by Elsie Walker
One Sunday last month, children at the Port Morris United Methodist Church in Landing filled shoebox-sized boxes with toys and hygiene items. They added these to boxes already filled and donated by the congregation. The boxes were going to Operation Christmas Child, an ecumenical program run by the non-profit organization, Samaritan’s Purse.
Through Operation Christmas Child, needy children around the world are given their first glimpse of Christmas, not only through the gifts in the box, but through the nativity story that the organization adds to each one. “It’s fun to prepare a box for a child,“ said Stela Petrov, whose husband, the Rev. Dr. Nick Petrov, is pastor of the church.
However, unlike most of those who send boxes to the cause, the Petrov’s know what it is like to be on the receiving end. Before coming to the United States, the couple lived in Bulgaria, where their church participated in receiving and giving out Operation Christmas Child boxes.
Stela Petrov, who coordinated the Operation Christmas Child box drive at the Landing church, recently shared her experience in Bulgaria When they were there, Petrov’s church gave boxes out to children ages 3-18 at three orphanages. For the younger children, there was a party, and for the older ones something at the church. The children were in the orphanages for various reasons. One reason that children were taken away from their parents was due to abuse while other children were there because their parents couldn’t take care of them or didn’t want them. An example of this might be children with epilepsy who had seizures. Children age out of the orphanage at 18 and older children are vulnerable to people who may seek to use them in various ways.
Petrov explained that besides the joy they brought, the boxes helped the church to make contact with the children and offer a place where people would welcome them and offer them weekly opportunities to learn things and participate in other activities. For older children, it gave them a positive outlet and place to spend time.
While some in this country might not think items like small toys, paper, pens, band aids, soap, combs, brushes and other items are much of a Christmas gift, they mean so much to the children who receive them. Petrov shared how she’d been told that after receiving a box, a child in the orphanage would cling to it, even taking the box to bed, tightly clutching it, for fear someone might steal it from him or her.
Petrov said that the Port Morris United Methodist Church filled 37 boxes for Operation Christmas Child and her husband’s other church, Millbrook United Methodist church in Randolph, filled 40. Boxes can be tracked as to the location where they will be sent. The Landing church found its boxes are going to the Ukraine. Petrov noted that though Operation Christmas Child is a “worldwide project, and boxes come from all over, the boxes they get are never enough”.