Humanists UK warns schools and parents about ‘evangelical’ Christmas shoebox appeal

19 October, 2017

As the Christmas period approaches parents and school-children alike are gearing up to send ‘shoeboxes’ of gifts to children less fortunate than themselves around the world. One shoebox appeal, known as Operation Christmas Child, is run by Samaritan’s Purse, an evangelical Christian organisation originating from the United States. Humanists UK, which has warned about the ulterior motives of Operation Christmas Child in the past, has prepared a template letter for parents to send to their schools to raise the issue.

In recent years the initiative has gained in popularity in the UK, fast becoming a nation-wide Christmas effort. On average, nearly one million shoeboxes full of toys, books, and other presents are packed-up annually, and sent off to children in Asia, Africa, and Eastern Europe. But while the children, parents, and schools who take part in the appeal are well-intentioned and have only charity in mind, many of these donors do not realise that they are unknowingly contributing to an evangelising Christian mission.

The reason for this is that after every shoebox leaves a home or school, it is sent first to Samaritan’s Purse, where evangelical Christian literature is added alongside it. This Christian literature tends to come in the form of a booklet called The Greatest Gift, aimed at converting its often vulnerable recipients to Christianity. As the Samaritan’s Purse website states:

‘Every shoebox gift delivered by Operation Christmas Child is a tangible expression of God’s amazing love. But a shoebox is just the beginning. It also presents an opportunity in more than 100 countries for our church partners to invite children into a deeper relationship with Jesus Christ’

One case study on the organisation’s website even boasts of how a shoebox converted a Muslim family in Africa to Christianity:

‘Angella, (a 12-year-old girl from Malawi), received an Operation Christmas child shoebox filled with presents last year. Since then, she’s led her Muslim family to Christ.’

Humanists UK believes that this practice manipulates well-intentioned children and parents, who may not be aware of the evangelising mission behind the appeal. In 2003 Samaritan’s Purse courted controversy after it was investigated by the Charity Commission for failing to divulge that evangelical Christian literature was included with the shoeboxes.

Humanists UK has prepared a template letter for parents to send to schools, informing them about the issues with Operation Christmas Child. In addition to setting out examples of the way in which the shoeboxes are used as tools for evangelising, the letter provides a number of alternative options for charitable giving at Christmas-time, none of which seek to promote any religion or belief alongside donations.

Humanists UK Education Campaigns Manager Jay Harman commented, ‘Using the donations of well-meaning parents and children as a tool for promoting an evangelical Christian agenda is appalling. This is especially true given that donors are often left unaware of these ulterior motives, not to mention the fact that the recipients of these shoeboxes are sometimes extremely vulnerable. Families and schools are entitled to know what their donations are contributing to, so we hope our template letter will be helpful.’


For further comment or information please contact Humanists UK Education Campaigns Manager Jay Harman on o 0207 324 3078.

Read the full template letter for parents to send to schools:

See Humanists UK’s alternative suggestions for charitable giving at Christmas:

See the Operation Christmas Child website:

Read the HumanistLife piece ‘Why parents shouldn’t support ‘Operation Christmas Child’:

At Humanists UK, we advance free thinking and promote humanism to create a tolerant society where rational thinking and kindness prevail. Our work brings non-religious people together to develop their own views, helping people be happier and more fulfilled in the one life we have. Through our ceremonies, education services, and community and campaigning work, we strive to create a fair and equal society for all.

Humanists UK recently changed its name from the British Humanist Association: