before I sent the two boxes I had packed and ready to go! I would have been horrified to think that I had unknowingly (and with good will) contributed to an indoctrination I do not agree with. Thank you!
For those who have already packed a shoebox there are plenty of alternatives, including other shoebox charities (even one by a former member of OCC who left to run a secular alternative). For details see here.
A note for critics of
I came across your website about Operation Christmas Child. I worked for a company that did (and still does) a huge push to collect gift shoeboxes from the community and from employees for OCC. In fact, our company served as an OCC collection site.
Because of the position I held in the company, my boss made me go through the training for people working at collection sites. I was appalled by what I heard. A man who had taken part in the shoebox delivery spoke and said that he did not give the children their shoeboxes unless they brought a friend to hear the story of Jesus. Another said that any child who took a shoebox HAD to take a Bible as well. There was tremendous pressure placed on children who received the shoeboxes (and their families) to convert to Christianity.
After hearing that, I was even more appalled when the trainer encouraged us to "downplay" the fundamentalist, evangelical Christian aspect of OCC. (Although we were only supposed to solicit donations from Christians.) She knew very well that not as many people would donate if they were aware that their "gifts" were actually used to bribe children into accepting Bibles and converting to Christianity.
Next, we were all supposed to sign a volunteer agreement for OCC. The agreement stated explicitly that we were Christians working for Christ. As I am not a Christian, I did not sign, even though my boss wasn't very happy with me. I told her that if I signed the form, I would be lying; and if she forced me to sign the form, she would be violating my right to religious freedom.
By the time I left the training, I was so disgusted with the whole program that I flatly refused to take any part in OCC for the rest of the time I worked for that company. Some of the other employees tried to make me feel guilty about not even giving a shoebox, but I replied that my time and money went to programs that did not use bribery and coercion to "help" children.
I thought I might be the only person who had those concerns, so I was so glad to come across your website.
Please feel free to use my story if you like--just don't use my name.
Thanks again for going public with your concerns about this program!
Another posting I found that should concern OCC supporters is the following:
As someone with friends and relatives in Eastern Europe may I just point out that the shoebox appeal was never needed and is even resented by local churches in places like Romania, who have run their own better targeted shoebox schemes for some years and suspect the only reason for Western evangelists taking an interest is to profit from rising incomes and development grants since EU affiliation. I am also told that the influence of Western evangelical churches is contributing to a rising tide of sectarianism which has not been seen since 1990 in some countries. I would strongly advise anyone really wishing to help those countries to simply leave people who are quite capable and motivated enough to sort out their own lives to do so, unfettered by organisations with ulterior motives.
OCC is not the good cause you might think it is. There are many ways to help people. Alternative charities, including alternative shoebox initiatives to disadvantaged children without the evangelism, are available here. Personally I regularly give to charity, donate blood etc. and have helped for a number of years taking disabled elderly people on holiday.
However if individuals feel Operation Christmas Child is something they wish to support in full awareness of what they do then that is up to them. However if you want to give gifts is it moral to use gifts as tools for evangelism? You can evangelize without gifts and give gifts without evangelism, how is it moral to entice children to evangelism with toys? Unfortunately I have found it is nearly impossible to get supporters of OCC to face this question or the dishonesty in OCC. See this amazing conversation.
Our main concern was initially just how few people had any idea of the nature and extent of the evangelical activities during Operation Christmas Child. i.e. people are contributing without being informed. All those we have spoken to no longer wish to contribute and yet they were going to until we told them what we know. More people are aware now than when we started but there is still a shocking ignorance to be found on occasion and we know of some people who flatly refuse to accept that OCC evangelise and will not even examine the evidence or read their evangelising booklet.
Meanwhile aggressive reactions I have received from supporters of OCC do little to reassure me as to the nature of the shoebox appeal. See the interesting story behind why I am anonymous here.