A Survivor and a Servant

November 3, 2015 • United States
Jane Dennington, a cancer survivor, served as a missionary in Haiti and now helps bring the Gospel to children around the world through Operation Christmas Child.
Jane Dennington, a cancer survivor, served as a missionary in Haiti and now helps bring the Gospel to children around the world through Operation Christmas Child.

Cancer moves a missionary from Haiti, and then she finds a new ministry through Operation Christmas Child.

Jane Dennington, 62, and her husband Bud moved to Cap Haïtien, Haiti’s second largest city, the September before the devastating 2010 earthquake. When truckloads of Operation Christmas Child shoeboxes arrived in their city shortly after the quake, Jane joined local pastors in distributing the gifts.

She distinctly remembers going to a Christian school in a small community with just enough boxes for its 200 students. The school met in a church where staggered concrete blocks formed only a semblance of a perimeter wall. The roof consisted of sheets of metal pieced together, making leaks common. Sheets hung from the ceiling to form classrooms.

Find Out More About Operation Christmas Child Taking down the sheets, they gathered the students together in one open room. Jane began to tell the children about Jesus before distributing the boxes. As she did so, more children—including a boy with cerebral palsy—assembled outside, peeking in through the holes in the wall to see what was happening inside. The spectators outside the wall made her nervous, though, because she only had enough shoebox gifts for the students.

To her surprise, though, the people handing out the gifts said, “We have extra!” After all the students had received one, eight or nine shoeboxes were leftover—just enough for the children outside the wall.

As the onlookers joined the festivities, the students insisted they pray and thank Jesus for the boxes before they opened them. Then after a countdown, they tore into the gifts with squeals of delight.

That day more than 20 children accepted Christ as their Savior.

“These children are so hungry for something happy in their life,” Jane said. “They’re so excited to get a box and learn that there is hope for them in Jesus. They’ll tell their brothers and sisters, their cousins and their grandmothers.”

Smaller than the size of Maryland, Haiti is home to well more than 10 million people, 3.5 million of which are under the age of 15.

Children in Haiti receive good news and great joy through Operation Christmas Child shoeboxes.

Children in Haiti receive good news and great joy through Operation Christmas Child shoeboxes.

Facing Death
Bud and Jane had just committed to serving two more years in Haiti in April 2014 when Jane found a lump in her right breast. When she ran the situation by a Canadian cardiologist who was visiting Haiti, he advised her to go home. She also met an American doctor who told her, “You need to get on a plane quickly.”

Jane and Bud were planning on returning in July. They thought that was soon enough, but the American doctor said, “That may be too late for you.” This doctor knew from the way Jane had described the growth of the lump that she was dealing with an aggressive form of cancer.

Heeding the advice, Jane flew home and was undergoing chemotherapy within the week. Jane learned that she had HER2 breast cancer, a form of cancer where, she said, “Your body actually feeds the tumor.”

Smaller than the size of Maryland, Haiti is home to well more than 10 million people, 3.5 million of which are under the age of 15.

Cancer also brought Jane bouts of depression. The former paramedic and crisis pregnancy counselor said, “It was the first time I wasn’t a caregiver.”

The tumor shrunk considerably from the chemotherapy, but in September 2014 Jane had a mastectomy.

From Survival to Service
In the throes of cancer, Jane said, “I want to stay in missions, but now I’m kind of in limbo.”

That fall, a woman in Jane’s church who volunteered with Operation Christmas Child asked Jane if she was interested in working with Samaritan’s Purse.

“I was so sick and didn’t have a lot of strength,” Jane said. But she remembered the shoebox distributions in Haiti and said, “Yes! The boxes are so important!”

Quite simply, Jane needed the something to do. Used to working 12 hours a day, now she was left to battle her illness. “Operation Christmas Child helped me get my mind off of my sickness,” Jane said.

Having to leave her work in Haiti, Jane felt as though she let the children down. Serving with Operation Christmas Child was a way she could continue to help kids overseas.

Jane volunteers in church relations, speaking at various congregations about the Samaritan’s Purse project. She started with the network of churches that supported her and Bud as they served in Haiti. Now when they are asked to provide missionary updates, Jane asks if she can share about Operation Christmas Child. So far, five churches in Corry, Pennsylvania, and three churches in Underwood, Minnesota, are packing shoeboxes for the first time as a result of these efforts.

“Yes! The boxes are so important!”

Her goal? “To get people passionate about missions,” Jane said. Remembering the conferences she attended when she was young, she said, “We don’t have anything reaching out to young people to teach them about missions anymore.”

She wants children to care about people outside their own neighborhood. Jane said, “If you get them involved with missions before the world dumps all its problems on them, they’ll stick with it.”

This grandmother and great-grandmother is so passionate about getting people involved with missions, because as she put it, “I’ve lived overseas and I know what it’s like.”

Learn How to Pack a Shoebox Jane wants people to pack shoebox gifts because even the more than 10 million that were collected last year are not enough. She cites the millions of children in India and Haiti alone to prove that the need remains great.

More Usable
Jane’s intravenous therapy for her cancer finally ended in June 2015 and the following August she had reconstructive surgery. She is officially free of cancer.

When her 13-year-old grandson Danny informed Jane that his friend’s mother got cancer a second time, she told him, “I don’t know if I’ll die from cancer, but I could die from a car accident too. We just have to love each other a whole lot while we’re together.

“We are promised that everything we go through will make us stronger and more usable by God.”

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