MESQUITE—The congregation at Oates Drive Baptist Church in Mesquite gladly transform their church each year into a collection center for shoeboxes destined for Operation Christmas Child. While they like to help provide children small toys and other gifts, they primarily want to support a ministry that shares the love of Jesus around the world.
Each Operation Christmas Child gift box not only includes toys, hard candy and toiletry items, but also a gospel tract. Donors pray over each gift box.
Michelle Burt—whose husband, Jim, is pastor—coordinates the congregation’s participation in the Samaritan’s Purse ministry. The Burts have been involved in the ministry since its inception.
“We heard Franklin Graham speak in 1993, and he had just caught a vision for it. As we listened, I touched my husband on the leg and said, ‘This is something we have to be involved in,’” she recalled.
“So, we went home and packed a few boxes at our church that year, and since 1994, we have really been pushing it,” Burt said.
At that time, they served at a Houston-area church, and she helped organize one of the first collection centers there. A few years later, when they moved to the Sherman area, they brought their love for Operation Christmas Child with them.
Before coming to serve at Oates Drive Baptist Church 14 years ago, Operation Christmas Child was one of the things they discussed with the search committee.
“We brought that vision here, and our church just jumped right in,” Burt said.
The first year, the Mesquite congregation put together a couple of hundred shoeboxes. Soon, however, it became a relay center to transfer the boxes to a collection center. It wasn’t long, however, that the number of boxes passing through Oates Drive dictated it become a collection center itself.
About 30 to 70 people help each week during the collection season, Burt said.
“We have people from other churches who come help us, and we have Girl Scouts who will come—we’re not opposed to anybody coming to help. From our church—and we’re an elderly church—we have a lot of seniors who run this,” she said.
Weather an extra this year
This year, the cold, wet weather presented additional challenges, “but it hasn’t discouraged any of our workers,” Burt said. “We’ve had kids as young as first or second grade up here working all the way up to people well into their 80s.”
Gilbert Oakley, 80, is one of those volunteers.
“I love kids, and this is a way to reach kids for Jesus,” he said. “We get to see videos on Wednesdays and Sundays, and the looks on those kids’ faces when they receive these boxes—I know it’s not just because they are getting toys; it’s because they are getting the gospel message, too.”
Patsy Thompson, assistant coordinator at Oates Drive, shares his passion. When she was a child, she received a stocking with a coloring book and some fruit and nuts each Christmas through the generosity of others. She now is glad to see other children receive small gifts as well. She is aware, however, the greatest gift is not one they can touch.
“I feel an urgency to get each shoebox done—not so that they can just receive a shoebox, but so they can have the opportunity to know more about Jesus Christ,” she said.
The Oates Drive congregation—which averages about 225 on Sunday morning—packed about 500 boxes this year, but about 40 churches, as well as many individuals, also brought their shoeboxes to Mesquite church for shipment to the processing center. Last year, about 9,000 boxes passed through Oates Drive, and the goal for this year was 10,000.
While she has been involved with the ministry 20 years, Burt’s passion for it has not waned. She recalled shopping for gifts with her daughter, Sarah, to fill boxes. Now her daughter is a young woman with a similar passion to help children find the joy of Christ in a shoebox.
“In a little box, you can put encouragement; you can give hope. And more importantly, they are going to share Jesus with each shoebox that goes,” Burt said.
Passion has grown
“It’s a passion that has grown as we hear the story of the deliveries. The stories of how God anoints these boxes. He carries these boxes. The 100 millionth box was delivered last year. Of all those boxes, he knows which child in all the world needs that box.
“We’ve heard of kids who didn’t have a pair of shoes who got a pair of shoes in their box. A kid who needed a raincoat got a raincoat. I just shared with our church about a boy who was nearly blind who received a magnifying glass that allowed him to read for the first time the greatest story ever told.
“Only God can do that. And if God can do that, and he has asked him to join him where he is at work, how awesome is that?”