No religious literature is in the shoeboxes
I respond to Charles Plummer's letter (signed Bath Humanists) last week about the dangers of Christmas shoeboxes' with all those 'evangelical strings attached.
There have been lots of rumours over recent years. Our church is a drop-off point and as a Christian minister I too am very concerned that the truth should be out there.
So I write to 'correct' what has been said by Mr Plummer, or at least to give a different perspective.
Operation Christmas Child makes it clear that no religious literature is to be included in the shoeboxes. Interestingly, they distribute these gifts at the other end not just through churches, but also a variety of schools, orphanages and other non-governmental organisations. But where they do work with partner churches locally they explain that these churches sometimes consider it right to give out Christian material alongside the shoeboxes.
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They say this in their leaflet, and actually show it happening on their promotional DVD – children in one place are shown with a Bible stories picture book given alongside the shoebox. None of this is hidden, although perhaps it has not been clear enough before.
The basic message I understand OCC want to communicate is that we can give, between races, nations, religions and do so freely. From the first it has been clear that OCC is a Christian organisation and, even without the giving of literature, this has long been understood by local recipients.
The root question then for parents, headteacher's etc. it seems to me is, do you wish to participate in an activity that comes across as Christian at the other end? For some the answer historically has broadly been yes – we don't mind partnering with a Christian organisation who wish to communicate love, and that the poorer people in our world are not forgotten.
The strongest sign of the love shown is the gift itself.
REV ROBERT PIMM Ascension Church Bath
I read Charles Plummer's letter about Christmas shoe boxes and his concerns with interest. Operation Christmas child is the world's largest children's Christ mas project, run by the Christian relief and development organisation, Samaritan's Purse, and brings a great deal of joy to children who would otherwise have no presents to open on Christmas Day.
It is a wonderful opportunity to share the Christian message of the love of God for the whole world – we are all sinners in need desperate need of a Saviour. Why is the world in such a mess? Sadly because it is Godless and materialistic, and we see the results of this in all areas of society in the UK. As we sow, we reap, and we are reaping a whirlwind.
God gave us the Bible, the handbook for life, and if we want our lives to be blest we need to follow the rules.
JULIE TROLLOPE Bath
It's taken several years to arrive, but a grudging admission is better than none at all.
The local organisers of Operation Christmas Child, Mr and Mrs Amphlet, finally acknowledge that proselytising literature is indeed given out alongside the shoeboxes donated by the kind people of Bath, and they direct us to the Samaritan's Purse UK website for more details.
Understandably, most British people would have a distaste for a cartoon leaflet that encourages poverty-striken four and five-year-old children to regard themselves as 'sinners', and hence we are told the distribution of the leaflet, and the follow-up Bible-study course, only occurs "where appropriate". However, the organisation's US website is significantly more open about its activities, and the organisation's founder, the delightful Pastor Franklin Graham tells us that every shoebox is used as an "evangelising opportunity".
While some may not have a problem with this, at the very least, it is incumbent upon the organisers to be honest about what the generosity of the people of Bath is being used for.
Samaritan's Purse UK has gone to great lengths to play down its association with Franklin Graham – with good reason: Pastor Graham is one of the shrillest voices of Christian fundamentalism in the USA, and regularly rails against people of other religions, homosexuals, and more or less anyone who doesn't share his personal crusade. He was amongst those demanding that President Obama "show proof" of his American citizenship.
CHARLES PLUMMER Bath Humanists St James Park, Bath
Editor's note: this correspondence is now closed.