By Gerald Harris
GAINESVILLE – During November and December there are countless noble and worthwhile ministries and charities that make an appeal for donations to support their work. Southern Baptists give to international missions through the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering.
Well over one hundred years ago, Lottie Moon, while serving in China, began writing letters challenging the American church to send and support additional missionaries. Her own life was one of hardship, responsibility and constant self-denial.
Disease, turmoil and lack of co-laborers threatened to undo Lottie’s work. But she gave herself completely to God, helping lay the foundation of what would become the modern Chinese church, one of the fastest growing Christian movements in the world.
Lottie Moon died at age 71– ill and in declining health after decades of ministering to her beloved Chinese. But her legacy lives on. And today, when gifts aren’t growing as quickly as the number of workers God is calling to the field, her call for sacrificial giving rings with more urgency than ever.
Another cause that rings clearly throughout the evangelical church during this season of the year is Samaritan’s Purse and its call for Christmas shoeboxes. Samaritan’s Purse was founded in 1970 by Bob Pierce, who developed a desire to meet emergency needs in crisis areas through existing evangelical mission agencies and national churches.
While on a university lecturing circuit in China, he stumbled across some courageous women who were living among lepers and orphans, sacrificing everything to share the love of Jesus Christ. Through their selfless love, God gave Pierce a vision for ministry; and in the summer of 1973, he met Franklin Graham, who also had a growing heart for world missions. Pierce and Graham traveled together to areas of the world where the needs were overwhelmingly critical, and people were in desperate need physically, materially, and spiritually.
Pierce died of leukemia in 1978 and a little over a year later, Graham became the president and chairman of the board of Samaritan’s Purse. Pierce had stated, “Let my heart be broken with the things that break the heart of God.” Pierce’s passion also captured the heart of Graham, who has expanded the Christmas shoebox distributions to include “The Greatest Gift,” a gospel story booklet Samaritan’s Purse developed for shoebox recipients.
Lakewood Baptist Church in Gainesville is one of hundreds of Baptist churches in Georgia participating in Samaritan’s Purse “Operation Christmas Child.” In fact, they are a collection site for Operation Christmas Child and gathered more than 23,500 shoeboxes filled with toys, hygiene items, and school supplies to be distributed to needy children around the world.
The total is more than last year,” said Lakewood’s senior pastor, Tom Smiley, “and the most important thing is these boxes are on their way to children who desperately need to hear the gospel and feel a sense of love.” Boxes are shipped outside the United States to children affected by war, poverty, natural disaster, famine, or disease, according to Franklin Graham’s Samaritan’s Purse.
“More than 60 volunteers loaded five trailers of shoeboxes. The project required dedicated, energetic volunteers who got the job done, and they did so well,” Jim Lee, who serves as Lakewood’s volunteer coordinator, said. “We are particularly grateful to many churches who partnered with us, especially Christ Church of Blackshear Place, First Baptist of Cornelia, and Westminster Presbyterian which contributed mightily to the collection.”
Pastor Smiley added, “This is a huge blessing of a noble ministry.”