Prestonwood and Operation Christmas Child: To the ends of the earth

OCC shoebox gifts are distributed to millions of children across the world yearly with the same result: happy faces and gospel opportunities. Photo submitted.

PLANOLike thousands of other congregations of all sizes, the multi-campus megachurch Prestonwood Baptist will be ready for Operation Christmas Child’s 2021 National Collection Week, Nov. 15-22. Prestonwood has partnered with Samaritan’s Purse and OCC since the shoebox ministry’s earliest days. 

OCC began in summer 1993 when, according to the organization’s website, a friend in the UK asked Franklin Graham if Samaritan’s Purse would fill shoeboxes with gifts for children in war-torn Bosnia. Graham agreed under the condition that Samaritan’s Purse could share the gospel with every child receiving a gift. Some 28,000 shoebox gifts made their way to the Balkans.

Samaritan’s Purse has never looked back. Neither has Prestonwood, considered a legacy church with OCC because of its early involvement. 

Pastor Jack Graham learned about OCC in 1994 from his friend Franklin Graham. The pastor was visiting Billy and Ruth Graham when Franklin filled him in on the outreach. In a Prestonwood publication a few years ago, Deb Graham, Pastor Graham’s wife, recalled her husband’s enthusiasm: “Jack came back and showed me the shoebox and he said, ‘I want us to do this.’ He got Ross [Robinson] and me together—at that point, we’d never done anything like this before—and soon we were handing out empty shoeboxes.”

To date, the church has supplied more than 200,000 boxes bearing gospel booklets in the children’s own languages and filled with toys, clothes, books and school supplies. 

Ross Robinson, OCC senior ministry strategist in church partnerships and a former Prestonwood staff member, said each shoebox provides additional gospel opportunities as children share their gifts and stories with others, generating evangelism, discipleship and multiplication opportunities.

“I love the missionary adage I heard long ago that is so fitting for the heart of our Prestonwood family: ‘The light that shines the furthest shines brightest at home.’ And I think Operation Christmas Child encapsulates it very well,” Jack Graham said in comments to the TEXAN.

“Operation Christmas Child is truly one of our favorite things to do each November as it encourages people of all ages to pack shoebox gifts for children, which above all provides an opportunity to share the gospel. Many of these children have never received a gift. These shoeboxes filled with gifts and packed with love, let them know that they are not forgotten.

“As for our church, it complements what we are already doing through our missions ministry and it provides a wonderful way to engage more of our members and guests in ministry—serving the local church and helping fulfill the mission of God’s church … to the ends of the earth.”

Prestonwood serves as a drop-off site for Operation Christmas Child shoebox gifts every year. Photo submitted.

OCC at a glance

Filling the shoeboxes is something individuals, small groups and entire families at Prestonwood enjoy delivering the boxes to Prestonwood Cares collection stations.

The church, like many others, will start promoting OCC in the fall, perhaps showing one or more of the free videos—Including “How to Pack a Shoebox”—downloaded from the OCC website at with additional videos available.

Promotional materials are furnished at no cost to participating churches and organizations. The OCC’s familiar green and red cardboard or plastic boxes may be purchased online in bulk from Samaritan’s Purse.

Churches and groups collect the gift-filled boxes and transport them to drop-off locations the third week of November annually. The boxes are then taken to one of eight national processing centers.

Boxes collected in Texas wind up at the Samaritan’s Purse DFW processing center in Coppell, where volunteers inspect and prepare the shoeboxes for international shipping, stopping work every hour to pray for the children who will receive the gifts.

The shoeboxes are then distributed to kids in more than 100 countries. Even before this happens, OCC National Leadership Teams have trained pastors and leaders in these countries in how to host the child-friendly evangelistic events at which the boxes will be distributed.

OCC carefully works with like-minded, biblically-based, Christ-centered churches in the host countries, Robinson said, explaining the international process: “The gospel is shared through the local church. They have a children’s event. Unchurched children are invited by their friends from that church. The events are festive, with singing, clowns, puppets, balloons.”

The shoeboxes are distributed at some 75,000 such events yearly.

Many children also receive materials to participate in a 12-lesson discipleship program called “The Greatest Journey” that has been used with more than 26.5 million children since 2009, resulting in 12.5 million decisions to trust Christ. The program is taught through the local church.

Online options

While traditional collection and distribution is the most popular, OCC also offers people, churches and groups the opportunity to build shoebox gifts online, Robinson said. Samaritan’s Purse can even help churches set up goal pages on an OCC website free of charge.

For only $25, plus an optional extra $6 for the addition of “The Greatest Journey” material, anyone can assemble a box online by visiting the Operation Christmas Child website and clicking on the “Build a Shoebox Online” link.

An additional benefit to online assembly: these shoeboxes go to some of the most unreached countries across the globe.

Since 1993, more than 188 million children in more than 170 countries and territories have received an OCC shoebox. “The Lord uses the gifts to pull on their heartstrings to receive the gospel,” Robinson said.

“A small shoebox is a simple gift, but the blessings are eternal.”

Jack Graham, pastor of Prestonwood Baptist Tweet

All-church benefits

OCC is not just for big churches, said Jim Harrelson, OCC vice president, applauding Prestonwood’s partnership: “Prestonwood’s deep commitment to Samaritan’s Purse over many years, among many other local and global ministries, is a very strong example for churches of any size to follow.”

Churches often discover that participating in OCC can benefit their communities and congregations, fostering a spirit of unity and excitement that strengthens the body, whether the church is a veteran OCC participant or is using OCC as a first missions outreach, Robinson said.

Parents find teachable moments as they introduce their children to the joys of giving and evangelism. The outreach even enhances cooperation with other churches in the community as groups band together to fill the shoeboxes.

“The people of Prestonwood have been blessed beyond measure over the years to be part of this life-changing ministry,” Jack Graham said, sharing the story of a young girl who hosted an annual packing party for several years, collecting about 500 boxes each year, starting early and inviting friends and family members to do the same.

Another long-time member included her name and address in a shoebox gift, Graham recalled. Little did she know the one box would be divided among several boys in a Christian boys home in Uganda. The boys wrote to thank her. She and her husband developed a relationship with the boys and even visited them.

“The blessing received by another member was truly full circle,” Graham said. “She was a teenager living in a Christian orphanage in Peru when she received an OCC shoebox, and a woman shared the gospel with her.” The girl and her sisters were adopted by a missionary family who became involved with a ministry distributing OCC boxes, so she helped hand out shoeboxes to children.

Later, she later became a missionary herself, and with her husband and two children eventually ended up in the Dallas area. They joined Prestonwood, where the whole family participated in packing shoeboxes.

“A small shoebox is a simple gift, but the blessings are eternal,” Graham said.

Managing Editor
Jane Rodgers
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