(Photo: Samaritan's Purse)
Volunteers from around the world are joining Franklin Graham and his organization Samaritan's Purse on Saturday in Orlando to celebrate a major milestone for Operation Christmas Child – reaching 100 million children in need with gift-filled shoe boxes since 1993.
Graham, the son of renowned evangelist Billy Graham, told The Christian Post on Monday that he really didn't have a "vision" to help children globally by delivering shoe boxes filled with gifts.
"It was just one guy who gave me a call 20 years ago and he said, 'I'm taking some gifts over to Bosnia. Do you want to help me?' I said sure," Graham explained.
Churches helped to fill more than 11,000 boxes with toys, candy, wool hats, and gloves. The boxes went to children in refugee camps in Bosnia. Many of them had lost their parents and their homes and had no place to go, he said.
"I saw how much hope that one of these boxes gave and I just thought to myself, 'Maybe we ought to do this again next year. Twenty years later and 100 million boxes later, and over 110 countries later, we are still doing it," Graham said.
The OCC program became even more successful when Samaritan's Purse decided to make the project an evangelistic effort, he said.
"We want to try to reach these kids for Christ and we want to work with the local churches when we do the distribution," he continued. "When we leave, the churches are still there, so working with those churches has been the key. It has been a great tool. God has used it. God has blessed it."
Each year, OCC encourages people to fill shoe boxes with toys, school supplies and hygiene items and drop them off at local collection points during National Collection Week in November. The shoe box gifts are then hand-delivered to children in need in more than 100 countries. For many of these kids, the shoe box is the first gift they have ever received.
On Saturday, people are invited to join OCC for a celebration concert at the Orange County Convention Center in Orlando. "100 Million Reasons to Celebrate" features music from three-time Grammy Award winner Michael W. Smith, Grammy nominee Matthew West, country and bluegrass legend Ricky Skaggs, along with Dennis Agajanian, the Tommy Coomes Band and the African Children's Choir.
"I don't think you reach milestones like this and not pause to say thank you to God," Graham said. "That's what this is all about. It's about thanking Him and praising Him, and allowing other people in to be participating and be a part of it."
He was asked by CP to talk about one of his favorite personal stories about OCC.
"I remember this one girl. She was a refugee who lived in an orphanage in Russia and she prayed for a pair of shoes – she didn't have a pair of shoes," he said. "Now, these shoe boxes that we send out don't have shoes in them. They have toys in them, they have gifts in them. In 100 million boxes I have never seen a pair of shoes. The box that this little girl received had a pair of shoes, and not only did she get a pair of shoes but they were shoes that fit her. That's just a God thing."
He added, "These kids who have nothing and to give them a gift in Jesus name means everything in the world to them."
Graham explained that one of the byproducts of OCC is the discipleship program offered to children through the ministry called "The Greatest Journey."
"We already have close to two million kids that are signed up right now that are involved in a 12-week Bible study program through their local churches in their country," he said. "We're wanting to raise up an army of young kids who have been trained, who know how to witness, who can share their faith.
"We live in such a secularized world today. We also live where in many parts of the world, churches are under attack. Christians are being persecuted and most Muslim countries around the world now are openly persecuting the Church. We hope that we can raise up an army of young men and women who will take a stand for Christ in these last days," he said.
More information about "100 Million Reasons to Celebrate," including purchasing tickets, can be found online at www.SamaritansPurse.org. Discounts are offered for church leaders and church groups interested in participating.