Shoebox giving comes full circle

Operation Christmas Child shoebox recipient gives shoebox gifts to children in Senegal, Africa.

Damaris Vezentan was one of the very first children to receive an Operation Christmas Child shoebox gift packed by people like you. And she still remembers the occasion.

It was 1990—three years before Samaritan’s Purse assumed responsibility for the worldwide children’s ministry—and Damaris was living with her parents in Romania. The Eastern European nation was just coming out of decades of brutal leadership by deposed dictator Nicolae Ceaușescu, and conditions were so bad that water was available until only noon each day.

“The shoebox I received when I was nine included items like soap, a small porcelain doll, crayons and markers, hair clips, and a notebook with locket that I kept and I still have.” Damaris said.

The box also included a picture of the family who packed it for her, with a Bible verse on the back: “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:15, NIV).

“Reading the verse over and over and trying to remember it, I saw it right there: "For God so loved the world that HE GAVE. God LOVED, God GAVE. It was the greatest lesson I learned that day,” Damaris remembered. 


Flash forward more than 20 years. Damaris is now a Canadian citizen, living in Ontario and raising a family. Discovering Operation Christmas Child is a major annual initiative in Canada, she became an enthusiastic supporter—packing boxes and volunteering at the Operation Christmas Child shoebox processing center in Kitchener-Waterloo.

Now she’s completed the circle by going to Senegal—a country far more impoverished today than Romania was in 1990—and giving shoebox gifts to children who, in most cases, have never received a gift in their lives.

“It makes me feel like there’s no language barrier to giving,” Damaris said, watching four-year-old Fatmata Diallo delightedly sort through the contents of a box packed by one of Damaris’ daughters.

“When these boxes enter a place of poverty, sickness and gloom, it brightens up a child’s life,” Damaris said, her voice choking with emotion. “It links my daughter to her. We’re giving Fatmata a part of who we are.”

Along with the boxes, children like Fatmata are offered The Greatest Gift, a colorful booklet that explains the true gift of Christmas, Jesus Christ, in their own language.

A few weeks after the distribution event, Fatmata and the other children are invited to attend The Greatest Journey, a 12-week voluntary, follow-up discipleship program. Almost 3,000 Senegalese children have taken the class this year alone. And of those, about 1,500 have committed their lives to Jesus Christ.

Those who are already Christian are taught how to share their faith with family and friends.

“I was deeply touched by the impact of The Greatest Journey—and seeing the children take part in it made me glad,” Damaris said, while squeezed into a Greatest Journey classroom.

Around her were dozens of boys and girls who, despite being crowded together shoulder to shoulder, and sweating profusely in Senegal’s oppressive heat and humidity, paid close attention to their volunteer teacher’s words about Christ.

Later, after visiting a Dakar church, helping to hand out Bibles to graduates of The Greatest Journey classes, and celebrating with them through hymns and dances, Damaris added: “When the children learn about God's love through The Greatest Journey, their lives will never be the same.”

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Ways you can help


Pray that each child who receives an Operation Christmas Child shoebox will know how much God loves them.


Help Samaritan’s Purse go beyond the shoebox and expand assistance to children, their families, and their communities. Donate Here