Shoeboxes Full of (bribes) Love
It's Christmas time. So in that spirit, I've decided to post something relating to the holiday season. It's a topic I've been torn about for quite some time - two years, in fact.
A couple of years ago, we found out that my wife's church participates in the Operation Christmas Child (OCC) program run by the Christian aid organization Samaritan's Purse. In the OCC program, participants are given shoeboxes which they are to fill with toys, school supplies, toiletries, etc. and return them so they can be sent to children in poor nations for Christmas. I participated along with my wife; even I'm not so heartless and humanity-hating as to deny underprivileged children some good cheer.
However, as I studied up on the organization, I started to have doubts about them. As a Christian organization, I expect some proselytizing from them as they hand out the shoeboxes - who could blame them? - but the extent to which they seem to be balancing the proselytizing vs. the gift-giving seems way out of whack. I'll try to elaborate:
Remember the South Park episode where Starvin' Marvin's village is being "helped" by Christian missionaries? Remember how the missionaries wouldn't give them food until they'd read their bibles ("remember: reading Bible + accepting Jesus = food") and, when Marvin's people tried to escape to the idyllic planet of Marklar in an alien spaceship, the missionaries raised gobs of money to build their own interstellar cruiser to hunt them down and convert the whole of planet Marklar? Well, Samaritan's Purse is a lot like that, but without the spaceship.
Originally, I wanted to research Samaritan's Purse to see how effective of a charity it was. Did they put most of their money into their works or was much of it squandered on bureaucracy? Initial research indicated that, yes, Samaritan's Purse did spend most of their resources at the point of need, so that was good (4-star Charity Navigator rating). However, further research indicated that the money wasn't spent on need; it was spent on religious displays and trying to win converts.
According to an OCC worker named Victor Kulbich, "We shared the Gospel with them and distributed Bibles.... Each time we do a distribution, it begins with a testimony that Jesus loves you and died for you," and, along with the shoeboxes, copies of an evangelical booklet called "The Greatest Gift of All" are given to the children. Excerpts of this booklet can be seen here.
OCC also has an optional "kids colouring page" where the donor's children can colour-in a boat, a plane, a dog, etc, as well as fill in info like "My name is _____," "my favourite drink is ____," and "I love Jesus because _____."
Even in the OCC brochures, the emphasis isn't on the gifts. The only testimonial in this year's brochure is from a child in Nicargua, who wrote:
The gift box that I got touched me a lot because it included a letter and a picture of the child who sent me the gift. I'm now attending Bible classes, and I like them a lot. They teach me great things about God, how to love my enemies, how to study God's Word, and how to be obedient to God and give my whole like to Him.As an atheist, it's a little disconcerting that this aid organization is as highly focused on proselytizing as it is; however, I can't really complain too loudly. Afterall, I was participating in this as a church activity. On the other hand, these people in public elementary schools in Alberta who were not informed that OCC was an evangelical enterprise have very good reason to be angry. Due to the uproar about this, since about 2003 the situation has been cleared up and OCC does not seem to be a factor in Alberta public schools anymore.
For their parts, the gift recipients in OCC (and their families) don't seem to mind the conversion attempts. They seem to be pretty happy to get whatever aid they can, and are willing to put up with evangelizing to get it. And Samaritan's Purse does provide much needed emergency aid in poor regions. It's not surprising that OCC ends up converting many people.
OCC has continued at the church this year. So as you can see, I'm presented with a dilemma:
Do I support force-fed God squawking or do I look like a total goob for shunning the poor children?
Of course, I chose the support of God: if I make myself the goob, I'd never hear the end of it.
But I can't be happy with this solution; I had to find some way to fight back in some little way. So far, I've tried to send the kids lots of education supplies and toys that will encourage their thinking and imagination. For instance, I gave one kid a toy space shuttle and a space-themed colouring book. Still there is only so much you can do to counteract the missionaries when all you've got to work with is a shoebox of stuff.
As one last "screw you" to the organizers of OCC, on the form that accompanies the shoebox submission, there's a checkbox that says "I will be praying for the success of Operation Christmas Child." I left that checkbox very much unchecked. Suck on that, OCC!
Seriously, though, I think a good response to evangelical efforts such as OCC is simply to do your part and give to secular aid organizations and charities. There are plenty that are similar to OCC listed here. For my part, the next day I bought a bunch of those Canadian Cancer Society lottery tickets (I consider it charity because I fully expect to win not one damn cent).
So, does anyone have any suggestions as to how I should handle this in the future?
Websites critical of OCC include Pursestrings.ca and Operation Christmas Child Alert, from which I found some of this information.