Outrage over school’s money grab

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SYDNEY parents are outraged after public school pupils were sent home Christmas charity boxes supporting a religious organisation that has a 12-step “discipleship” program preaching about God on a mission to convert young followers around the world.

Samaritan’s Purse is an evangelical organisation whose controversial US leader Franklin Graham publicly shuns same-sex marriage, slams the LGBTQI community as “criminals”, denounces Islam and recently labelled abortion as murder on his Facebook page.

The organisation’s “Operation Christmas Child” boxes, to be filled with donations and sent to underprivileged children, were distributed to Willoughby Public School families yesterday, on their first day of term after school holidays.

Willoughby parent Matt Sharpe said the boxes looked harmless enough — but after researching the cause and the organisation’s beliefs, said many felt they could not support the initiative.

“I’m all into the kids learning about charitable giving and helping those less fortunate, but as soon as I started reading the little leaflet that came in the box and started doing some research, it didn’t sit right with me — I feel it is highly inappropriate at a secular school,” Mr Sharpe told news.com.au.

Mr Sharpe said the US-based missionary is an evangelical Christian organisation that “proselytises to communities that ‘have not yet heard the word of the gospel’”.

He said he was also upset that the charity is asking children to donate an extra $10 postage with each box.

Samaritan's Purse boxes were distributed to students at Willoughby Public School.

Samaritan’s Purse boxes were distributed to students at Willoughby Public School.Source:Supplied

“I’m not being anti-religion nor discouraging charitable donations to worthy causes that are important to you and your family — there are plenty out there that work with these communities — but to distribute these in a supposedly secular school is an outrageous overstepping of the mark, and a cynical and deceitful manipulation of our children who will inevitably feel compelled to take part when all their friends are doing the same,” he said.

“When my daughter came home from school with the box she was so excited to do it which I feel is quite manipulative — then you have to address the ‘but why can’t I help children in Africa, all my friends are doing it’.”

On the Australian Samaritan’s Purse website, the Operation Christmas Child’s mission is described as ‘The Greatest Journey’.

“It starts with a shoebox and ends with a child with a Bible in their hands,” the website reads.

“This colourful 12-lesson discipleship program teaches kids about God, faith and being a follower of Jesus Christ in their own language.”

The organisation goes on to claim the shoebox is a “tangible expression of God’s amazing love”.

Samaritan Purse works in more than 100 countries, with the aim to “help children learn about God, faith and be a follower of Jesus Christ in their own language”.

Each child is given a Bible in their own language when they graduate.

Since 2009, millions of children around the world have converted religions because of Samaritan’s Purse, with global media reports stating that desperately needed aid relief was only given after conversion was complete or religious videos watched.

“Will you help us ‘go and make disciples of all nations’ as Christ commanded?” its website continues.

“A gift of $10 will give a child the opportunity to do the Greatest Journey and become a follower of Jesus Christ.”

Willoughby Public School families were encouraged to give $10 along with their filled boxes.

“That’s $10 potentially less that you could have given to the school directly or any other worthy cause,” Mr Sharpe said.

“They use a carrot stick approach — look at all these things we can give you — come and learn about Christianity and we can give you all these nice things.

“I’m not comfortable with it.”

Students at Willoughby Public School were encouraged to participate.

Students at Willoughby Public School were encouraged to participate.Source:Supplied

Another Sydney parent who did not want to be named, said her daughter’s private secular school, also on Sydney’s north shore, went through the same ordeal last year.

“It’s just horrifying,” she said.

“They have withheld disaster relief unless you convert, they’ve called followers of Islam ‘dirty pigs’, publicly praised Putin and support Trump — they aren’t even registered on the Australian registry of charities.

“These are secular schools and some people aren’t religious at all — you have to respect that.

“How do you think children will feel if they have a gay parent or sibling or friend or aunty and uncle — this organisation publicly says those people are criminals.

“Schools aren’t doing their due diligence — they think ‘tick, we’ve done something good for Christmas’ and it all looks quite harmless. But they put all religious paraphernalia in it is and it is a recruitment tool.

“Their beliefs are arrogant and disrespectful and for any school to support it — well, they are not supporting their own community if they are supporting that.”

Other NSW public schools that have participated in Operation Christmas Child in the past include Centaur Public School in northern NSW, Yarrawarrah Public School in southern Sydney and Brisbania Public School on the central coast. It is also supported by some branches of Girl Guides Australia.

Samaritan’s Purse Australasian website states that the Operation Christmas Child is the company through which they conduct Christian Ministry projects including Operation Christmas Child, and that donations are not tax deductible for Australian or New Zealand taxpayers.

Willoughby Public School declined to comment on the matter, but P & C co-president Chris Bowen said the school encouraged the support of a range a Non For Profits on a voluntary basis “which helps increase awareness to others less fortunate”.

“The Samaritan’s Purse Christmas Box is just one such example that was suggested by a student group in the school,” he said.

“Other NFPs that the students have supported through a variety of fund raising initiatives include The Guide Dogs Association, Cerebral Palsy and Stewart House.

“Each of these initiatives are voluntary and we believe they all open up a conversation for parents to have with their children about community, the world beyond their local environment, and to think of others.”

A spokesman for Samaritan’s Purse said it was a faith-based charity and encouraged people to learn about the organisation on its website.

“Anyone deciding whether to join us are recommended to go to our website which details who we are and what we do,” he said.

“It’s up to the school’s discretion whether they would like to join or partner with us.”

The NSW Education Department had not returned news.com.au’s calls.

In 2013, Australian fundraising company the Thank You Group dropped its support for Samaritan’s Purse because it was not a signatory to the code of conduct run by the Australian Council For International Development, which requires strict division between fundraising and spending on religious activities from other aid work.

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