More than 1500 children and 2000 adults participated in 222’s Operation Christmas Joy (OCJ) in Turkey this year, and we were delighted to show them the lavish, unreserved love of Christ. The event ran Dec2017-Jan2018, spanning 27 celebrations across 23 cities, and hosting 22 (often isolated) different ethnic groups, including Assyrians, Kurds and Iranians. 1573 gift packs were distributed to those in need, as well as countless more meals served. We were grateful for the support of Barnabas Fund for the gifts.
Stella, the event organiser reported: "This year OCJ has been another blessing and success, bringing many different denominations and ethnicities together, and unreservedly blessing them all. We also took the opportunity to focus on Christ and bring a reminder of the true meaning of Christmas - the incredible gift of love in Christ to us all."
She continued, "...so even though there is a Santa in each celebration, the kids knew that all their good gifts come from our Heavenly Father and the reason of this celebration is that He gave His best gift, He sent His Son to the world. So we are celebrating Jesus' birthday and Santa is only a postman!"
OCJ has grown to become the key unifying event for many of the isolated, traumatized Christians in Turkey. All it takes is a simple meal, a joyful atmosphere and the desire to show love in practical ways!
As always, the focus and priority were the children, with age appropriate entertainment, gifts, games and activities. However, it was not unusual to see adults join in the fun too. One of the organizers commented, "when games and activities were done, kids had their gifts, we saw many adults who were watching the program, suddenly joining in dance and allowing themselves to let their burdens go and enjoy that moment."
OCJ is an opportunity to share the gospel, inspire leaders regarding the importance of children in the Kingdom of God, and cultivate unity:
Only 10 of the 23 Farsi speaking churches were 222 churches; the other 13 were surprised by our approach and co-operation, with some saying "No other organization has ever blessed other churches so lavishly".
We have also seen a huge change in the Iraqi community. Stella reports: "Since OCJ 2016 we have tried to bring the Chaldean/Arab contacts closer to each other. Last year they only dealt directly with us. This year they were helping each other find a venue and working closely together in the planning. In many cities 2 or 3 churches joined together in the celebration. In others, leaders were invited to each other's celebrations. This is such a blessing to see. The leaders worked in unity and the children made new friends!"
OCJ is an opportunity to speak about joy and the giver of joy! Stella continues: "Their circumstance and traumas (whether Christian or Muslim) have deprived them of the joy that God has intended for all of us. Some have lost their creativity and forgotten how to celebrate or how to plan fun activities for the children. It was such a pleasure helping reignite the spirit of celebration in our guests."
"Without any exaggeration OCJ has brought not only joy but also peace among Christians. The news has spread in Turkey and impacted many. The carefully selected gifts have surprised everyone. People truly felt loved and valued."
"The reactions were joyful. This celebration was indeed very unique. No other ministry has ever taken such a step in entire Turkey. And we are tremendously grateful that we have been able to witness this beautiful happening once again and this year in more cities". -Raad, the Iraqi leader in Kayseri
"We are migrants here and we have no one. But we are very grateful for having you in our circle of friends. All I can share about our celebration is that it was a very joyous gathering. Everyone was happy! Thank you for making it possible to come to our city this year". -Milad from Afyon
"Sami enjoyed every moment of the party. God bless you for bringing joy to those little hearts in a foreign country during the holidays." -Parent of a child in Eskishehir
"When the churches get together, the children learn what unity is. This celebration brought joy, showed God's love to our kids and brought them closer to each other."
-Farhad, leader of the church in Balikesir
"The joy that was planted in my son's heart was not limited to that moment. For many days, he was talking about it. Four months before Christmas my son was counting the days and was hoping to receive a gift from Santa. Before going to bed he was telling God that he wanted to see Santa and the gift he was asking for was a remote-control car. My financial situation didn't allow me to buy such a gift for him and I was very upset by seeing him praying for months and the fact that I couldn't get it for him. When I saw that a beautiful car was included in his gifts I was very happy. Santa doesn't exist, but God hears the prayers of a child. This was a big blessing and we can't describe the joy we feel in our hearts." -Parent from Kayseri
"Thank you for the perfect celebration and the wonderful gifts. They were all necessities that I couldn't afford."-Parent from Nevshehir