Ana-Maria’s Shoebox Story

13th December 2022

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“My shoebox made me feel special and that I matter.”

I was born and raised in Romania where I lived with my parents and my four brothers. We grew up during the Communist time in Romania. When I was 7 years old, my father died of cancer just a few days before Christmas.  I remember it was a difficult time for me and my family, especially for our mum. She found it hard to raise us by herself, but she did everything she could to provide for us. She had three or four jobs at a time and never gave up. Her faith in God was her daily hope and strength. She took the place of both our parents in our lives and modelled God for us so well. She raised us with the Word of God, Godly principles and always encouraged and inspired us to live our life seeking God’s will.

As we grew up in a Christian home, we used to go to church every Sunday. I remember loving church. I used to know all the Bible stories and sang in the choir, but I struggled to live my faith daily. My reality outside church was so different to what was preached on Sundays. My brothers and I found it hard to connect and have a real relationship with God as a Father, as we didn’t have our earthly father anymore and our mum was working most of the time. I was also bullied a lot because of my faith, poverty and appearance. I had no confidence in myself and I didn’t know my true identity.

That same year I remember receiving shoebox gifts at church after our evening Christmas Carol Service. Our church was around 500 people including 100-150 children of all ages, from little ones to teenagers. We were told we would receive a surprise, but we didn’t really know what to expect. At the end of the service, we all went outside and our church leaders started giving everyone a present: a beautifully wrapped shoebox. I remember the boxes were different colours and sizes. My friends and I were somewhere at the back and I was so excited to arrive at the front and get one. I hoped it would be one of the best boxes.

Once we finally received the boxes I remember we went to our parents and opened them together. Once we opened the boxes, I can’t explain the joy this brought to us, it felt like it was everyone’s birthday that day, so many screams of joy, laughs and excitement, everyone seemed so happy. I remember looking around and thinking this truly felt like being in Heaven.

Children opening shoebox gifts in Romania

Children opening shoebox gifts in Romania

When I opened my box, I remember taking everything out (as I was so excited) and then looking at each item over and over for days. We received hats, gloves, toys, toothbrushes, face towels, school supplies, colouring books, accessories and so much more. These were all amazing things that we either needed, loved or never had before.

I also received a letter and photo from the person who sent my gift. I remember keeping all the things as long as I could, but for me, the letter was my favourite thing. It meant a lot to know that each of the boxes were sent by someone who thought of us. It made my gift even more special and personal. It meant you had a name and a photo of that person and you could connect with them in a different way. This made me really happy, like I just gained a new friend. I was really thankful for their kindness to send me this gift. My shoebox made me feel special and that I matter.

I kept everything for a very long time as it meant so much to me and I used to take good care of it.  I remember one of my brothers received a very cute brown teddy bear with a red and green scarf. We all loved it and played with it.

For me, this shoebox was a reminder that God is real and that I’m not alone. I considered it a miracle from God, through which I experienced His love. It reminded me that He cared about me and my brothers and everything we needed.  It gave me hope and brought a lot of joy to our home throughout the year. A joy I can’t explain. It also encouraged me to never give up on my faith in Jesus and to live my life according to God’s will.

I have been in the UK for the last 15 years now. Nine years ago God took me back to my childhood when I came across Operation Christmas Child again, and in doing so where my journey started.

When I was a child I knew these shoeboxes came from England but did not know much about it.  One day while at work I came across a Facebook post of a local church doing shoebox packing. Once I saw the photo I remembered straight away and I got in touch with them. Because it was Sunday and the last day they were doing the packing, they pointed me to another local collection point. Together with a few of my colleagues we packed four boxes that year. The following year we got more involved and packed over 80 boxes with the help of my brother and his wife, my work colleagues and customers. We were also invited to the warehouse where the volunteers were processing the shoeboxes, and we volunteered there for few years. My workplace loved doing it and continued doing so for years, even becoming a drop-off location.

Six years ago I moved to Bradford so I no longer live near a processing centre but I continue to pack shoebox gifts.

I am forever grateful to all the amazing team at Samaritan’s Purse and to the volunteers and donors for their heart, passion and commitment in making it all possible every year.

A simple gift in the form of a shoebox gave me hope when I needed it most and changed my life completely. This gift has the power to do the same for every child. I want to encourage everyone to get involved and be part of this amazing ministry that God uses to change a person’s life through the Good News of the Gospel. Your kind gifts will deliver the eternal hope of Christ to children around the world this year and encourage them in their journey of faith. On behalf of myself, my family and all the children, I want to thank you for making a difference. God bless you and your families!

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