May 27, 2023

California Baptist University’s annual Operation Christmas Child packing party hit close to home this year as CBU students served alongside one of their own, Brandon Schuster, who used to receive shoeboxes through Operation Christmas Child from a local church in Samoa.

Schuster, freshman biomedical engineering major and swimmer, remembers receiving gift-wrapped boxes from Operation Christmas Child from age 6 to 8; he reminisced about the contents and said one box included gifts such as socks, a toy car, a toothbrush, a washcloth, a Winnie the Pooh cup and sunglasses.

CBU hosted its pre-packing and packing party Nov. 9 through Samaritan’s Purse, an international relief organization that provides shoeboxes filled with necessities and toys to children around the world through its global ministry project, Operation Christmas Child.

Schuster attended the packing party and described the impression it left, explaining he had never been to one before and was amazed by the willingness of people to pack boxes without ever receiving them.

“Walking around, I had a flood of memories,” Schuster said. “I was just smiling the whole time and I thought it was the coolest thing ever. While packing boxes, I packed the exact same things that I received as a kid. It was a great experience.”

This year, students constructed pre-kits and prepared donations the morning of the the packing party, more than 1,000 staff, faculty, students and community members and their families packed boxes with necessities and toys according to the children’s age and gender while enjoying snacks and drinks .

Attendees were then encouraged to pose for a Polaroid photo to include in their child’s package and to complete an “About Me” note to send the child.

The pre-packing and packing party were administered by Spiritual Life through partnership with staff, faculty and students from ASCBU, Athletics, the Office of Conferences and Events, Provider and FOCUS groups.

Julie Dobbins, director of Compassion and Women’s Ministries in the Office of Spiritual Life, noted the significance of each packing party at CBU.

“It’s unique to all do something together,” Dobbins said. “There’s not really another way to get over a thousand people to serve together on one day in the same place.”

Dobbins related her personal experience with Operation Christmas Child in Guyana where she watched a native Guyanese man share the gospel with children prior to giving out the gift boxes.

“This is a tangible way to be able to touch a child’s life, but there’s a much larger spiritual implication.” Dobbins said. “Every time they receive the box, they are told the gospel message.”

Schuster said Samaritan’s Purse invests in people with a varying range of needs across the world.

“They used churches in Samoa as transition churches,” Schuster said. “They drop off gifts at one while having them go out and give the boxes to people in more remote villages or to those who don’t go to church.”

Maddi Baker, sophomore psychology major, has participated in the packing party the last two years and shared her enthusiasm for serving with Operation Christmas Child.

“Packing a box is a practical way to serve globally and a simple box can greatly impact a child’s life,” Baker said. “This is one of my favorite events of the year.”

Schuster and Dobbins both reflected on the significance of the note placed in the boxes.

“I appreciate that the students actually take the time to fill out the ‘About Me’ form,” Dobbins said. “When I went to Guyana, every time I saw a child open a box, they sat there and read the letter first.” Schuster added, “You write the note, put it in the box, and are left wondering, ‘Is this going to do anything at all?’ It does.

I’ve met many people in Samoa, in Fiji, in other places around the world, where I can connect with them through Operation Christmas Child because of it.” Schuster said how important serving with this ministry is to him.

“It’s one of those things growing up that changes your viewpoint,” Schuster said. “It changed my mindset to know there are people who actually care and that there are people across the world doing small things for a small country in the middle of nowhere.”

Students can serve with Operation Christmas Child by praying for those receiving the boxes and serving at a processing center in Corona. Students can also donate to Samaritan’s Purse.

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