Tuesday, 23 October 2012

Operation Christmas Child - my thoughts

I was initially quite reluctant to blog about religion however around this time of year this somewhat controversial subject always comes up. Operation Christmas Child. The scheme where you fill a shoebox of goodies and it gets sent to needy children across the world. I participated at both school and work last year even though I was slightly uncomfortable with it and our school has just made the call to arms again however this year I will not be participating.

I've read lots of blog posts about the operation, both in support of the scheme and criticising it.  On one hand I agree - what better time to talk about Christ than at Christmas and send gifts to those who don't have anything, what can be wrong with that? On the other, I cannot agree to support a group of evangelical Christian fundamentalists that is run by someone so blinkered. 

Samaritans Purse is run by Reverend Franklin Graham who, in his own words, once called Islam "a very wicked and evil religion" and more recently "I speak out for people who live under Islam, who are enslaved under Islam, and I want them to know they can be free by Jesus Christ and Jesus Christ alone".

Now I consider myself a Christian, albeit, not a strong practicing one these days. I was brought up a Roman Catholic and I choose to bring my children up in the Christian faith, however some of my very closest relatives are Muslims and it seems wrong to me that children in multi cultural schools are being encouraged to support this scheme when their founder has beliefs like the ones stated above.

Samaritans Purse is a Christian organisation and I don't think they've ever tried to hide that fact, however most of the criticisms lobbied at the charity comes from that fact that bibles and Christian literature used to be inserted into gift boxes heading to Muslim countries. I  believe this is  still the case in many countries, although apparently not from the UK anymore (the UK is where the charity is met with the most resistance). Certainly, I think the extent of their missionary work is downplayed in the UK and they're a bit more upfront about it in the US.


Of course, I fully expect a Christian organisation to issue some Christian literature as part of their missionary work and this isn't really what bothers me. Why would they do it otherwise? Not just for that nice warm fuzzy feeling that doing something charitable gives you (and certainly not for the nice $1.2 million salary that Franklin Graham allegedly brings home each year).

I don't deny that the scheme does some good. My children enjoy the process of choosing the items to go in the box and I like what it teaches them. Selfless giving is something that is good for children to learn, especially those children that have so much, and showing them that there are so many underprivileged children affected by war, poverty, disease and natural disasters around the world is, I believe, very important.  I'm sure the children receiving these boxes are so, so happy to get them and I'm sure the campaign will do exceedingly well in 2012 with millions of boxes being distributed, just, one of them won't be from me.

Ultimately, I just feel I can't offer my support to a charity whose president comes across as  fundamentally anti-Islamic when Islam is and always will be a part of my own families life.     How would I explain to my family that I am supporting an operation that is aiming to convert children from Islam to Christianity because it's wicked or evil? I can't, so I won't put myself in that position because just as Franklin Graham and supporters of Samaritans Purse are entitled to believe what they want, I am also entitled to my own beliefs and make my own choices.  I choose not to support this cause when there are so many other worthy charities out there to support with my children and I shall be exploring that option this Christmas.

18 comments:

  1. I feel exactly the same. I'm Catholic and my kids go to a Catholic school. They do Operation Christmas Child every year, and every year I don't take part because I cannot in all conscience support Samaritan's Purse.

    I've explained to my (young) kids that we give money to lots of charities, and we send food to the foodbank but we don't fill the Christmas boxes because the people organising it also do some not very nice things & say unkind things. We don't help people who are unkind even if what they are doing looks ok. They are quite happy with that.

    Of course, I'm quietly dreading the day they explain that in school & I get called in... ;)

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    1. I've explained it to my children as they want to take boxes in, but instead we are making boxes for two other children via Postpals so my children are not missing out on an important lesson.

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  2. I'm completely with you! As a Quaker I'm not comfortable with charity that comes with strings attached. It should be offered to everyone in need, not just those willing to sit through a bible study.

    I think the thing that disturbed me most was how this outreach was breaking up families. Because the material targets children, it pulls them away from their parents beliefs, causing distress and fighting within the family. Some how I don't believe that's what God would have wanted.

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    1. Thank you for your comments, I agree.

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  3. These are my thoughts exactly and I have debated long and hard as to whether I should say something to the school or not. I have explained to the children that we won't be supporting it and that we will find another way of giving and they seem to accept this.

    I am concerned that they have a whole assembly dedicated to it at school and would very much like to know what the content of that assembly is. Like you, I appreciate that a Christian charity will have a Christian message behind it and as a C of E school, I can see why our school support it. I just can't get past the fact that Franklin Graham's words and actions are not, in my opinion, ones of Christianity.

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    1. I haven't yet plucked up the courage to speak to the school however the teacher that is a driving force behind the campaign at our school is leaving at the end of this school year so I may just wait until then.

      We also had the whole assembly about it at school.

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  4. I'm currently living in South Africa and working as a volunter for www.santashoebox.co.za. We do not include any religious material, you can pledge a box online or even post one over.

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    1. Thank you for sharing a different option.

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  5. I spent a long time with my 6 year old this afternoon, explaining why I wouldn't let him take part in this, for pretty much the reasons you and Kate above mentioned. Thank you for this post MrsM, very helpful to set out some of the things that I have a bad gut reaction about but was struggling to articulate.

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    1. I too have explained it to my children, I didn't want to brush it under the carpet.

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  6. I have been thinking about this, as I just suggested that my college chapel take part and I'm coordinating the effort. I read about the founder's narrow-minded and discriminatory comments and it reminded me of the Chic-fil-a situation in the USA, but I decided that the situation is rather different because with Chic-fil-a, the only person benefiting by taking part/purchasing is the person eating the chicken, and with the shoeboxes the children get the benefit.

    My chaplain was concerned by the possibility of inappropriate evangelising and I checked the website to be certain that the religious material isn't included in the boxes or given to children who already have a faith. I hadn't realised this was only the situation with boxes from the UK.

    I will still be taking part, because at the end of the day I think it does make a difference to children's lives. If I thought that the boxes were being withheld until the children converted to Christianity or even just listened to a Bible talk, I would probably not, but I am prepared to trust the assurance that those things are not happening. It is complex, though.

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    1. Thanks for your comments May. I still need to do some research into it, I don't think the boxes are withheld but I believe that they are offered the literature alongside the box and obviously as mentioned above there are bible lessons. I read somewhere that quite a high number of children do actually convert from Islam to Christianity but I need to find the information to back that up.

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  7. I do not participate in OCC. I wriote about it last year http://www.muminthemadhouse.com/2011/11/08/why-we-will-not-be-participating-in-operation-christmas-child/ and Michelle Twin Mum wrote a post about why I was out of order!

    I also think that it is a spectacularly inefficient way to give what with the costs of transport etc.

    We do a box for local children though our church

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    1. I read that post Jen, and the subsequent posts/comments. I don't think you were out of order at all!

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  8. totally agree with you and Kate. Whilst I admire the sentiment of the idea (giving to needy at Christmas) the actions of this charity are not, to my mind "christian" within the true meaning of the word.

    I've made my feelings known at school (as they do the collections there) and it didn't go down well, but tough! What we do instead as a family is sort out clothes, toys, and new toiletries etc and donate them to the local woman's refuge. Tragically at this time of year they are at their busiest and often the women and children staying have to leave their homes with nothing. Something that really struck me was that they like to have some little toiletries gift things because the kids like to be able to give their mum's something to open on Christmas Day.

    This way, I feel my kids are learning the lessons of giving to others, of people not having as much as we do, and people are really benefitting, but without strings attached. I would urge anyone thinking of OCC or similar to do the same.

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    1. I don't imagine it would go down well at school if I made my feelings known either. The women's refuge idea is a great one. This year we are being "elves" for two very poorly children via Postpals. It's great because we've seen pictures of them, know what they like and we can really personalise it with no other agenda than to make a child happy.

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  9. I read this post when you first wrote it and was really concerned by the things you were saying. We as a church have supported OCC for years and I myself have even been down to the warehouse to help sort the boxes and get them ready for transportation.

    I am really surprised to read the quote you put above because as far as I (and many other people) were concerned the shoeboxes were NOT intended to be an evangelical tool. Their sole purpose was to show Christ's love through a GIFT, nothing more. Any Christian missionary who lives and works in a Muslim country will tell you of the dangers of bringing Christian literature into Muslim countries - many missionaries request that no reference to Christianity is made in any correspondence nor Gospel literature sent for fear of imprisonment or in some countries even death.

    It strikes me as very odd that OCC would think to put the lorry driver, the distributors and even the children in danger like this, by bringing Christian books into a Muslim country.

    I am also surprised because time I have been in the warehouse the boxes are checked to make sure the toys are suitable (some families use it as an excuse to clear out their broken toys and clutter), additional things added if necessary (like soap, toothbrushes etc. NOT books) and then taped up and put into boxes. I am puzzled as to what stage the books are actually put in because we certainly weren't told to add them.

    It definitely needs further research and as I will be taking over the shoebox collection and distribution in our church as of next year I will be interested to see what more transpires. My biggest worry is that the children who this charity really benefits will suffer because of lack of support.

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    1. Thanks for your comments Lauren, I know that my friends church is also a big supporter.

      I believe that they don't actually put the literature into the boxes anymore but they are handed out to the children.

      From what I can see, the evangelical nature of the people behind OCC is played down a lot in the UK, but they're most open about it in the US.

      I agree that further research is needed.

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