Tamaulipas, Mexico— A locally established, grass-roots Evangelical church and mission organization, is based and operates in one of the most rural, poor and violence ravaged regions of Mexico. The mission group (unnamed for safety concerns) constructs and run Christian missions in impoverished, isolated villages, providing church services, food, clothing and Scriptures to the people of the communities in which they serve.
Last Christmas, a regional representative of Samaritan’s Purse, one of the worlds largest Christian mission and humanitarian organizations, based in the U.S., selected the Mexican mission group as eligible to receive toys through their program, Operation Christmas Child. OCC collects shoeboxes packed with toys, mostly by individuals and churches in the U.S., sent as gifts to needy children of third world nations, in order for them to have a happier holiday season.
The Mexican mission group had received toys from Samaritan’s Purse once before, several years prior. However this time, in order to get toys for the children of their missions, the group was required to pay $150 U.S. dollars, to cover shipping and operational costs, according to the regional representative of Samaritan’s Purse.
The mission group is not affiliated with or sponsored by any larger organizations, and runs on a shoestring budget, supported primarily by offerings from a handful of small U.S. churches. The missions, at one time, had regularly hosted many visiting U.S. missionaries. Today, because of the increased violence in Mexico over the last several years, missionaries have virtually stopped coming completely. Combined with a slow U.S. economy, the mission group’s funding has been cut dramatically.
The missions’ experience with Samaritan’s Purse previously had been a positive one, so they paid the requested amount to receive the toys. During Christmas services, when the shoeboxes of toys were given to the children of the local missions, it did not go unnoticed that the toys, unlike before, were very small, trinket type items, of flimsy dime-store quality.
When asked if the missions were given fair or equal value for the $150 dollars they paid to Samaritan’s Purse for the toys, the Mission Director reluctantly shook his head no, acknowledging that they had not. Clearly the group was disappointed in their experience with Samaritan’s Purse, realizing they could have done more for the children with that money on their own.
Samaritan’s Purse generates in excess of $300 million annually. In addition to toys, they also solicit funds directly from the U.S. shoebox donors for OCC operational expenses. Per each box, a minimum donation of $7.00 is requested from the sender, to assist with shipping and overhead costs. Samaritan’s Purse also solicits donations through various other sources, such as fundraising events, advertising campaigns (television, print and online), and by their own worldwide volunteer staff of trained fundraisers.
In a telephone interview with Chris Swanson, Samaritan’s Purse Regional Director for Latin America and the Caribbean— Swanson was asked if the full cost of each shoebox to be delivered to the needy children in Mexico was taken from U.S. donations, Mr. Swanson stated,
“U.S. donations cover logistics within the U.S. only. Though they may offer some level of assistance to other countries, representatives (of Samaritan’s Purse) in each country are responsible for raising funds for their own in-country costs (shipping, processing, admin., etc.).”
When asked if the churches, missions, and orphanages in need were ever required to pay any amount in order to receive shoeboxes, Swanson stressed,
“We (Samaritan’s Purse) would never sell a shoebox, or attach a value to a box. That would violate our non-profit status. We do have a suggested offering amount our representatives are trained to ask for, but that is to be on a voluntary basis, not required.”
When told that a mission group in Mexico was required to pay $150 in order to receive the shoebox toys last Christmas, Swanson responded,
“There have been rare occasions in which instances like this have happened. Though we train our in-country representatives to ask for a suggested amount, there can be miscommunications, and sometimes the cultural interpretation of suggested offering can be that it is a requirement.”
When brought to his attention that the mission group, after paying for the toys, received back less than the value of the $150 paid to Samaritan’s Purse, Swanson explained,
“The value of the physical content is less important. This is not humanitarian aid necessarily, but what we call a gospel sharing opportunity. The purpose is not for simply handing out a gift to a child, but for the sake of spreading the gospel.”
Swanson concluded by giving assurances that Samaritan’s Purse does not condone a policy of charging for toys, and assured that this matter would be followed up on. He went on to add that if there was an amount being required (rather than suggested) by a regional Samaritan’s Purse representative in Mexico,
“We will shut that requirement down. That’s important to the integrity of our organization and our donors.”
According to its Mission Statement, Samaritan's Purse is an evangelical Christian organization that provides spiritual and physical aid to victims of poverty, war, natural disasters, disease and famine. The organization works in over 100 countries, with field offices in twenty countries across five continents. The organization was founded in 1970 by Bob Pierce, previously of World Vision. After Pierce’s death in 1978, Franklin Graham, son of the Reverend Billy Graham, took over the following year as President.
In 1993 Samaritan’s Purse began its special project, Operation Christmas Child.
This April Samaritan’s Purse will be hosting a major concert and celebration event in Orlando, FL, to commemorate delivery of 100 million shoe boxes through it’s OCC program.