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December 6, 2003
Column #1,162

Operation Christmas Child

     This Christmas season, I hope you will think about two extraordinary people: a Sudanese refugee now in the United States named James Luom, and a 7-year-old girl named Noelle.

     In 1987, when he was seven years old, James remembers, "My father and my uncle were killed by Islamic militants. I saw them being shot in front of me." His mother also disappeared - probably taken into slavery.

     "With no people to take care of me, I ran into the woods and cried all night. Then I began to hide myself for 13 days with a group of other boys who said their parents were killed, their sisters taken by the militants and their mothers raped.

     "We began to walk together south, accumulating other boys as we walked, 1,000 miles from Sudan to Ethiopia. We had to walk across the desert. It was a very rough time." After finding a refugee camp in Ethiopia, that country erupted in civil war. So the boys walked to Kenya where they lived for nine years in a refugee camp.

     One Christmas he was given a shoe box of small gifts prepared by a child in the United States and delivered by Samaritan's Purse, a ministry founded by Franklin Graham, son of Billy Graham. The box contained candy, tennis shoes, pencils, a pencil sharpener and small car toys. The shoes were too small for him. Another boy got shoes that were too big, so they swapped.

     He recalls. "It was a surprise, a pleasant surprise. I was happy. It gave me a feeling that some people loved me - people who do not know who I am. I learned they were Christians in an organization helping kids with no parents."

     The next Christmas, he got another box. His reaction? "It gave me hope that one day I would be able to help other people." He now attends a community college in Charlotte.

     This year, Samaritan's Purse is delivering an astonishing 7 million shoe boxes for the world's forgotten children in 95 countries. India will receive 400,000 for the street children and orphans of that country and 250,000 will go to Russia. Now in its tenth year, Operation Christmas Child has delivered 24 million boxes from American and European children.

     This Saturday, 80,000 shoe boxes will be airlifted from JFK International Airport in the world's largest plane to suffering children in Sudan.

     One of those who will speak at that event is Noelle Orr, 7, who is a veteran shoe box giver. "I have been doing it since I was in kindergarten," she proudly told me by phone. "I packed a shoe box with my Mom. I did it for a girl. I put in a doll, a little T-shirt, underwear, a toothbrush, toothpaste and candy, crayons and notebooks." .

     Born on December 23 and coming home on December 25th, Noelle was given her name, which, of course, means Christmas in French. In fact, Carole Orr, her mother, had a vision she would have a daughter and call her Noelle, 12 years before she was born!

     Noelle had never had a birthday party, because it was always at Christmas. Last year, Carole promised her one, but asked her, "What happens at a birthday party?" Noelle replied, "People bring lots of stuff."

     "Do you need more stuff?" Noelle shook her head, "No, I'd rather give some of my stuff away." Carole replied, "If you feel that way, instead of having children bring presents to you, how would you like them to bring shoe boxes for Operation Christmas Child?"

     "Yes! Yes," she cried as she jumped up and down. She invited all 32 kids in the two First Grades of her school in Haddon Heights, N.J. They gathered in the school's gym in October where they watched a video showing the shoe boxes of gifts being delivered to needy children.

     The children decorated note cards with sequins which said, "This box was packed with the love of First Graders at Kings Christian School." They included pictures of themselves in each box. This year, the party was repeated and each child hand wrote a note to the recipient.

     One boy wrote, "I am thinking about you in my heart. I will be praying for you all year. The Lord Jesus loves you and so do I."

     Why not help your kids or grandchildren learn what Christmas means by preparing a shoe box of little gifts for a neglected child (and include at least $5 for shipping). For details see www.samaritanspurse.org or call 800 353-5949.

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