International Disaster Relief
Restoring a Single Mother’s Home in Ukraine
2 June 2023
Samaritan’s Purse worked together with partners to make a single mother’s battle-damaged home habitable again.
The unfamiliar item was a source of curiosity and conversation in Edouard’s West African community.
My parents worked hard to provide for our family in Senegal. We made do. We ate one meal a day, used candles and lanterns for light, and slept on the bare floor.
Family members had to search on a daily basis for pieces of tarp, spare wood, or metal to cover their home. No permanent roof meant that our belongings were vulnerable, so we did our best to safeguard what we had. No item was wasted. We used pages of newspaper as wallpaper.
Our family knew the Lord, finding joy and peace in their circumstances nonetheless.
We were a happy family without things. We didn’t have things like a refrigerator or a mattress. It wasn’t easy, but we were happy, because we were a family and were all together.
“God, You are good, and I’m giving You the day.”
I remember my dad, who was a pastor, would start each day by praying, “God, You are good, and I’m giving You the day.” My father would remind us that God is seeing the big picture and encouraged us to find joy and hope in the Word of God—to love God and others around us.
I placed my trust in Jesus Christ as my Saviour at age 12 at a Christian camp. Two years later, during a Wednesday night Bible study at church, I received an Operation Christmas Child shoebox gift.
I was ecstatic to receive a pack of two toothbrushes, one of which I gave to my sister. They were our first toothbrushes. Before that, we would rub charcoal and salt on our teeth to clean them.
Among the other gifts I received were additional personal care items, as well as coloured pencils, a colouring book, and a green yo-yo. I had never seen such a thing before and didn’t know what it was.
My best guess was that it was a modern-day sling shot similar to what David had used to slay Goliath (1 Samuel 17). For the first couple of weeks, my friends and I swung the yo-yo in circles above our heads, until an Operation Christmas Child team member visited our church and showed us how to use the yo-yo.
The yo-yo circulated around the community as curious friends and neighbours tried their hand at it. Since receiving a gift was so rare, that in itself was a point of conversation.
“Did you know that I received a gift?” I would tell my friends as I showed them my shoebox. Intrigued, they would ask, “What’s in there? Who sent it?”
People would want to see it and touch it, because it came from an unknown place. I was amazed that someone would send me such a gift.
I thought, “Who would care about a kid far away in a dusty country who didn’t have food, who sleeps on the floor, who didn’t go to school, who didn’t have a toothbrush?”
I saw Someone cares—God. He cares so much. God hears our cry and He loves us. I have a God who loves me so much.
It’s about God’s love and that changes lives. The person who packed my shoebox with love—that person changed my life. God changed my life.
My shoebox gift inspired me to get more involved in church, serving God and others.
A few years later, I came to the U.S. to train as a track and field athlete. One Wednesday evening, my youth director called to ask if I could come to the church along with some other youth to help move boxes. When I saw the red and green shoeboxes, I started to cry. They were like the one I had received when I was 14.
“I received one of those!” I exclaimed. “I received a shoebox!”
I encouraged the other young people there to take their time as they moved the boxes so that we could pray over each container.
Today, my life has come full circle in more ways than one. I now work with athletes as a personal trainer, speak to groups about packing shoebox gifts like the one I received as a child, and have become a pastor like my father, encouraging people to put God first in their lives and to share His love with others.
The most important thing to pack in your shoebox is your heart, because a kid needs that. In some corner of the world, there’s a girl or boy waiting for you to pack a shoebox for them, to show God’s love to them.
The Saramaccans are descendants of African slaves who escaped and formed their own culture and language—a mix of African dialects, Portuguese, English, and Dutch—throughout Suriname’s interior centuries ago. They gained their freedom from the Dutch Crown in 1762. Until recently, they mostly kept to themselves, far from others, and worshipped objects in nature, such as snakes and trees. They are one of thousands of unreached people groups around the world among which believers are few and most have never heard the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Both Romario and Pastor John are Saramaccans; John also serves as Suriname’s Operation Christmas Child church mobilization coordinator. The two Christian brothers have a vision to reach Duatra within the coming year.
“The shoeboxes are an open door for us to spread the Gospel to the unreachable people, both the children and their parents,” Pastor John said.
Romario agrees. His face lights up when talk turns to the impact he believes that Operation Christmas Child can have on his community. “I want them [people in Duatra] to feel it, touch it, see it—the love of God.”
Today, many people in Duatra and other Saramaccan villages still practice traditional animistic religion. They have many rituals and rules on what not to touch; they cast spells; and regularly go to a small shrine where they call on the spirits of snakes, trees, monkeys or similar things to help them.
“In a word, they don’t believe in the living God,” Romario said.
But the spiritual atmosphere is changing. As Romario visits during school vacations or others visit him, they can see something is different about him, Pastor John said. “They see something’s happening with him. The door is opening.”
“The shoeboxes are an open door for us to spread the Gospel.”Romario
Duatra will soon be another outreach point among a few Saramaccan villages where Operation Christmas Child is already at work distributing gift boxes to children and leading The Greatest Journey discipleship classes. As children up and down the forest rivers receive the Gospel and are discipled, that opens up opportunities for their parents, siblings, and friends to hear the Good News too; and then groups of believers form, ultimately leading to new churches. The forests will resound with worship of the one true God. That’s the goal.
Going from “nothing to something,” in Pastor John’s words, is not easy. Some Saramaccan areas can be difficult to access—requiring long trips by boat—and there’s not usually a welcome mat for Christians. But Operation Christmas Child recently celebrated an outreach event in the village of Drepada in the district of Brokopondo.
Wendy, another Saramaccan member of Pastor John’s church, was among those who presented the Gospel and distributed gift boxes to about 70 children. “I love it,” she said. “People told me about Jesus, so I love sharing Him with others.”
Leaders in Drepada were not receptive to Operation Christmas Child until recently. But Wendy teaches in a school nearby and her influence helped open the doors.
Dana, who serves as a regional discipleship coordinator for Operation Christmas Child in Suriname, was also at the recent outreach and led the first session of The Greatest Journey discipleship course. “I care about the Saramaccans, because I am Saramaccan,” she said. “Without Jesus we are nothing.”
She continued, “They need Jesus. We all need Him. I care about my people. If I don’t, who else will?”
Saramaccan communities have been hit hard by drugs, suicide, poverty, and issues surrounding the gold mining industry. As a boarding school teacher, Dana sees the suffering firsthand and knows hope for change begins with the heart. That’s why she’s using the 12 lessons of The Greatest Journey among her pupils, showing them step-by-step how they can be friends with Jesus. Her students’ behavior and outlook are changing, she said, as they learn from the Bible that God created them and loves them.
“We believe if the children can be reached, (then) they can change the future in the area where they are living,” Dana said.
In Drepada, 12-year-old Chadelfa was among those starting to discover the truths of God’s Word. She received a shoebox filled with a ruler, pencils, crayons, a yo-yo, and washcloth, among other items, and participated in The Greatest Journey class.
“I’ve learned you must be kind and not curse anybody,” she said. It’s a simple application but a profound one for children who are hearing about God’s ways for the first time.
Dana’s desire, like that of Wendy, Romario, and Pastor John, is to bring Good News and great joy to many more Saramaccan children in the coming years.
“My vision is to reach the other ones where we haven’t been there. They need to hear the Gospel,” she said. “We have to go farther. My prayer for the Saramaccan people is to open the door—to give us a chance—to hear what we have to say about Jesus.”
Please remember to pray for the Operation Christmas Child team in Suriname. Ask that God would grant them many opportunities to share the Gospel with the Saramaccan people and many others who are not yet walking with Jesus.
Your gift today can help us to spread the gospel around the world through Operation Christmas Child and The Greatest Journey.