Summer Camp Memories in Ukraine

August 3, 2017 • Ukraine

Operation Christmas Child shoebox gifts make summer camp experiences more special.

Caryn England is a senior writer for Samaritan’s Purse. She recently traveled to Ukraine to cover Operation Christmas Child outreach events and The Greatest Journey.

My first trip to the Carpathian Mountains brought back memories. As part of a Samaritan’s Purse media team covering Operation Christmas Child in Ukraine, our caravan of two miniature buses traveled up a rough gravel road outside the village of Zarichia to the Golden Generation Camp.

Named to celebrate the wonder of childhood, the camp serves children at risk as well as multiple churches across the country.

Entering the gate and seeing buildings for lodging, dining, and staff care, I remembered my own days as a kid at camp. They were so filled with adventure that when I returned home from my first camp experience as a 7-year-old I burst into tears. I wanted to go back!

Uliana was grateful to receive all the special gifts in her shoebox.

Uliana was grateful to receive all the special gifts in her shoebox.

Years later as a teen, camp was where I made the decision to stop being a different person at church and at school. There, I made Christ the Lord of my life like never before.

Operation Christmas Child shoebox gifts are having a similar—or even greater—influence on the lives of Ukrainian boys and girls at camp.

Vladislava, 12, lives with her grandmother. Her mother lives just two miles away but her rights to care for “Vlada” have been removed because of alcoholism.

After hearing a Gospel presentation on the camp’s soccer field, Vlada received her green-and-red plastic shoebox. She lit up with joy when she opened it, hugging the teddy bear inside. Excited, she continued to explore her shoebox and discovered a calculator, notebook, and sunglasses. Next to her teddy bear, the best part was a note from 21-year-old Taylor.

“I will frame my letter,” Vlada said.

But more importantly, she added, “This inspired me to read the Bible more.” Bible reading had not been a habit for her in the past.

Misha's favorite gift was a helicopter toy.

Misha’s favorite gift was a helicopter toy.

Vlada’s best friend Uliana, 13, also received a shoebox gift that afternoon. Her favorite item was a set of colored pencils.

Uliana lives in poverty without a father, but she trusts her Heavenly Father, whom she accepted into her heart as a child.

Misha, 11, also has a challenging home life. He is often found in the street instead of in school. But Misha accepted Christ into his heart the day he received his Operation Christmas Child shoebox.

“We learned about Adam and Eve and the fruit, and I learned that Jesus was crucified,” he said.

Vlada, Uliana, and Misha are just samples of the underprivileged children who attend this camp. Others are orphans.

Yet camp affords many of them the opportunity to hear the Good News of Jesus Christ and experience the great joy of a shoebox gift packed by someone they don’t know far away.

These boys and girls will have precious camp memories, too. I hope their newfound faith and treasures will keep them from tears as they return home to difficult situations.