Rolla resident Janice Hartinger recently traveled to Zambia in Africa as part of a team of volunteers and Samaritan’s Purse staff members selected from across the United States to deliver shoe boxes full of gifts to African children.
The Operation Christmas Child Special Distribution Trip was a first-time event planned to allow year-round volunteers an opportunity to experience the wonder of delivering shoe box gifts.
“It was emotional and impacting to see the children receive and open the very boxes we receive and process through the Rolla Collection Center each year,” said Hartinger. “It totally validated why I believe in this project so much.”
Their first distribution was in the village of Chingola. More than 200 children anxiously awaited their arrival in a remote church which had no roof or windows, only walls. The poverty and sickness there was profound, Hartinger noted.
“These children were among the most subdued of all the children we visited. Imagine 200 children sitting quietly on a dirt floor unsure of why we had come to visit their village,” she said.
“We found taking individual pictures of each child brought them great joy and built trust. Many of the children had never seen their own image before. The pictures opened doors and aided us in distributing the boxes,” said Hartinger.
Another stop included a visit to the Children’s Hospital Arthur Division in Ndola. Many adults and children in Zambia suffer from AIDS/HIV.
Hartinger’s team had the opportunity to demonstrate the love of God to the more than 400 children who go there each day for treatment, nutritional supplements and more.
At the end of each day, many return to relatives, foster homes or adoptive homes, while others return to parentless homes where siblings raise siblings. More than 450 shoe box gifts were distributed at this site.
One of the shoe box recipients at the hospital came up to a volunteer with tears streaming down her cheeks. The little girl wanted to thank the volunteer for her gift. The volunteer told her to thank God. The little girl said she already had, but wanted to thank the volunteer too.
The child told the volunteer how she had been disciplined each day because she had no socks to wear with her school uniform. She opened up her box to show the reason for her tears. Inside were three pairs of white socks.
The little girl was thankful she would no longer be disciplined for something she could not help. Her prayers had been answered.
The first shoe box distributions in Zambia began in 1999. Since that time 1,564,015 shoe box gifts have been distributed there.
This year 242,432 boxes have been given out. Hartinger’s team delivered 3,600 boxes to churches, schools, a hospital and an orphanage during the recent visit to 20 different sites during the period of May 17-25, 2013.
Page 2 of 2 - “I heard children speaking words of longing to be equal and special. I saw eyes that penetrated my soul, human beings longing for hope and joy that erupted when children opened their boxes and found hygiene items, toys and candy inside,” Hartinger said.
Hartinger serves as the network coordinator for the South Central Missouri Team, recruiting and training drop-off site volunteers in support of Operation Christmas Child. The team encompasses 13 counties with designated drop-off sites in Eldon, Camdenton, Richland, Waynesville, Rolla, Belle, Cuba, Salem, and Licking.
All of these locations deliver their accumulated shoe box gifts to the Rolla center where they are processed and trucked to an official distribution center in Minneapolis, Minn.
Samaritan’s Purse recently celebrated the delivery of their 100 millionth shoe box gift. Operation Christmas Child has been an official project of Samaritan’s Purse since 1993.
For more information on the annual Operation Christmas Child project or to request a speaker to attend a church or organization, call 573-341-2898 or 573-368-8736. It’s not too early to become involved, Hartinger said.
Operation Christmas Child projects can be done at schools, clubs, churches, civic organizations or as an individual. Brochures and packing information are available to assist participants.
Shoe boxes may be dropped off at the Rolla Collection Center located in First Baptist Church, 801 N. Cedar St., Rolla, during National Collection Week, which is Nov. 18-25 this year. The hours of operation will be published closer to National Collection Week.