Shirley Greber smiles as she works small stitches into elastic to finish a waistband in shorts for a young child. It is a labour of love for the 80-year-old Wingham woman, who is inspiring others to join her support of Operation Christmas Child.
What is Operation Christmas Child?
Samaritan’s Purse runs Operation Christmas Child, the world’s largest Christmas project of its kind. Gift-filled shoeboxes are packed with something to love, something for personal hygiene, something special, something to play with, something to wear and something for school, with the hope of revealing God’s love in a tangible way to children. In October the shoeboxes are sent from Australia to children in Cambodia, Papua New Guinea, Thailand, Vietnam, Vanuatu, Fiji and Samoa.
How many years have you supported Operation Christmas Child, and why have you acted to make it an integral part of your life?
I’ve been gifting shoeboxes for about 25 years, but it’s only during the last three years that I’ve become heavily involved. I felt God was laying it on my heart to do more, and so I now co-ordinate the shoeboxes at Wingham Presbyterian Church.
Last year we sent 95 shoeboxes, and this year we are aiming to send 100! We used to encourage people to create individual shoeboxes, but now we work together as a congregation to try to get more people involved and also to ease the cost.
We start buying, collecting and making things at the beginning of the year, and donations are placed in a container at the church during the year. We have ladies who knit beanies, and some who knit soft toys, and I’ve done a lot of sewing – I’m still sewing shorts and dresses!
I am really grateful for what this small community of people is able to do. Last year when we finished packing the shoeboxes, we put them on the church stage, and during a service Pastor Paul Smith prayed for the shoeboxes and the children who would receive them.
It’s something I am really passionate about because there are so many children who have so little, who need so much, and this is such a beautiful and practical way to show love.
Shirley, you have an intimate knowledge of the challenges faced by families and children in underprivileged communities. Please share some of the experiences that have contributed to your decision to support Operation Christmas Child.
I spent around 14 months in Vanuatu working as a nurse in a church mission hospital, Ndui Ndui Hospital, from about 1969. I was probably about 30 years old, and now I’m 80, so a few years have passed, but my memories of that time and the people are clear.
The doctor I worked with was of the impression that if we weren’t prepared to go out to the people, then we couldn’t expect them to come to us.
So, we did patrols out to the villages that involved treating medical conditions, weighing babies, and giving people suggestions for care. I loved the work, and the people were just so loveable, they really were, and they weaved their way into my heart.
What do you remember of the living and working conditions?
They had leaf buildings, and the room I lived in was made of woven palm walls on the side of a house, which looked like a lower class house that we have here. It had a dirt floor, and the geckos would run around the rafters and serenade you. It was a completely different way of life!
It was a laid back lifestyle, and the attitude was very much – what you don’t get to do today, you do tomorrow or next week – and we’d go home for lunch at noon and wouldn’t go back to work until 2 pm, because of the heat and humidity.
What prompted you to work in Vanuatu?
It’s interesting when I look back at things that have happened in my life. I did my general training with two or three girls of New Hebrides descent – the country was called New Hebrides when I went there, not Vanuatu. At that stage in my life, I never knew that’s where I would end up one day.
Two nursing sisters wrote to ask me if I would be interested in going there. I thought it would be nice but had booked in to do my Mothercraft Certificate. So I wrote and said that I really couldn’t help them, then they replied asking if I would still come after I had finished my training.
It was easy to say I couldn’t go when I had something else, but then when I was challenged, I didn’t have any peace until I said, alright God if you want me there, I will go — so out I went as a volunteer.
God was wonderful with how He provided, and of course, by the time I came home, I didn’t want to leave. I still remember the day I left, with tears streaming down my cheeks. That experience brought me closer to God and closer to those people who remain in my heart today.