I had the opportunity to talk to the (now grown) recipient of an Operation Christmas Child Box and I’m so excited to share her incredible story with you.
Dania is from a country in the Middle East that can not be identified for safety reasons. In her country and the two others she lived in, less than 2% of the population were Christians and those that identified as Christians were “in name only”, they were born to Christian parents, but had no idea about the religion. When she was 5 years old, her family moved to another Middle Eastern country in search of a better life. Unfortunately her father had a hard time finding a job as an immigrant and they lived in extreme poverty. On nights when they were able to eat, the meal was likely to be bread and a raw onion, not so much a meal as simply food items to fill their bellies. There were nights they had no food at all. They had no beds, they had no furniture. Her parents heard of a church that was giving aid, especially to immigrants. The Pastor spoke with them and shared his love of Jesus. The kindness they were shown in that church made them want to learn more about Jesus Christ and his love. They joined the church and though their circumstances were still bad, they prayed.
One Sunday, in Sunday School, Dania’s teacher announced they would all be going to the sanctuary and be given shoeboxes. The excitement was overwhelming to Dania, a child of 5 years old. She had never received a gift. There were no trees at Christmas. Almost as soon as the excitement set in, so did the worries. Was her name on the list? Would she really get a gift, or was this all a mistake?
The church was decorated beautifully. There were bible verse read, music was played and everywhere were beautiful, colorful boxes in stacks! It was real! Even as she stood in the back of the line, she began to shake, butterflies in her stomach and the largest smile on her face. Even now, many years later, Dania can still remember how she felt when her name was called- she felt valued, she felt loved. She received her box and clutched it, hugging this beautiful gift to her chest. Her mother made Dania and her older brother wait until they returned to their bare home to open the gifts. Dania spent her trip trying to sneak a hand in to her box to feel what was there. Was it hard? Was it soft?
Opening the Box
At long last they arrived to home and the boxes were placed in the center of their empty home. Finally, she could open her box. She was overwhelmed by how beautiful, how neat, how clean, how NEW everything was. There were items she couldn’t identify, things that weren’t in her country, but everything in that box belonged to her. These items, the first she had ever owned, gave her such an incredible sense of value. There was a beanie baby, notebooks, school supplies- decorated pencils. It was the first time in her life she had seen a decorated pencil. Her favorite gift were the activity books. She would carefully fill them out in pencil, then erase all the marks so she could wait and use them again when she had forgotten all the answers. The slinky she received was a small piece of magic. She and her family would gather in the stairwell and watch it “climb” down the stairs. She and her brother played with the marbles he received, and after every game he would lovingly clean each one before putting it away.
When she received her box, it was the moment she felt her prayers had been answered by God. She had prayed to own a toy, the simple prayer of a small child, and now she owned a box full of things! Her life was full and happy, she forgot her family’s poverty and the troubles they faced. It was the best day of her childhood. Even now after having spent years in North Carolina, her family accepted in to the United States as refugees, she walks down the soap aisle, the smell brings back the beautiful memory of her Christmas Child Box.
It Comes Fulls Circle
Dania’s story is incredible. Her family became missionaries, returning to her home village where they faced persecution on a daily basis. Angry villagers frequently attempted to burn her father’s shop to the ground because he tried to share the message of Jesus and held services in their home. After nearly a decade, her country was embroiled in war and after much prayer they felt it was time to flee. They applied as refugees, knowing the wait was usually 2-5 years. In just 14 months they were accepted by the United States. They settled in North Carolina and Dania was amazed by the freedom of worship and the number of churches. Just a few months in to their new lives, a church lady invited Dania to go with her to Charlotte to help process shoe boxes. When she entered the processing center, she was struck by how huge it was, filled with people, Christmas trees and Christmas boxes. In a daze, she thought perhaps this was Santa’s workshop and these were Santa’s elves. It didn’t take her long to realize this was where her shoebox had come from, all those years ago. Dania looked upon the workers with so much love and respect. They took time out of their lives to come and work, to “…do all that just so I could receive a box.” She told me it was truly what she feels Christianity is about- working to help strangers, never knowing how you impact their lives but doing it anyway.
Dania now works as a Speakers Bureau Associate at Samaritan’s Purse and shares her amazing story with others as a representative of Operation Christmas Child. Her home village no longer exists, as it was taken over by terrorists and the people who called it home were either killed or fled. When I asked Dania what she would like to say to those who make shoeboxes or who are considering it, she told me this- “I want to be the voice of these children, to say we are thankful. [Receiving a shoebox] was the happiest moment of my childhood. I had never seen the kindness of strangers, I had never owned anything. This is truly a tangible way to say to these children you love them. The power of a simple gift, it means the world to me. You are making an impact, even if you don’t see it. Everything you put in to the ministry, God will take and make beautiful. Without you, nothing would be possible.”