Devon’s Humanists have warned schools and parents of the American evangelical group behind the Samaritan’s Purse shoe-box initiative.
Humanist chair Keith Denby said: “As we near Christmas children have been bringing home shoe-boxes to fill with toys and presents for children in need in Africa and Eastern Europe as part of the initiative Operation Christmas Child.
“On the face of it, the Samaritan’s Purse Operation Christmas Child shoebox appeal is a benign initiative simply intending to give gifts to needy children at Christmas time. But how many parents and children know that their contributions are funding a massive conversion effort by evangelical Christians?
“Evangelical literature is added to these gifts and in the UK this is often unbeknown to the donors or even to the organisers of collections.
“When the boxes are delivered to needy children, a Gospel storybook written in their own language called The Greatest Gift of All is also given. Many children are also invited to enrol in a 10-lesson follow-up Bible study program.”
Samaritan’s Purse has long been the subject of controversy. The head of the organisation, the American evangelical minister Rev Franklin Graham, branded Islam ”a very evil and wicked religion”. Franklin Graham also referred to Hindus as “bound by Satan’s power”.
In 2003 the Charity Commission wrote to the charity for information on its fundraising activities in light of the revelations that no reference had been made by them to the fact that they included evangelical literature.
Aid-based development charities have now said that shoebox schemes are a bad way to give aid, the schemes are not good value for money, they waste resources, don’t meet local needs or help solve local problems, and don’t support the local economy.
Keith said: “There are far better ways to give to charity: from Oxfam to the Blue Peter appeal, or a school may want to link up with one in South Africa, Ghana, Uganda or Malawi.
“Schools and churches that are getting their children involved in Operation Christmas Child need to be aware of the agenda their participation is helping to promote. If a school insists on using such a scheme, Devon Humanists recommend that concerned individuals draw attention to the evangelical nature of this appeal – which is not always evident and which people of other religions and none may prefer not to support.”