At face value, your Operation Christmas Child shoebox may just be a cardboard carton filled with toys, soap, and stickers, but 7 days in Cambodia has shown me it’s really so much more.
My week in Cambodia was spent learning about the work of Samaritan’s Purse and how it impacts the lives of children for the better.
After flying into Phnom Penh, our first excursion was to visit Toul Sleng (or S21), and The Killing Fields. Situated in Phnom Penh city and surrounds, these sites are amongst hundreds across the country where up to 3 million Cambodia’s were tortured, sentenced, and executed as part of Pol Pot’s Khmer Rouge regime.
As we walked around the sites, looking at the faded black and white images of the faces of the slain, touching the corroded locks of the make-shift mini cells they occupied, you could sense the reality of the loss – the pain it caused the nation, and the deep tragedy it marked in their history.
Horrifying Regime That Destroyed A Generation
Normally when we speak of such times we think of a ‘bygone era’ a ‘time when’, and there’s a distance between us and the stories we tell. For Cambodia though, this story is still very much being written, and it’s part of the reason why the country finds itself in a multilayered state of poverty.
At its height in 1974-79, the Khmer Rouge was killing off all the intellectuals, the educated, and anyone who held opposing political or religious views to Pol Pot. His desire was to take Cambodia back to “year zero” – to start over. What he did though was create a country with no teachers to educate its children, and no doctors to cure its sick.
As he took the trust of a war-weary generation and invested their hopes for change into a system of abuse, he made his intentions known, declaring to his victims that “To keep you is no gain, and to lose you is no loss.”
Admittedly it’s hard to transfer the feeling this statement gave, as I stood before mass graves where over 550 people were discovered, naked, beaten, and at times – headless.
A Nation Still Rebuilding
What comes over you is a deep realisation that within the fibre of Cambodia and sown into the psyche of its people, is a ruthless hellish abandonment of the value of people.
It makes you angry. It made me angry. Upset, confused, horrified, and altogether overwhelmed to look at the very tree where skulls of babies were crushed as this dictator mercilessly executed his plans.
It wasn’t until 1998 when Pol Pot finally died (as an old man of natural causes), that his immediate hold on Cambodia was over, and the process could begin for the people to rebuild.
That’s only 15 years ago at the time of writing.
Now in these early stages of redevelopment, Samaritans Purse are carrying out a number of projects that provide resources to cover basic needs, as well as connect to a vision of the future where Cambodia is a thriving multi-skilled country with a sustainable economy, built on strong families and a knowledge of Christ.
Operation Christmas Child: Bringing Hope And Healing
At the core of the Samaritan’s Purse work in Cambodia is Operation Christmas Child.
Established in 1990, it was David and Jill Cooke of Wrexham, Wales that came up with the idea. As they watched a broadcast on orphanages in Romania they were compelled to find a way to help the war-forsaken children. They knew they “couldn’t stop the wars, but they could offer something – the gift of love,” and subsequently they headed into the country with a convoy of 9 trucks, full of medical supplies, food, clothing, and Christmas gifts.
In 1993 Samaritans Purse adopted this idea, and has now delivered more than 100 million shoeboxes to over 135 countries, donated by individuals like you.
Today in Cambodia this gives us an opportunity to re-define a child’s perception of love and significance. With your shoebox you are acknowledging the value and purpose that God has placed on their lives, and as their parents and grandparents look on, you are declaring to the generation old enough to remember, that while one man and his regime didn’t love your family or care for your future, you do, and God does.
By giving a shoebox filled with gifts to Operation Christmas Child, you are sowing into the rebuilding of a great nation, and the people of indescribable resilience and passion that inhabit it.
Whether your box lands in Cambodia or one of the other 134 countries, you send with it the simplicity of the gospel message – a Father who offers grace undeserved and love freely given. So, this Christmas, I hope you do decide to give a shoebox. Not just because your emotions and compassion compel you, but because you understand just what a gift you’re really giving.