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  • Baptist Beacon

Operation Christmas Child ministers to children in war-torn countries

by Garth Leno

Jasmina stood in the foyer of the beautifully decorated Pentecostal church in Belgrade where children from that fellowship and the Baptist church conducted eight performances of the Christmas play that was written for the occasion. Operation Christmas Child shoe boxes from Samaritan's Purse were made available through the magnanimous ministry of local missionaries. With a tear in her eye, Jasmina repeated, "Nothing brings them in like shoe boxes!"

The church was packed with 1,500 eager participants—mostly refugees—for each of the eight productions. Men, women and children from Bosnia, Croatia and Kosovo watched in hushed silence and sheer delight as the children from the two churches performed the play.

Strangers in a Foreign Land

It was the simple story of Jesus' birth. It was a profound demonstration of God's love. It was the transforming gospel in a child's play. The audience was full of doctors, farmers, professors, uneducated housewives, economists, writers, carpenters, and lawyers. Yet, they had one thing in common. They were all displaced people. Refugees. Strangers in a foreign land. Just like Jesus.

After each performance the children in the audience were invited to come forward to receive colorfully wrapped shoe boxes full of small gifts such as stuffed animals, candy, hygiene items, small toys, and school supplies—boxes that had been generously packed by Christians in Canada, the United States and the United Kingdom.

Every year pastors and planters throughout Michigan and Southwestern Ontario wonder aloud how their churches can celebrate Christmas in a way that makes a difference here and abroad. This is it!

In a special report, Samaritan’s Purse reported that in 2021 more than 9.1 million gift-filled shoeboxes were distributed to children in need all over the world at over 81,000 outreach events.

I worked for Samaritan’s Purse Canada from 1999-2003. I have seen the shoebox distributions in person. In Serbia, for example, I saw with my own eyes what years of ethnic animosity has done to the people and to the nation. I also witnessed the devastation in Kosovo. I saw the burned-out homes and businesses. I listened to the heartbreaking stories. Nothing seems to open the hearts of children and families in crisis quite like these simple shoeboxes.



Garth Leno lives in Windsor, Ontario, Canada, with his wife Patty. His daughter Jamie passed away and is with the Lord. Two more children, Nathan and Kristin, are married with families of their own. Garth is the senior pastor at The Gathering, which he planted with friends in 2014. He also is on the Send Network Canadian Advisory Board and serves as Pastor/Planter Care Specialist for the BSCM. He has a doctorate from Bethel Theological Seminary and loves to preach.


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