Ania Answers

14th April 2023

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Each year regional managers coordinate, train and support countless teams of Operation Christmas Child volunteers to give gift-filled shoeboxes to millions of children around the world.  We recently spoke to Ania Telenga from Poland, who is responsible for the Eastern Europe region.

Hello Ania. Tell us briefly: What is your job and how long have you been doing it?

I have been serving with Operation Christmas Child for over 20 years. From the very beginning, I was fascinated by how the campaign shared the love of Jesus in a tangible way for children. In the beginning I was a ministry partner, distributing shoebox gifts at outreach events, then I became an area representative and about a year ago I became regional manager for the Eastern European countries. So over the years I’ve got a good overview of how Operation Christmas Child works in my home country of Poland, as well as in other Eastern European countries.

What is the impact of the ministry in Poland?

This project really makes a difference in children’s lives and not only children, but also their parents as well! Parents often come to the distributions or to the “The Greatest Journey” course and hear the Gospel explained in simple terms, and it touches their hearts too. At one distribution, a mother sat in tears and said, ‘These words are for me!’

We have also seen many times that children find something in their shoebox that they have wanted for a long time. This is often proof for the children and the parents, that God hears children’s prayers. Through that, they begin to attend services and learn more about this God. So the shoeboxes are changing lives – in Poland and around the world.

How is the economic situation in Poland? Do the kids still need shoeboxes?

The economic situation in Poland has of course changed. But that doesn’t change the fact that when a child receives a shoebox, they feel special and thought of by the shoebox packer. I was at a distribution and a girl held up a t-shirt and said, ‘I wanted this exact t-shirt! Someone knew I wished for it!’

There are some children at distributions whose parents can afford gifts, but these children still need one thing: love! The shoebox gifts show them exactly that: that they are loved and accepted, and that the creator of this earth offers to be their heavenly father. This love – which is shown above all by Jesus – is what every child needs, especially the many foster children that we have in this country.

What is the current situation in the recipient countries?

The war in Ukraine naturally has an impact on the various recipient countries, as it does for you. A big problem is that many churches cannot heat the rooms they need for activities.  Of course, many of these countries also took in refugees from Ukraine and have been busy helping people from Ukraine all year round.

At the same time, it gives us a great opportunity to show the character of God in a very practical way in these dark times. The generosity of the shoebox packers and the message of hope shines all the brighter.

Did shoebox distribution also take place in the Ukraine?

Yes. Wherever possible, shoeboxes were distributed. The 200 millionth shoebox was even distributed in Ukraine. It’s so good to know that Samaritan’s Purse continues to bring relief supplies to the country and, in partnership with the churches, is making Jesus’ hope visible even in times of war.

Once the distributions are done, what happens next?

The follow-up courses “The Greatest Journey” will take place in the spring. Then we make evaluations of the past season – everything is recorded very precisely, after all every shoebox and every child is important.

Then we start recruiting new volunteers and from April we start to strategically plan the new season. Team members are trained, prepared, and the vision for the year is consolidated.

That sounds like a lot of work…!

Yes, it is. I travel a lot and my husband rarely sees me but fortunately he loves the project as much as I do – he’s the logistics coordinator.

I want shoebox packers to understand that we’re not just doing quick distributions at Christmas time, we’re preparing, planning, praying, coordinating all year round. There are so many people involved – with you the packers, the local volunteers, the distribution partners and the teachers for “The Greatest Journey”. All of this is so that children and their families see how valuable they are in God’s eyes.

Then we wish you God’s blessings for your work and the coming months. We look forward to celebrating with you how God transforms many more lives through shoebox gifts this coming season.

FOOTNOTES Interview: Sarah Tyllianakis / Photos: Simon Zimpfer


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