Like many Anderson University students, Nour Sadek views Operation Christmas Child (OCC) as a fun opportunity to buy Christmas presents for children in other countries and send them in shoeboxes during the holiday season. However, Sadek’s experience with OCC is unlike most: she once received her very own shoebox as a child while living in Lebanon.
Samaritan’s Purse has run the program since 1993 as an international effort to send presents to children as a tangible demonstration of God’s love. Last year, the OCC program sent 8 million shoeboxes around the globe.
Sadek grew up in Lebanon. With a population of four million people and roughly 40 major political parties, it is often the setting of tension and conflict caused by religious and political divisions. This has led to two civil wars within the past 40 years, the most recent beginning in 2006.
Sadek lived in Beirut, the nation’s capital, and attended the Greater Beirut Evangelical School where she first received a shoebox.
During third grade, Sadek’s teacher asked the students to form a line and walk behind her to the other side of the building. Partway through the line, Sadek noticed her friends walking back to the classroom with shoeboxes.
“I couldn't wait to get mine,” said Sadek. “Back in the classroom, the energy and enthusiasm filled the air. I was comparing my slender green and red box to my best friend's huge box. I thought nothing worthwhile could be in my box.”
Sadek quickly opened her box to discover Smarties, a popular pastel-colored candy in the United States that was unfamiliar in Lebanon. The best gift, however, was a navy blue vest.
“I looked through my photo album to reminisce and that vest showed up a few times,” said Sadek. “In third grade, I was ecstatic to receive a Christmas gift for its material value. As a senior in college, I realize the joy that was shared at that moment.”
Within Sadek’s first week as a freshman at AU, she met Joanna Tilley, who is now a senior and leads OCC for the university. Like Sadek, Tilley learned about OCC in elementary school, but as a gift sender rather than receiver.
“I filled two boxes in the fourth grade, and then I got addicted,” said Tilley. “I have about 70 letters from kids I sent shoeboxes to all stored in a notebook. I'm actually in contact with a girl I sent a box to in middle school. She found me on Facebook a year ago.”
Tilley organizes a shoebox drive on campus in November each year, and the boxes are sent around the world in time for Christmas. This year, AU students prepared and sent 283 shoeboxes filled with candy, hygiene items, toys, and personal letters to the children.
“There has been an awesome student response,” said Tilley. “The student body has been really involved, and it’s been a lot of fun. I’m looking for a successor now, but I feel really privileged to have this position and know that it’s making a huge impact around the world.”
OCC is also making an impact on the AU campus.
“I was so excited the day I received a letter from a little girl in Latvia who got a shoebox from me for Christmas,” said junior Bethany Clayton. “We're even friends on Skype now!”
Clayton learned about OCC her freshman year at AU from Tilley and has encouraged many on campus to get involved in with the program.
“One of Joanna’s stories about seeing a child receive a shoebox gave me goose bumps and almost led me to tears my freshman year,” said Clayton. “I've respected this organization and her implementation of it on our campus ever since.”
As a university engaging in many charitable and international services, it is easy to overlook programs like OCC as fun activities with little global impact.
Sadek, however, provides living testimony this is not the case:
“In the end, packing a shoebox might seem like a fun floor event or maybe an impersonal act where you don't get to meet the recipient," she said, "but you might just be sending it to a child who makes it to college and tells their story of how you changed their life.”
— Kelly Frye is a junior from Elkhart, Ind., majoring in biology and communication arts. Frye is an associate with Fifth Street Communications™, writing on behalf of Anderson University Office of University Communications.
Anderson University is a private Christian university of 2,700 undergraduate and graduate students in central Indiana. Anderson continues to be recognized as a top Christian college: in 2009, U.S. News and World Report ranked Anderson University among the best colleges and universities in the Midwest for the sixth consecutive year. Established in 1917 by the Church of God, Anderson University offers more than 65 undergraduate majors and graduate programs in business, education, music, nursing and theology.