Listen: Luda chats to Katrina Roe about receiving a Christmas shoebox of gifts as a child. Above: Luda, an Operation Christmas Child ambassador.
For a little girl called Luda, growing up in Ukraine in the 1990s wasn’t easy. The Soviet Union had collapsed and many nations in the region sunk into poverty.
Families lost jobs and life savings, and Luda’s parents survived only by growing their own food on their land. Luda and her siblings wore the same few clothes for years, and a tin of cocoa from the shop each month was a rare treat.
So when a shoebox filled with gifts arrived for Luda at the local church one Christmas, it was a life-changing experience.
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The gift was part of Operation Christmas Child, the worldwide initiative of the charity Samaritan’s Purse, where children living in poverty receive gifts and a chance to hear the gospel message.
Luda, who is now an ambassador for Operation Christmas Child, remembers the day as a 13-year-old that she received her shoebox of gifts in a special church service.
“All the kids and teens were invited to the front, we sat down, and the pastor spoke about the gift of Christmas, and then the youth came out and started handing out the shoeboxes,” she recalls. “It looked just like a nicely wrapped Christmas box. At first we didn’t know what to do with it, and then we were told, ‘it’s yours, open up and enjoy what’s inside’.
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“There were so many things I didn’t know what to go for first. There were clothes, toys, some toys I didn’t know how to use…pencils, textas, colouring books, a letter and a picture from the couple that sent the shoebox.
“It was incredible. I couldn’t get my head around what I had in front of me and that it was mine, nobody could take it away.”
Strengthened Her Faith, Taught Her to Give
Luda said it not only encouraged her in her faith in God, but also encouraged her to know that there are people who didn’t even know her, but wanted to bless her. And it taught her to give – a value she now teaches her own daughter.
“If I could meet the couple who sent my gift I would say thank you, and tell them that their gift keeps on giving because I’ve been doing [the same] for years now and am teaching my daughter to do the same.
“I even have the bracelet and earrings that I kept, it’s nearly 19 years old, but I show it to my daughter and tell her that one day when I was poor and had nothing, there was this beautiful couple that blessed me with this gift.
“I show it to my daughter and tell her that one day when I was poor and had nothing, there was this beautiful couple that blessed me with this gift.”
“It’s like a reminder and a legacy that I keep in the family to remind them that if we have an opportunity to give, we should do it. Because it might be a great blessing, and that person can grow up to start doing the same thing and blessing others.”
Luda said she saw whole families come to faith and stay in the church because of the message they heard during the Operation Christmas Child service.
“It’s a great way to spread the gospel and share the love of Jesus, and invite families to come to Christ,” she said.
Support Operation Christmas Child
The October school holidays are the perfect time to go shopping and pack a shoebox for Operation Christmas Child.