By John R. Schirmer
Local Operation Christmas Child volunteers received a first-hand report on the results of their work from area coordinator Carolyn Sparkman Sunday night at First Baptist Church of Nashville.
Sparkman was among those who distributed OCC gift boxes to children in Paraguay June 1-7. She showed pictures from the trip and discussed the children’s reactions to their gifts.
“The gospel is spread through Operation Christmas Child,” Sparkman said. “Seven to 10 people are reached by each box. When the kids get a box, they go home and tell their parents. When people see kids’ lives changed, they want to know why.”
Those who receive the boxes have the opportunity to attend “The Greatest Gift,” a 12-session study program covering Biblical passages from creation through Revelation. Children who complete the sessions have a graduation ceremony at which they receive certificate and a Bible in their language. “It’s special to them,” Sparkman said.
Paraguay is “a very beautiful place. We worked around Asuncion, the capital,” according to Sparkman.
The first stop was a school where children received OCC boxes. Sparkman showed pictures of some of the boys at the school playing marbles. “Put marbles in your shoe boxes,” she told the volunteers as they plan for 2016.
At the end of the school visit, students performed a native dance for the guests.
The second location was a Christian school with 258 students who “didn’t know they were getting the boxes. We passed out the gifts and told the kids not to open them. When they all got boxes and opened them, the roar in the room was deafening. Many had never had a gift in their entire life,” Sparkman said.
The third stop was a church “in a very poor area. Parents came when their kids were invited to the presentation” to be sure their children were safe. As a result, “The mothers heard the gospel, too.”
Next, the group visited a church housed in a building provided by the government. The church offered a feeding program for about 100 children, Sparkman said.
One day per month is set aside for birthdays. The children “didn’t know they would be getting shoebox gifts,” according to Sparkman.
The fifth location was at a church with 150-180 children. The OCC guests attended services that Sunday morning. “The pastor is an international worker for Christmas Child. He’s unpaid,” Sparkman said.
The final stop was a school in the “Red Zone. This is a high crime area. It’s surrounded by a concrete wall with jagged bottles, but we didn’t feel any danger,” Sparkman said.
The teacher “wanted the children to know that they are loved.”
Two interpreters accompanied the Americans during the week. They were college students “who got their college involved in Operation Christmas Child” following the experience, Sparkman said.
Traveling to other countries has led Sparkman to a deeper appreciation for what Americans have. “When I’m out of the country, I want to kiss the ground when I come home,” she said.
“We need to share with those who have so little. We’re sharing eternal things. I hope when I get to heaven, I’ll see some people who will say they are here because they received one of the boxes.”
Volunteers are preparing Operation Christmas Child boxes on a regular basis. Collection Week will begin Nov. 13.