MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas at Christian and Missionary Alliance (CMA) Church as boxes of toys and gifts come into the building for Operation Christmas Child (OCC).
The program is run by Samaritan’s Purse, an evangelical Christian humanitarian aid organization, runs OCC and it does so through a network of churches around the country like CMA Church of Morgantown. Shoeboxes are filled with gifts and then sent all around the world to children 2-14 years old.
“Operation Christmas Child is a way to reach beyond our local community and extend the gospel message and the love of Christ to distant parts of the world through a very practical, hands-on kind of gift that can be given that also comes with the truth of the gospel message,” Church Pastor Brent Liberda said. “And so, it’s part of our mission’s outreach as a church; and that we are able to partner with this organization and impact not just children with a box with gifts in it, but whole families and in fact, entire communities in these foreign countries.”
Liberda’s co-pastor, Roy Baker, said there is an “excitement” every year in the church as the Christmas season approaches and people start filling shoeboxes with toys and gifts.
“I think perhaps OCC does more for our church than we do for OCC,” Baker said. “Because in a self-absorbed world that we live in, we can easily lose track of opportunities to focus on others. And so, OCC gives us a chance to think about other things that are happening in the world and participate in those things.”
Liberda has personally seen how much each shoebox can benefit a community. He said he spent some time in Eastern Asia, in Mongolia specifically.
He worked in the capital Ulan Baatar and another major city, Darkhan. Along with other missionaries, he was in charge of assisting churches to receive the shoebox gifts and setup outreach opportunities in the local community.
Liberda said he and others were able to see two big impacts on the communities receiving the shoeboxes.
“One was just very obvious and immediate, just this look of joy on children’s faces when they opened those boxes,” Liberda said. “We’re talking about children in areas with poverty, such as does not exist here in the United States. And, to get even just a little stuffed animal and these little one-dollar toys from Dollar Tree or whatever were just tremendous, tremendously valuable to those children. And the second real impact was that through Operation Christmas Child, we and the churches we worked with, the Christian believers, were able to communicate what Christmas is about in a place where Christmas doesn’t exist.”
The OCC Church Relations Coordinator, Paula Keplinger, agreed with Pastors Liberda and Baker and also said the program is a two-way street.
“The children are getting blessed as Pastor Brent had already said,” Keplinger said. “But also, the people that are packing the shoebox, donors, often find that they themselves are opening up new spiritual avenues in their life for God to work and so it’s sort of a two-way street.”
Keplinger said they are “obeying what the Bible directs us to do in the Great Commission“.
So far, she said, OCC has visited more than 150 countries and delivered the boxes and the stories are “poignant and heartwarming”.
“National Collection Week is November 15-22 this year,” Keplinger said. “It’s always the third week of November and this church, which is the central drop-off area for the Morgantown, will be a beehive of activity. It will be incredible how much is going on and how many boxes are coming in and it’s just like — it’s a celebration. It’s really great to see all this activity. It’s energizing and it’s uplifting.”
Once gifts are collected in the third week of November, Keplinger said they are transported to an even bigger collection site, which is out of state. There, everything is processed to make sure they are OCC and U.S. Customs compliant. Finally, all shoeboxes are sent to countries around the world.
If you would like to get involved this year, you can.
You can contact CMA Church directly, or you can go online to learn more, Keplinger said.
“If you go to samaritanspurse.org/OCC, you’ll get all the information you need about contacting people in your local area,” she said. “And, I would be in contact with those people and we always welcome more participation. Because it’s just a win-win situation. It’s great for the donors. It’s great for the recipients. It’s a blessing for all the people in between to see the mighty way in which God can work through this ministry.”
Here is a list of all the drop-off locations in the Morgantown and Bridgeport/Clarksburg areas.