A few weeks ago, my daughter came home from school waving a letter informing me that the school is ‘proud to be supporting the Operation Christmas Child project this year’. (The letter also says that they ‘have enjoyed huge success with OCC in the past, and were the school with the highest number of contributions in [our town] for several years!’ which I have to say puzzled me a little – my children have been there for the previous two Christmases and the school wasn’t doing Operation Christmas Child for either of those, so there’s obviously been a break in that support for some reason. Oh, well, that’s by-the-by.)
Operation Christmas Child, for anyone who hasn’t come across it, is a charity organisation that sends shoeboxes full of Christmas presents to impoverished children. Schools and other organisations get involved in collecting the presents (hence the letters the school sent home, inviting donations) and assembling them into boxes to send on to the organisation. The school my children previously attended also took part in this, and I happily bought small toys each year to donate, and felt passingly guilty about not having the time/organisational abilities/inclination to go to the lengths of making up an entire shoebox to pass on – it seemed like such a lovely cause.
What I didn’t realise, at the time, was that Samaritan’s Purse – the organisation running OCC – is an evangelical Christian programme that uses the present donations as opportunities to give out proselytising literature to children.
It’s not an accident that I didn’t realise it; despite this evangelism being central to OCC’s mission, the leaflets of theirs that were given out at the previous school didn’t mention it at all. This caginess, apparently, has been typical of OCC’s work. On that point, at least, they do appear to have improved somewhat; the leaflet the school sent home contains the following section on the inner page:
Operation Christmas Child is the world’s largest children’s Christmas project. Our mission is to demonstrate God’s love in a tangible way to needy children around the world, and together with the local church worldwide, to share the Good News of Jesus Christ. Where appropriate, with each shoebox our church partners may offer a booklet of Bible stories. With the consent of their parent or guardian, they may also invite children receiving shoeboxes to attend The Greatest Journey discipleship course, where they will learn about Jesus and how to share their faith with others.
While this is at least something, it’s still rather downplaying what it is they do; as you can see from the above links, those ‘booklets of Bible stories’ are in fact full-on evangelism. The design of the leaflet also means that that section isn’t all that obvious; it’s on a green background, meaning the black type doesn’t stand out all that much. Below it, the information that people reading the leaflet are actually going to be looking for – the suggestions for what to donate – are written as widely-spaced bullet points on a white background, making them stand out much more. Whether this is deliberate I don’t know, but the overall effect is that a busy parent skimming quickly through the leaflet looking for the instructions on what to do is very likely to miss the already-understated section on this group’s evangelical activities.
I’m uneasy at the fact that the school arranged this donation drive without explaining the group’s underlying religious mission; it does make me very suspicious that Samaritan’s Purse omitted that bit of explanation from their discussion with the school, and have made a supposedly multi-faith school into an unwitting vehicle for a very narrow religious message with which many of the parents will not agree. I debated over whether or not to let the school know what this group is about; the problem, of course, is that it’s hard to object to a charity that gives presents to deprived children without looking like the Grinch Who Stole Christmas. Eventually, rather inevitably, the combination of procrastination and other claims on my time made the decision for me and the appeal is now over for this year. But I do think I’ll drop them a line, giving them a heads-up as to what this group is all about just so that, if they decide to support it in subsequent years, they at least know what they’re supporting.
Meanwhile, I didn’t provide any donations. While I don’t want to be the killjoy who objects to brightening the Christmas of a child in need, I also don’t really want my money used to present a viewpoint with which I so vehemently disagree. There are plenty of good causes out there that don’t come with the evangelical strings attached.