Packing the Promise of Hope

Posted: May 20, 2016

Harry and Erica Werenka are a unique pair. When most couples in their late 60’s are preparing for a slower pace of life, the Werenkas are living in the fast lane. 

If you’re wondering, a look at the basement suite in their home every fall will tell you the answer. Packed from floor to ceiling, are thousands of red and green boxes, each one designated for a child in a foreign country through the project Operation Christmas Child. 

Missions have always been on the hearts of Harry and Erica. Having both suffered the loss of their spouses, they met and remarried some time later, turning their grief into an opportunity to bless those around them. The Werenkas have modelled this through participation in short-term missions trips (Harry has been to Mexico 25 times utilizing his construction skills!), being involved in their local church and housing international Bible students. As Erica puts it; “[there is] more than one way to be a missionary.”

Erica filled her first shoe box 15 years ago when she was inspired by a friend’s involvement with Samaritan’s Purse’ Operation Christmas Child. “I can do that,” recalls Erica when she thought of filling a box or two. Soon five boxes became ten which then escalated to fifty. Within 15 years, the number had grown to reach 2100. For this couple it is about hope; “I pray that it gives them some hope, everyone needs hope. Besides that, it fills a need,” says Erica.

Erica packs each box with the promise of hope and she prepares all 12 months of the year to gather everything a child might need in 11” by 7”. The money she earns from her part time reception job is imperative to funding the project so dear to her heart . The job of filling 2100 boxes is no small task and Erica puts her heart and soul into each one, to ensure a child feels loved by each box. Weekly trips to Dollarama are made throughout the year to purchase colouring books, marbles, and toys as well as any other store with enough stock for basic hygiene items including toothbrushes, soap, and clothing. Last year she was able to find 1000 Spanish Bibles and ensured those boxes went to Spanish speaking countries. 

The final touch to ensuring each box will delight the child is a stuffed animal strategically placed facing upward, so once the box is opened, the stuffy will be the first thing the child sees. This complicates packing and closing the box in order to avoid squishing the stuffed animal, but Erica’s desire is for each child to see love every time they open their box; “to let them know ‘we love you” and “[feel] hope and encouragement about life and maybe about North America.”

With all the boxes packed and ready to go mid November,  Harry enlists the help of friends to make packing a UHAUL in the middle of an Edmonton winter a little more manageable. From there, the boxes are shipped around the world by members of Samaritan’s Purse and distributed to those in need by local ministry partners.

Erica and Harry’s story is beautiful but it doesn't stop there. They want to fuel the fire of others to get involved, to serve, give, and perhaps fill a box or two. For the Werenkas its about being open to what God has called us to do with no limitations. “There should not be a boundary to our giving or our doing,” says Erica; “… once you do a shoe box you will do two next year, then five.” So what are you waiting for?