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Receiving a Christmas shoebox reminded me I wasn't alone

Receiving the simple gift of a Christmas shoebox while living in Communist Romania meant a huge amount to Rebeca, and gave her a sense of belonging as she realised Christians on the other side of the world cared about her. Here's her story in full

My name is Rebeca and I’m one of the millions of children who has received a shoebox from Operation Christmas Child. I hope my experience will encourage you to pack a shoebox, as you understand some of how the power of God impacted my life through this simple gift.

I was born and raised in Communist Romania, in the town of Alexandria. I’m the eldest of three children and the only girl. My family lived modestly; we did not have a lot but we had enough. My dad was a Sunday school teacher and planted churches in neighbouring villages around my home town. It was a great privilege to be born into a Christian family however it also had repercussions for me. Being part of a Protestant family in Communist Romania resulted in rejection from both the Communists and the majority Orthodox church. This meant that I was an outcast in school and society. It was really difficult to integrate, and I had no friends; instead I spent all my time with my siblings. Being an outcast affected me profoundly.

I remember the times I waited in long queues to receive the rations of food that my family were allowed. Each ration we received consisted of one litre of oil, a kilogram of sugar and a limited amount of bread. Electricity was rationed too, I vividly remember having to do my homework by the candlelight and staying in the cold apartment, because we didn’t have any way to heat it. One striking memory is of the tanks that would drive past our home. Both my parents were out working, and my brother and I hid behind a couch because we were so scared. At this time Christians were persecuted directly by being denied access to higher education or responsible positions or promotions in Romania.

Communism fell in 1989 and soon Western aid and support began to come into the country. The country was still recovering from the years of oppression and despite the liberties that were granted to people, the economy was hit hard and the country was thrown into greater poverty. Factories were closed, people lost their jobs and their life long savings. During this difficult time for many families, my Dad left Romania to go to Germany to work as an electrician. The resulting impact of a poor economy also meant that because of inflation it cost a lot to buy the simplest things, even the basics.

I remember holding it so tightly with my frozen little hands as I walked home through the snow, shaking it and sniffing it to get a clue of what was inside, my heart pounding with excitement and anticipation

On Christmas Day 1993 we went to church. We did this every year, however this Christmas morning was going to be different. We had been told that the church had gifts for the children, shoebox gifts. I went to church that morning with a heart full of excitement to sing in the children’s carol concert and to receive our shoebox gift afterwards. Once our concert had finished we were asked to line up and one by one we received a shoebox from the huge pile of shoeboxes that dominated the front of our church. I eagerly waited for what seemed like years to get my shoebox. When I received it I noticed how beautifully packed it was with wonderful colourful wrapping paper – blue with little white snowmen. I had never received a wrapped Christmas present before!

At Christmas we did not give and receive gifts; only the fruit that the church usually gave us. My family hurried home to open our shoebox gifts. I remember holding it so tightly with my frozen little hands as I walked home through the snow, shaking it and sniffing it to get a clue of what was inside, my heart pounding with excitement and anticipation. When I got home and finally got to open it, the first thing that struck me was the smell – one I had never smelled before, – it smelt like freedom. I recall many wonderful items inside but my favourite was the crayons and marker pens. I used to be a very artsy child and these gifts helped me and my brothers create our own comic book.

Knowing that across the ocean, thousands of miles away, were other Christians like me that were thinking of me, gave me a sense of belonging and hope, and reminded me that God’s love has no boundaries or borders.

In my shoebox was a photo of a family that packed my shoebox. It was so special to see their faces – I still remember their warm smiles. Knowing that across the ocean, thousands of miles away, were other Christians like me that were thinking of me and sent me this amazing present. This made me feel included and accepted! It gave me a sense of belonging and hope, and reminded me that God’s love has no boundaries or borders. It reminded me that in Christ we are all a big family. Despite the difficulties I faced, of being treated like an outcast, this small shoebox demonstrated to me that I was not alone, that the world might alienate me but Jesus and his church all around the world were standing firm with me, demonstrating the love Jesus had for me. I finally realised that I was no longer an outcast!

I returned to Romania in 2019, to take a shoebox to a child there, to help them experience what I did when I was a child. I packed a shoebox with lots of exciting things, and some things that were similar to those I received when I was a child, like some crayons and a little doll. On the trip, I returned to my family’s home, where I grew up, it looked a bit different, a bit bigger as my Dad added to it over the years, but back then when I grew up, things were tough and times were different.

I then went to the village of Copăceanca, really excited to deliver the boxes to the children, the church was buzzing and the children so excited. As they counted down 3, 2, 1 they delved into their boxes to find all the toys. I gave mine in person to one little girl called Alex, who couldn’t stop smiling the whole time, which made me smile. It was such a moving experience, to give her these gifts, and she loved the same items I loved, the photo of me and my family and promised to frame it!

This was such an unforgettable experience. You may not know the situation of the child who receives your box, but it is my prayer that when they open their box, like I did they will feel loved and wanted.

It’s not too late to send a shoebox. You can send one online at shoeboxonline.samaritans-purse.org.uk

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