21st August 2011
I am the eldest of five children born into a Christian family in post-communist Romania. When I was 18 I came to the UK in order to study Hospitality and Tourism Management. Since then I have gotten married and now live in Royal Leamington Spa, working for the local government.
One of the turning points in my life was the summer just before I turned 7 years old, when my family moved from a small village in the west, to a flat in the town of Pitesti, in the central south of Romania. I vividly remember my dad going to Germany for work in order to support us. We were not rich – nor were the majority of people in Romania after communism. On one occasion when my dad returned home from working in Germany I remember he brought back two very strange items; a banana and a kiwi fruit. It was the first time we had ever seen these fruits. Under communist rule, we had not had access to a wide range of items that you might take for granted.
Part of moving to Pitesti involved looking for a new church. After a time of searching, we settled in the church where my mum used to go before she had married my father and they’d moved away into the country. I started attending Sunday School there, together with my siblings. I very much enjoyed learning the songs and hearing about Jesus. I was really excited, but also nervous when I participated in my first Christmas children’s celebration. Each year this celebration involved the children singing songs and acting out a play for our parents. For this first one I was given a Bible verse to recite – Isaiah 9:6. “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” I was so nervous I’d get the words out in the wrong order!
At the end of our Christmas play and songs, our Sunday school leader announced that all 70 to 80 kids there would be called to the front and given not one gift, but two! The first gift was from our church, and had oranges and apples inside. The other gift was very mysterious. It was a shoebox, which our Sunday school leader said had been sent by our brothers and sisters abroad. How wonderful, yet mysterious this word “abroad” sounded to me. Little did I know that this abroad would be the place I’d eventually get to call home.
We were told not to open our presents until we got home. My family and I were so excited we could not wait to leave church and rush back to open our boxes. That short journey felt like an age. When we arrived home my brothers, sisters and I all gathered in the living room. Today I can still recall the joy and excitement on all of our faces. As we each opened our boxes we discovered items we had never seen before and flavours we had never tasted.
Inside my box there were many wonderful things, but the special item or as we now call the ‘WOW’ item was a set of coloured, glitter gel pens. I love stationary and I’d never seen anything like them. I was in awe at receiving this. I decided to save this special gift and only use the gel pens in order to highlight my favourite Bible verses. None of my friends and family were allowed to use them – these were especially for me. I kept them safe in my bedroom. I know it may sound strange, but the thought of using my special pens made me more eager to read the Bible and hunt for what I used to call nice verses. As I’ve grown in my faith and understanding, I’ve now learnt to appreciate the Bible as a whole rather than just a collection of verses but at that time this was the encouragement that I needed to read more and get to know my heavenly Father better. It’s amazing how just a simple item can have a big impact on a seven-year-old’s life.
Another special item in my shoebox was a Christmas card from the family who had put the box together, giving a brief description of their family and sending Christmas wishes. There was a postal address and encouragement to get in touch if we would like to. I recall writing a thank you letter, and also calling to thank them. If you plan to pack a shoebox I’d encourage you to include a card or even a family photo or details about your life that you may want to share. This provides the receiving child with a connection to where the box has come from and it makes such a difference!
I recently chatted to my mum about this time in our lives and asked how the shoeboxes impacted her as a parent. She remembers being overwhelmed with joy at seeing us so happy and excited. The shoebox does not just have an immediate impact on the child, but impacts their parents and the whole community.
I can’t claim that the shoebox I received as a child radically changed my life. However, God used a set of coloured gel pens given by someone like you to encourage me to read His Word. He used a shoebox to make me feel part of a large family. A family that goes beyond the limitations of borders, languages and culture. As God’s people, we are blessed to be a blessing, and I’m praying that God will put on your heart to join Operation Christmas Child in demonstrating God’s love in a tangible way to children around the world and together to share the Good News of Jesus Christ.Read more of our UK Shoebox Stories, and request a visiting speaker