Delivering Grace

November 1, 2023 • United States

A Lutheran school district packs Operation Christmas Child shoebox gifts for children in need and sees their own students and families transformed.

Operation Christmas Child

“We want to help make disciples. We want kids to know that they are loved by the creator of the universe. We want kids to know that Jesus died for their sins and they did nothing to deserve it. It’s unconditional.”

Kimberly Hahn, director of operations at Orange Lutheran High School in California, overflows when she talks about the heart behind her school’s involvement with Operation Christmas Child.

“Lutherans are a lot about grace. The joy of receiving a gift can help a child understand what grace is,” she goes on. “So, the way we talked about it together was, ‘Let’s deliver grace—an undeserved, unearned gift that is free and unconditional.’”

It’s a life-changing message for every child who packs and every child who receives a shoebox gift. They all need to know and understand the free gift of salvation in the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

  • Students at St. Paul’s Lutheran School bring in the shoebox gifts they packed with their families.

Kimberly’s school is one of 149 schools across California, Arizona, and Nevada, who are part of the Pacific Southwest District of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod. They’ve packed tens of thousands of gift-filled shoeboxes for children in need around the world in recent years.

“It’s not about the number as much as it’s about the impact for the kingdom that it’s making,” said Jackson Thiesfeldt, principal of St. Paul’s Lutheran School also in Orange, California, reflecting on the day each year in chapel that his kindergarten to eighth grade students bring in their packed shoebox gifts.

Communicating the Gospel

Connor Boburka, a seventh grader and member of the basketball team at St. Paul’s, sees clearly how God can use the sports equipment he loves to pack in shoebox gifts. “This is God’s love through me. He’s using me as a disciple of God by spreading His love to places I don’t even know where it’s going. It could be going to Africa, Asia, or anywhere around the world.”

His advice for people who have never packed shoeboxes before? “Just make sure you spread the love of Jesus in your shoeboxes. Don’t put just stuff that costs 99 cents. Spend a little bit of your money just to help a kid.”

Connor Boburka (front row, center) sees that packing shoeboxes helps he and his classmates be disciples of God.

Rylie Ruiz, an eighth grader at Christ Lutheran School in Rancho Palos Verdes, California, explains why that is important: “When I’m packing a shoebox, I remember that the message of Christ is inside, so I’m trying to make it special.” Her favorite way to do that is to pack everything in her shoebox gift for a girl the same color—pink!

No matter what they put in their shoeboxes, students at Orange Lutheran High School are humbled by the reality that the shoebox gift communicates the Gospel of Jesus Christ to a child.

“It really stuck with the kids that they could be creating something that is going to point to salvation for another child. And that’s kind of a big responsibility,” said Rachel Eklund, who served in leadership of student activities at Orange Lutheran High School for 20 years and helped facilitate the packing of many shoebox gifts. “I think that they, even though they’re teenagers, they were able to understand the importance of what they were doing.”

Equipping Students to Think Broader

Harry Bagramian Jr., a senior who serves as co-president of Orange Lutheran High School’s student body, said it is important to think beyond one’s self for a moment, to consider a child on the other side of the world. What’s their life like? What are their fears? What are their hopes and dreams?

“It’s cool because we are spreading the Word of God,” he said. “At this school, that’s our biggest mission to spread the Word of Christ, so it’s cool to see how it ties all the way across the world through these boxes to the kids, too.”

Ashley Klitzing, the art teacher at St. Paul’s and a parent of shoebox packers, also appreciates how much shoebox packing helps children concentrate on others.

  • Harry Bagramian Jr, co-president of Orange Lutheran High Schools student body, labels some shoebox gifts that will help spread the Word of God.

“It gets them to think outside of themselves and outside of their bubble,” she said. “A lot of times, they’ve been shocked that kids would need things like toothbrushes and socks and basic necessities that they take for granted. That’s been really cool for them to realize that they can bless other kids in other places with simple things.”

Another parent of shoebox packers and assistant principal at Christ Lutheran School, Samantha Fulton, notes how good it is for her children to realize others are in need.

“There are children in other parts of the world that don’t have this blessed life,” she said. “We use shoebox gifts to teach our kids to be thankful for what they have.”

Understanding and Giving the Gospel

For students who do not know the Lord yet, packing shoebox gifts can bring them face-to-face with the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

“It thrilled me to know that some of the kids that were packing boxes didn’t really know Jesus’ love yet,” said Hahn, who formerly served as a theology teacher at the school before assuming her current role. As they worked to deliver grace to children around the world, it’s exciting to know that some students encountered it themselves for the first time.

  • Thanks to their schools’ involvement with Operation Christmas Child, families are encouraged to pack shoeboxes together. Tae Cooley (center) spent his 13th birthday filling boxes with toys and school supplies for children in need.

Eklund sees how shoebox gifts also help students overcome fears of evangelism.

“What a great way for a student to casually be able to share their faith,” Eklund said. “Whether it’s packing the box or then telling a friend about what they did in school that day. … It opens the door for them to share their faith in a way that’s not as scary.”

This evangelism is also happening as younger students bring home an empty shoebox and tell their parents about the opportunity to bless a child overseas. This simple opportunity for generosity helps unbelieving families hear about the Good News.

Principal Charlene Soon (center) gathers Christ Lutheran students to pray over the shoeboxes they packed.

Christ Lutheran School Principal Charlene Soon said, “When you start with the children—and we see it in the school—they’re the greatest ambassadors for Jesus. When Jesus touches their hearts, they’re right out there sharing it with their parents, their families, their uncles, their grandpas and grandmas. We’ve seen grandpas and grandmas and moms and dads come to faith through their children coming to Christ Lutheran.”

Assistant Principal Fulton explained further: “We have also seen families come and they didn’t have any faith, they didn’t know Jesus. Just through their children being here at our school, they’ve come to know the Lord. Now we see them in church on Sunday. We’ve seen whole families be baptized together.”

Your own Operation Christmas Child gifts can have a similar influence even before they bless a child in need overseas. So, don’t wait to pack shoeboxes! National Collection Week is coming Nov. 13-20 when over 4,500 drop-off locations will be open across the country to receive your gifts.

Even the youngest students at Christ Lutheran School get involved with packing shoeboxes for children in need overseas.

Operation Christmas Child Through Operation Christmas Child, Samaritan’s Purse is sharing the Good News of Jesus Christ with millions of boys and girls in more than 100 countries each year. Many of these children have never before received a present or heard the true meaning of Christmas—until they open a gift-filled shoebox from a person like you. Some people are not able to give the $10 per shoebox we request for shipping and related costs. By adopting a shoebox, you can partner with them to deliver the Gospel and help "bring salvation to the ends of the earth" (Acts 13:47, ESV).

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Adopt a Shoebox: $10 | Adopt a Carton of 15 Boxes: $150