Written by Karen Stiller
Published by Christian Week on Wednesday, December 4, 2013
When Damaris Vezentan of Kitchener-Waterloo handed over an Operation Christmas Child (OCC) shoebox to a young girl in Senegal this fall, she arrived full circle.
Twenty-two years ago, Vezentan lived in what was then communist Romania. Her family was poor and Christian-living under a hostile government. One day, she and her classmates received Operation Christmas Child shoeboxes.
The happy and unexpected treat arrived in the “early 1990s” and in the early days of Samaritans Purse’s popular initiative to deliver gift-packed shoeboxes-and a gospel message-to children in need around the world.
Vezentan and her parents and siblings immigrated to Canada when Vezentan was 15 and she began volunteering with OCC in 2000. Now, along with her husband and children, she packs shoeboxes every year; last year alone, Canadians packed 662,000 shoeboxes.
It was only last year, though, at the Kitchener-Waterloo OCC Processing Centre, that Vezentan’s life changed again because of a shoebox.
“Someone there asked me why I volunteered. I said ‘When I was a little girl I received a shoebox.’ The woman’s face just dropped. She called the manager. They had me share my story. The next day they called Calgary.”
Kim Gordon, assistant director—domestic for Samaritan’s Purse Canada headquarters in Calgary, remembers the call.
“We love hearing stories of kids who received shoeboxes in the past history of OCC. We were excited to hear her stories and hear how the shoebox had impacted her as a child,” says Gordon. “The biggest thing for us right away was that it was so clear that Damaris had been impacted, this was a gift freely given to her by someone she didn’t even know. It compelled her to understand that love gives, in the same way that Christ sacrificed his love for us, people in turn are compelled to give in the same way because of that. It changed her path understanding that.”
Vezentan clearly remembers that original shoebox (pink and sparkly) she received in Romania. She can list off some of what it contained (“a journal, hair things, crayons, girly things”) and can recite the Bible verse she discovered on the back of the family photo tucked into her box. “It was John 3:16, and the lesson I learned that day was that love gives, and God gave, and I decided to become a Christian. That was the biggest lesson I learned, that you can only love by giving. Love always looks like something,” says Vezentan.
These days, love looks like a basement full of donated goods for the multiple shoeboxes Vezentan was trying to get packed before the 2013 deadline in November. It looked like kick-off events in Ontario churches as Venzenan loaned her voice and story to the OCC push to pack even more boxes than ever this year.
And love definitely looked like a late-September trip to Senegal to participate in an OCC shoebox distribution in three Senegal communities.
“When I saw kids in Senegal just open the box and look inside and be afraid to open it that’s how I felt. I got it,” says Vezentan.
“I still think of those children who today in 2013 live in worse circumstances than I did. I have to pack more shoeboxes and tell everyone of the impact. I don’t just have my story, I have those hundreds of stories.”
And, Vezentan says, she wants people to know the shoeboxes make a difference. “We only know of one full circle story so far, my story,” she says, “but out of the over 100 million boxes that have been distributed so far since 1993, just think of all those stories.”
For more information and to make a donation, visit the Samaritan’s Purse website.
Please donate $10 for every shoebox you prepare. Your donations will help cover project costs, including shipping (make one combined donation for multiple shoeboxes). Consider making an additional donation to help Samaritan's Purse go beyond the shoebox and expand assistance to children, their families, and their communities. Samaritan's Purse does not provide receipts for the value of gift items included in a shoebox.