It’s About Sharing God’s Love with Children

November 3, 2023 • United States

A Southwest school district focuses on the true point of packing shoeboxes and sees their involvement blossom. Learn lessons on how groups can come together around this project.

Operation Christmas Child

For more than 20 years, the Pacific Southwest District of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod has been packing shoebox gifts for children in need around the world. But, almost 10 years ago, they took their involvement with Operation Christmas Child to new heights, packing thousands of boxes each year through their association of schools across California, Arizona, and Nevada.

Humanly speaking, a significant catalyst for this growth was Kimberly Hahn, then a theology teacher at Orange Lutheran High School in Orange, California. But both Hahn and her district leadership acknowledge, however, that the true reason for the increased activity occurred as the hearts of staffers and students were ignited by the basic goal of this Samaritan’s Purse project: sharing God’s love with children.

“It’s a tangible expression of sharing Jesus’ love,” said Rachel Klitzing, executive director for school ministries for the Pacific Southwest District.

  • Students and staff at Orange Lutheran High School pause to pray for the children who will receive the shoeboxes they have packed.

Hahn, who today serves as director of operations for Orange Lutheran High School, further explains, as though speaking to shoebox recipients: “This gift is something we would like to share with you because we know who God is … and we know how much Jesus loves you. People who are also loved by Jesus around the world want you to know how much He loves you, too.”

She and other Orange Lutheran staff members saw how these boxes filled with toys and other fun items open doors for ministry partners around the world to share God’s love. That awareness was a pivotal beginning for the school’s involvement.

Hahn said, “Let’s start with ‘God created the heavens and the earth.’ Let’s start with ‘He loved you so much He sent His only Son.’ Let’s start with ‘He loved you so much that He paid for your sins. He has restored and redeemed you, and He wants to spend all of eternity with you in Heaven.’ And this is how it happens. It’s not up to you. It’s up to something that’s completely outside of you that has already been taken care of.

“When we started talking about that, it really started to roll.”

Expanding the Vision

The Orange Lutheran basketball and volleyball teams started packing shoeboxes together and other smaller groups on campus joined in.

Hahn, however, had a bigger vision to get the whole school involved with packing boxes. It wasn’t long before the school’s leadership decided to make it the focus of their annual Nov. service day. They invited their community to join them and people started donating items to fill shoeboxes.

“By 2019, we were managing the delivery of 25 pallets the day before service day. [That includes] all the things that were donated to pack shoeboxes,” Hahn said.

Excited about what God was doing at their high school, Hahn pitched the idea to other principals throughout Orange County.

  • Packing shoeboxes has become a schoolwide activity for Orange Lutheran High School.

“She reached out to them and shared some opportunities,” said Tim Detviler, campus pastor at Orange Lutheran High School. “She said, ‘We’ll do this all together, all for the purpose of sharing the Gospel of Jesus Christ with children throughout the world.’”

Before long, the wave of involvement stretched beyond the Orange County Lutheran Schools to schools throughout California, Arizona, and Nevada.

“We actually had all the Lutheran schools in the Pacific Southwest District participating in the shoeboxes and in Operation Christmas Child,” said Kristin Fink, assistant principal at St. Paul’s Lutheran School, also in Orange. “So, we were able to talk amongst each other, help each other out, and encourage one another.”

Finding Unity in Service

As the nearly 150 schools in the Pacific Southwest District got more involved in packing shoeboxes, they discovered that it provided added benefits for each student body.

“It gets kids of all ages involved,” said Klitzing.

Hahn agrees. “We haven’t had a lot of projects where we get to serve together. It’s hard to pull together preschool, a third grader, a seventh grader, and high school kids. Students are involved in a lot of different things. They’re involved in sports, dance classes, youth clubs, and there’s not a lot of crossover, because many of those things are determined by age.

“Operation Christmas Child was not determined by age. Operation Christmas Child was everyone coming together as a body of Christ in unity. … And that was the beauty of it. It brought kids together to serve other kids.”

Detviler also observed how important this service opportunity is for older students in particular.

  • Orange Lutheran High School Campus Pastor Tim Detviler believes that packing shoeboxes helps teenagers see that God can use them no matter their age.

“It is important that we help teenagers see that God can use them,” Detviler said. “Sometimes, in our culture, our teenagers feel as if they’re not in a place where they can actually touch somebody’s life. It’s important to raise them up and to encourage them that God uses whatever He chooses. Your age doesn’t matter. God can use you to share His love, His grace, His mercy in Christ Jesus with another person.”

Orange Lutheran High School students are having that level of influence simply by packing shoeboxes for children in need around the world.

Watching It Grow

Hahn encourages schools or groups who want to ramp up their Operation Christmas Child involvement to throw out any preconceived ideas of what the project needs to look like. Then, spread the word broadly.

“Ask everyone to participate. Ask grandparents to participate. Ask everybody to bring their kids. Ask people to donate things,” she said. “Do it small and watch it grow, because when we started, we had no idea that God would do what he did through us.

“I think the key to all of it is that it’s not about you. If you do that, buckle up, because he’s going to do something amazing. He did for us. It terrified us every year, and we were so grateful.”

  • The opportunity to be involved in Operation Christmas Child helps students at Christ Lutheran School in Rancho Palos Verdes, California, be little evangelists to their families, and the children delight in bringing their packed gifts to the school.

Klitzing added that Operation Christmas Child makes it easy to participate with the all the resources available for schools and groups.

Blessing Through ‘One More Thing’

Principal Jackson Thiesfeldt at St. Paul’s Lutheran in Orange speculated that many principals and others leaders may feel like they can’t add one more thing to their already full agendas.

“I would suggest that Operation Christmas Child is one more thing that could be one of the most impactful things that you do,” he said. “I find it to be something that kids remember. They remember the whole process of it, going to the store with mom and dad and picking out gifts. So, I think if anybody wanted to find a great mission opportunity that really connects their families and kids together with each other and with a purpose, I would certainly suggest that they look into doing Operation Christmas Child boxes. We’ve just found it to be such a blessing for our school community.”

Principal Jackson Thiesfeldt and his daughter Kendall look forward to packing shoeboxes together every year.

Seeing the Urgency of the Task

Klitzing believes there’s no time to wait to bless children in need.

“Get involved! Jesus said, ‘Let the children come’ (Mark 10:14), and this is a way that, with God’s help, we can make an impact in the lives of children around the world who don’t yet know Jesus. We’ve got to do everything we can. This is a simple and effective way to get your children involved in loving God, loving others.”

The growth in shoebox packing that happened in the Pacific Southwest District can be replicated.

“Just pack the box,” Hahn said. “Pray over it, pack it, and know that God is faithful. There’s really nothing else to it.”

  • Students at St. Paul’s Lutheran School take a special interest in shoebox packing.

Help us celebrate 30 years of Operation Christmas Child! Learn how to pack a shoebox to be ready for National Collection Week, Nov. 13-20 when more than 4,500 drop-off locations are open across the country.

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