It was the story of a little boy and a flashlight that stuck with John Walker, dean of students at Central Christian College of Kansas in McPherson.

“His name was Kululu in Nairobi, Kenya,” Walker said. “... His favorite gift was a flashlight because he was able to find his way home. The other kids followed him. It is amazing, you look at the lives of someone else and the gifts they get. To us we think of a flashlight, and we have that on our phone. To someone in Nairobi, Kenya, they don’t even have electricity or running water. A flashlight is a huge deal.”

According to Samaritan’s Purse, which operates Operation Christmas Child, Kululu today serves as an Operation Christmas Child spokesperson. Until that box arrived for him, Christmas was a reminder of what he and his family didn’t have—enough food, new clothes, or sometimes even the acceptance of those around them. The shoebox full of school supplies, hygiene items, and toys sent a different message.

Walker brought the idea of the college participating in the effort to the student government and the director of campus life.

“We all got excited about it,” Walker said.

As a result, about 150 students from the small college spent their morning Nov. 18 packing 108 gift boxes to be shipped overseas for Christmas.

Samaritan's Purse is an international Christian relief and evangelism organization headed by Franklin Graham.

Churches throughout the United States participate in the project, often asking for donated gifts to put in boxes the size of a shoe box. In Central’s case, the school bought all the gifts for 105 boxes, with students packing boxes and adding homemade cards and photos.

“We purchased toothbrushes, water bottles, crayons, little dolls and little animals for the kids to have,” Walker said. “We had a plethora of things that we put in there … We had students write a Christmas card in the box, and we took a polaroid picture of the group that packed that box, so whoever gets the box gets a picture of people who care for [them].”

Since 1993, Operation Christmas Child has collected and delivered more than 168 million shoeboxes to children in over 160 countries and territories. For many of these children, the gift‑filled shoebox is the first gift they have ever received.

“We felt like there was a need to help,” Walker said. “We wanted to get involved in getting out of our comfort zone. Serving others gets the focus off of ourselves and onto others … This was an opportunity to partner with an organization dedicated to a bigger purpose, something that is bigger than ourselves.”

In 2019, Operation Christmas Child hopes to collect enough shoebox gifts to reach 11 million children in countries like Peru, the Philippines, Rwanda and Ukraine. More than 10.6 million shoebox gifts were collected worldwide in 2018, with more than 8.8 million collected in the U.S.

Walker said that the college will definitely be doing this project again in the future.

“We get some joy and excitement of giving of ourselves and giving to someone,” Walker said. “We don’t get to see the excitement, but there is an impact in the world and we are planning to do it again — hopefully bigger and better next time. Hopefully we can pack 200 or 300 boxes next time.”

Operation Christmas Child Shoebox gifts are collected in the U.S., Canada, the U.K., Australia, Germany, Switzerland, Austria, Finland, Spain, New Zealand and Japan. Nearly 500,000 volunteers worldwide — with more than 150,000 of those in the U.S. — are involved in collecting, shipping and distributing shoebox gifts.