Celebrating 50 Million Children Discipled

November 29, 2023 • Worldwide
These girls from Haiti are among the 50 million children discipled by Samaritan’s Purse since 1993.

Operation Christmas Child praises God for 50 million children discipled since 1993.

The Greatest Journey

“Let the little children come to Me, and do not forbid them; for of such is the kingdom of God” (Mark 10:14).

Children are precious to God. The Bible tells us that “children are a gift of the LORD” (Psalm 127:3) and that we are responsible to train them up “in the way [they] should go” (Proverbs 22:6). The mission of Operation Christmas Child and The Greatest Journey is to help fulfill the Great Commission by sharing the Good News of Jesus Christ with children around the world and then discipling them—teaching them how to follow Christ and how to share Him with others. “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations.” (Matthew 28:19).

Since Operation Christmas Child began in 1993, we praise God that over 50 million boys and girls have been discipled through the Samaritan’s Purse program.

“What a blessing it is when people come to Christ as children. But how can they hear this message without someone to tell them?”—Franklin Graham

These excited children in the Philippines are among 2.5 million boys and girls in the nation to enroll in the 12-lesson discipleship course.

“In Acts chapter 1, Jesus gives us the Great Commission to be His witnesses and to go to the ends of the earth, and we’re a part of that,” said Jim Harrelson, vice president of Operation Christmas Child. “What a privilege and opportunity it truly is to be a part of this worldwide movement. We’re fulfilling Scripture and that’s powerful.”

The Greatest Journey Begins

Prior to The Greatest Journey course, children receiving Operation Christmas Child shoeboxes could be discipled through The Mailbox Club. Over 10 million children in 60 countries graduated from the program. But Franklin Graham saw the need for a Bible study program for children that would take them even deeper into God’s Word and focus on evangelism, discipleship, and personal evangelism. The result was The Greatest Journey—a 12-lesson discipleship course created for shoebox gift recipients—that launched in Ecuador in 2009.

“Through The Greatest Journey children get to know Jesus, they grow in Christ, and then they share the love of Christ with others. And that’s when multiplication happens,” said Maribel Pumisacho, an Operation Christmas Child international field representative for South America. “During the time we’ve had The Greatest Journey in Ecuador, God has allowed us to see many transformations in the lives of church leaders. Many pastors didn’t see children as an important part of the church. But now children are very important in the life of the church. In many places, because there weren’t trained leaders, churches were closed. Through The Greatest Journey we’ve been able to see churches reopened.”

  • Chief Operating Officer Edward Graham and his wife, Kristy, congratulate graduates of The Greatest Journey in Ecuador.

In 2010, the course was translated into Spanish and distributed throughout Latin America, followed by a gradual phase-in of the discipleship materials in other receiving countries. By 2013, more than 40 thousand volunteer teachers were teaching over 1 million boys and girls in 85 countries in 72 languages. Today, there are 1.7 million trained teachers in 115 countries, and the course is offered in 89 languages. More than 35 million children have enrolled in The Greatest Journey since 2009, with 17.4 million of them accepting Christ as their Lord and Savior.

An Incredible Program

Cissie Graham Lynch saw the impact of The Greatest Journey firsthand when she taught a class in Guyana.

“The Greatest Journey is such an incredible program,” Cissie said. “Working through the local church, like Samaritan’s Purse has always done, gives pastors a way to reach children through the literature that follows the shoeboxes. This is the long-term spiritual effect Operation Christmas Child is having on these communities and on the young generation.”

But it’s not only the lives of boys and girls that are being changed. Many adults are coming to faith in Christ, too, and being discipled.

  • In Guyana, Cissie Graham Lynch witnessed firsthand how God uses The Greatest Journey discipleship program to transform children’s lives.

“Year after year we hear that The Greatest Journey is having an impact not only on children but their parents,” Franklin Graham said. “When moms and dads see the change in their children’s lives, they have to consider why. The answer lies within the pages of The Greatest Journey, which points students to the Bible.”

One of those students is Ravi, who gave his life to the Lord while attending The Greatest Journey in Fiji. Ravi lived with his grandmother and grandfather, a tribal priest and the village witch doctor, and began sharing his newfound faith with them—and they both gave their lives to Christ! The grandfather not only gave up his occult practices, he persuaded a local pastor to start a church in his home. Stories like Ravi and his grandparents are common. We’re seeing God transform whole families and communities through the powerful teaching of His Word.

Passionate About Discipleship

Yolanda Crouch, Operation Christmas Child regional manager for Southeast Asia, is passionate about discipleship. She said that Jesus called us to make disciples, not just converts.

“When a child receives a shoebox gift and responds in faith to the Gospel, he or she is born again,” Yolanda said. “But it’s very difficult for a child to grow in Christ if they are not discipled. That’s why The Greatest Journey is so important.”

  • In Togo, a participant in The Greatest Journey shares lessons with his friends in 2018.

Another strength of The Greatest Journey, according to a South Asia staff member,* is the army of teachers that Samaritan’s Purse trains. “We are equipping and empowering Greatest Journey teachers all over the world to be able to go out and reach more children with the Gospel and disciple them,” she said. “Many Christians have a passion to teach, but they lack resources. Through The Greatest Journey, we are providing not only the materials but the training, too. And that has an eternal impact.”

Tiana Morel, regional manager for Southern Africa, agrees. “We need to get more people to understand that Operation Christmas Child is not just about shoeboxes,” she said. “It’s about evangelism. It’s about discipleship. It’s about the multiplication of the Gospel.”

One Among Many

One girl* in the Middle East knows that firsthand. In the slums of her city, she attended an Operation Christmas Child outreach event where she received a gift-filled shoebox. Brimming with toys such as a stuffed clownfish, a puzzle, a pen, and a stuffed cat dressed in purple overalls, the gift from someone far away delighted her heart. It meant so much to her that now, seven years later, she still has the shoebox with all the gifts intact.

“The thing I liked most from the box was this cat called Bundle,” she said. “I love it very much.”

But Bundle was far from the most important gift she received that day. She also learned about God’s free gift of salvation at the outreach event, and it prompted her to make a significant decision.

“When I accepted Christ, it changed my whole life,” she said.

  • Graduates of The Greatest Journey in the country of Georgia celebrate in 2014.

The girl went on to participate in follow-up discipleship lessons where she learned about how to follow her newfound Savior and share Him with others by studying 12 Bible stories including creation as well as Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection. She said, “Each lesson, I actually learned something new about God.”

Now seven years later, this girl teaches these same discipleship lessons to other shoebox recipients at her church. She does so because she desires others to have the same input in their lives as she received and called, “Wonderful!”

50 Million Ambassadors for Christ

Neville Ramkissoon, a logistics coordinator in Guyana, summed up the importance and impact of 50 million discipled children. “A lot of children in Guyana who were discipled through The Greatest Journey are now leaders in their churches and are discipling other boys and girls. They are reaching their generation and the next generation for Christ,” he said. “The gift boxes give us the opportunity to share the Gospel. But discipleship through The Greatest Journey is what is going to take these children through life and make them ambassadors for God’s Kingdom. And now we have over 50 million of them!”

To God be the glory!

A boy in South Sudan celebrates his graduation from The Greatest Journey, something that 107,000 other children in his nation have accomplished.

*Name withheld for security reasons.

Therefore pray the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into His harvest.(Matthew 9:37-38). God is answering those prayers through The Greatest Journey, the discipleship program Samaritan’s Purse offers for boys and girls who receive shoebox gifts through Operation Christmas Child. We train teachers and supply local churches with everything they need—including Bibles for graduates. Through The Greatest Journey, over 3.8 million children have prayed to receive Jesus Christ as their Savior, and 4.2 million have promised to prayerfully share the Gospel with friends and family.
The Greatest Journey Jesus reminds us that the Kingdom of God is filled with people who have childlike faith. “Let the little children come to Me, and do not forbid them; for of such is the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 19:14). We praise God that more than 17 million children have made decisions for Christ through The Greatest Journey. When they graduate, we present them with the New Testament in their own language so they can continue to grow in their faith and share Jesus with friends and family members. Your gift of $6 per child will enable us to train local volunteer teachers and provide all the materials for the 12-lesson course, including the graduation Bibles.

The Greatest Journey 013943
Suggested Gift: $6, or $6,000 for a thousand children