In 2010, I felt so moved by the story of Lejla Allison, born and raised in war-ravaged Bosnia, that I wrote a play based on her journey.
As an 11-year old, Lejla witnessed horrific things no child should ever see. Her world was so unsafe, she feared to take a step out her door lest it be her last.
Lejla begged her parents not to make her go to school because she did not own a decent pair of shoes. Her dad tied her old, torn sneakers shut with wire, but the cold and wet squeezed through anyway.
“My toes hurt to the point that I don’t think I’ve experienced any worse pain,” Lejla says. “I went off to school very angry. I made up my mind that perhaps that day, I would not come back home. I was sick and tired of being hungry, scared, poor, hurt, of seeing other people getting hurt, other people die. I simply felt like life had no meaning anymore.”
When Lejla arrived at school after an hour of walking, she discovered the children gathered around. They told her shoeboxes were being handed out and if she wanted one, she should go over there. “What do I need a shoebox for?” she thought. “I have no shoes to put in one.”
When a man brought her a box anyway, to her delight she found inside a brand new pair of white sneakers.
“Out of all the things in this world, I got shoes!” Lejla says. “I realized at that moment somebody, somewhere, cared enough. They didn’t know me, they didn’t know anything about me. That same instant, I knew it was someone who knew my mind, someone who knew exactly what I wanted who sent me those shoes. And who else could know but the Lord himself?”
My play, Somebody Else’s Shoebox, introduces the audience to the fictional person who packed Lejla’s box—a misguided, scatter-brained but lovable woman who thought you were actually supposed to fill your shoebox with shoes. She would never know her gift went to exactly the right person.
Other stories like Lejla’s appear on the Samaritan’s Purse website (see address below).
Izabella McMillion, who grew up in Romania, received a shoebox as a child. Now she helps distribute shoeboxes there.
“When we faced children who were so expectant,” Izabella says, “I could see myself in those eyes and I know they were thinking the same thing I was thinking, that ‘I am receiving a gift and I haven’t done anything for it.’ One box changed my life and allowed me to understand God better and I’m able to turn around and multiply the blessing by encouraging so many others to pack shoe boxes.”
When you anticipate your own children or grandchildren tearing into their gifts this year, consider that for most of the kids who receive a shoebox, it will be the only gift they ever receive in their life. Not this Christmas. Not this year. Their entire life.
Is it any wonder it’s such a big deal? Don’t let this opportunity to make a difference pass you by.
Local folks: pick up your shoebox at Portage Alliance Church, Pet Valu, Portage Supermarket, Sobeys, Co-op, Heritage Books, Only Deals, or Dollarama. Follow the instructions and return it to Portage Alliance Church the week of November 19-25. You can find lots of helpful ideas for what to pack in the brochure and on their website: www.samaritanspurse.org
As for my little play, as far as I know it has yet to hit the stage. But the folks at Samaritan’s Purse liked the script and happily received it. Maybe one day it, too, will find its way into the right hands.
And maybe in our shoebox packing, both givers and receivers will begin to understand anew what the first Christmas was all about: “I am receiving a gift and I haven’t done anything for it!”