Christmas time is approaching, which means that, very soon, schoolchildren across the UK will be filling shoeboxes with gifts to send to disadvantaged children around the world as part of Samaritan’s Purse’s ‘Operation Christmas Child’ appeal. Each year, the UK sends nearly one million of these shoeboxes full of toys, books and other presents to children in countries in Asia, Africa and Eastern Europe, packed with zeal by well-intentioned schoolchildren and parents keen to improve, albeit very briefly, the lives of those less fortunate than themselves. But what many of these generous donors don’t realise is that they are unwittingly contributing to a massive Christian evangelising effort.
This is because after the shoeboxes leave schools, Samaritan’s Purse adds evangelical Christian literature such as this booklet alongside them before they are sent off and handed out to children worldwide. Indeed, it’s made clear on the Samaritans Purse website that
Where appropriate, the local church or Christian partner distributing the shoeboxes may issue a free copy of a Christian booklet, The Greatest Gift, which contains Bible stories, including an explanation of the true meaning of Christmas.
The BHA believes that this practice is not only manipulative in its handing out of evangelical literature to vulnerable children alongside gifts and toys, but also disingenuous in the way in which the element of evangelising is downplayed by Samaritan’s Purse in the UK, with the result that much of the British public is unaware of it.
Samaritan’s Purse is no stranger to controversy, having been investigated in 2003 by the Charity Commission over the revelation that no reference was made by it to the inclusion of evangelical Christian literature with the shoeboxes and its subsequent distribution to children worldwide.
BHA Education Campaigner Richy Thompson commented, ‘Many parents have objected to the Operation Christmas Child scheme being used in their schools, taking the issue up with schools to ensure that teachers, other parents and pupils are aware of the evangelising purposes to which their efforts ultimately contribute. Many organisers will be horrified to learn of the aims of Samaritan’s Purse, and choose to redirect their charitable energies towards other causes.
‘We list on our website a range of alternative causes which we think are far more suitable and worthy of your support than Operation Christmas Child, and encourage our members to consider supporting one of them instead.’
For further information or comment, contact BHA Head of Public Affairs Pavan Dhaliwal on firstname.lastname@example.org.
See the BHA’s alternative range of causes to Operation Christmas Child here: humanism.org.uk/humanism/humanism-today/humanists-doing/good-causes-and-charities/samaritans-purse
The British Humanist Association is the national charity working on behalf of non-religious people who seek to live ethical and fulfilling lives on the basis of reason and humanity. It promotes a secular state and equal treatment in law and policy of everyone, regardless of religion or belief.