Thinking outside the box is a metaphor for lateral and innovative thinking, yet the Parish of Ōtaki and their AAW friendship group have found plenty of innovation by thinking inside the box – a shoebox, to be specific.
This month marks at least four years since the friendship group has prepared gift boxes to send to children in need throughout the Pacific, through Operation Christmas Child, an international relief and evangelism programme. However since last year, this international mission initiative has begun to integrate with the parish’s local outreach, through Mainly Music.
Over the past ten years, the parish’s vicar, Rev Ian Campbell, has sought ways to introduce Mainly Music families to the Good News. He began by creating a “Mainly Music on Sunday” group, which eventually became known as “Explore” – a service based on familiar children’s music in which families from the community can explore Jesus and know what it is to be together. Since last year, the Operation Christmas Child gift boxes have been prepared by children and their families as part of the Explore service – as a way to worship God through service to others.
The parish is always looking for ways to be more intentionally missional, says parish member and diocesan Children and Families Enabler, Colette Stevens. She tells us that the parish’s less youthful members have offered their full support to the service. “Even when there were no kids, faithful men and women in their seventies would dance around like pukekos in honour of the children who would come – because that’s what we were doing!” says Colette. Now, children are regularly involved. The service has changed and adapted as the children have grown, with more grown-up music being used, and children regularly getting involved in readings and prayers.
The parish co-ordinator for the Operation Christmas Child work is Sheila Hart, and she’s passionate about the opportunity to see children blessed through this project. “It’s so simple, yet so meaningful,” she says. “I believe that some children even come to Christ through these boxes.” Yet it’s also the local children who benefit, according to Sheila: “It teaches children another side to life – that we are so blessed with everything that we have.” With the involvement of older members of the parish, Colette tells us that the service has organically become more inter-generational, and she attributes this to the faithfulness of older people to participate even though they don’t always see the results.
In this month’s Explore service, the congregation set up four creative stations for the preparation of gifts for their Operation Christmas Child boxes. Colette says that the initiative allows you to buy items to fill your boxes with, but for them, they preferred to make items for the boxes as an act of giving a piece of themselves. The group made rainbow ribbons, bookmarks, bags of marbles, they decorated their boxes and included personal notes and pictures of their families before worshiping and praying that the recipients would know that God made them, knows them and loves them. All of this is part of the parish’s strong culture of serving the wider community, Colette says. “All our outreach is designed to be reproduced by families in the weeks between family services,” she tells us.
You can find out more about Operation Christmas Child by clicking on their website here.
Photo: Shoebox distribution with Mtonda United Methodist Church in Ntcheu, Malawi – Courtesy Samaritan’s Purse International Relief