Last year my friends and I engaged in a robust conversation on Facebook that you can read HERE regarding THIS post. (See also, THIS post, THIS post, and THIS post and THIS post I feel also apply, even though some aren’t directly talking about OCC) These posts focus on the western mindset and at times harmful consequences of the mass distribution of Christmas shoeboxes that we fill and ship this time of year.
These posts will challenge your everyday assumptions and they will expose the reality that we unintentionally miss at times when it comes to missions and our approach to it, especially this time of year.
I love what one author says about opening our minds and thoughts to new ideas from those who are on the ground and have given input… “it’s not something we should repent of, but learn from!”
So if you haven’t read them… dive in. Try to keep an open mind, and know that nobody is saying you’re only making this about you or that your church is wrong for collecting shoeboxes. It’s just saying… hey, there’s more to this than meets the eye and we need to talk about it and change our actions if we desire to be truly intentional, holistic and helpful to our missionaries overseas. These posts also don’t set out to discount any positive experiences one might have had with the shoeboxes.
I decided to list a few ways that one might still have just as much fun and yet have more intentionality in giving, as well as an ongoing relationship that can have a far more effective impact on missions. This isn’t exhaustive… but it’s five I came up with fairly quickly after listening to those who are serving in countries where these ideas might be more helpful long-term as well as helping them have a Christ-centered Christmas season.
- Find a family or a team on the ground in another country instead of going through a big company. (If you need contacts, see your church or I can point you in some good directions) Talk to them about what would help/what you could send/what they’re lacking to help people there. You can even use regular shoeboxes to fill, wrap and ship!! Then get a picture of them to hang on your fridge or feature in such a way that your family is reminded of them often. (And that way you can think of ways to bless them during other holidays or tough times as well)
- Pool your churches would be shoebox money (often that pile of boxes represents a TON of money!) and send a family in your church to spend Christmas/the holidays with a missionary family overseas. You can send them with lots of needed items and with funds to bless the family while they are over there. Many feel the weight of being away from home, family, and their church family, especially during the holidays.
- Pick a smaller organization doing local work that resonates with your heart (I.e. I personally love the org @shearlove who professionally trains women who have been victims of the sex industry how to be a hairdresser/makeup artist). Contact them and see what specific needs they have and if they have any wish lists for any wants or gift ideas.
- Have your church partner with a local overseas church and see what you can send and what monetary needs they have in order to have a Christ-centered Christmas season with their congregation and community! Skype with them during the Christmas Eve service!
- See what countries your local refugees/asylum seekers represent and where they are living (ideally some will be attending your church already) and find ways to celebrate Christmas in ways that introduce American traditions but also infuse and immerse their own countries traditions. Maybe bring several families a Christmas tree and decorations at the beginning of the season so to bring joy the whole month! (Sometimes having a joyful hope-cultivating environment is more important than an abundance of things during seasons of need or loneliness)
I’m sure there are many many more ways we can put our minds, hearts, and wallets together to come up with creative holiday giving ideas that have a long lasting and relationship building impact on the mission field and in our churches and families.
Again, a lot of people will strongly disagree with this idea of OCC being potentially harmful to those it is trying to serve. And that’s fine. I am not trying to rain on anyone’s parade or to say your church isn’t doing things right. My goal is just to gather information, provide some insight, and suggest some alternatives that might benefit everyone in holistic ways as we love widely and deeply this holiday season.