After years of volunteering with the Operation Christmas Child Program, Macon County resident Sierra Womack was able to see her hard work in action during a trip to Rwanda, Africa to deliver shoeboxes.
For years Womack was a part of the hundreds of thousands of volunteers across the country that packed shoeboxes full of treats for children across the globe. Each year she would carefully select items to fit in a box to be given to a complete stranger. While her volunteer efforts were restricted to packing the boxes here, she always wanted to know more about the process and how the little gifts were delivered to children in the world. Well this year, she got the chance to find out.
At the end of April, Womack prepared to travel across the Atlantic Ocean to Rwanda, Africa to personally deliver the presents to hundreds of eager boys and girls. With so much anticipation leading up to the big day and so much uncertainty about what to expect, Womack was nervous about her trip to Africa. “I was nervous about how long it took to get there; we traveled 24 hours,” she said.
After first arriving in Rwanda, Womack and the other volunteers were given a lesson in the history of the developing country. “We used our first day to remember the genocide and understand what Rwanda has been through so we could see how far they have come to get to where they are today,” said Womack. “We went to the genocide museum and to several genocide memorials. We also had a lunch during the week with some of the Rwandan government so they could tell us their stories.”
After gaining a better understanding of the needs and developments of the country, Womack and the other 40 or so volunteers who travelled to Rwanda from all over would begin each day of the rest of the trip with worship and a talk about what the day looked like. “We would all separate into our teams, yellow, green and blue,” said Womack of her daily activity. “I was on the blue team and we would load our buses with our team captain and go off to a distribution. We normally did two distributions a day broken up by lunch.”
While Womack’s intent on working with OCC was to give back to others from across the country, what she gained from the trip was far more than she could have hoped for. “There were lots of highlights for me,” said Womack. “I would have to say giving my testimony with balloons at the first distribution was a highlight. There were over 300 in a very small church and you could have heard a pin drop they were so focused in on what I was saying.”
Although her trip to Rwanda was not her first trip outside of the United States, Womack said that the way the community in Africa embraced and welcomed her was unlike anything she had ever experienced. “I have been to several countries during my lifetime but I’m not sure I have every been received with so much joy and love, from the national team to the pastors,” said Womack. “Some of the pastors had prayed for years for white people to come to their church.”
Womack wanted to send a little bit of love from Macon County to Rwanda and did so with the items she packed in some of the shoeboxes. “I took three boxes from Macon County and one box that was packed by our OCC team here from Western North Carolina,” she said. “In that box was a hat made by a team member and a cloth bag that an 87-year-old member of our team made. Pauline Case makes right at 300 cloth bags for boxes every year. The little boy who received the box wouldn't take the hat off and he walked home holding the bag and told me thank you in English.”
After experiencing the triumphs of the people of Rwanda and how graciously they accepted outsiders into their community, Womack gained a new appreciation of the importance of the OCC Program. “This trip and OCC was important for several reasons,” said Womack. “One being I needed to learn about forgiveness in a way only they could teach me. I was able to actually see the box make it into the hands of a child. That was important for not just me but everyone I am in contact with that packs shoeboxes. I can now say I know where they go and they truly are blessings to the children and their families."
With a whole new appreciation and understanding of the OCC program, Womack is excited to continue volunteering and packing boxes for children all over the world. “This experience more than changed my life and the way I look at shoeboxes,” she said. “She learned that 'keeping it simple' is so important, the more difficult a toy is to figure out the less likely they are to be able to use it. Stick to the basics. Tooth brush, toothpaste, match box cars, school supplies, they've never had any of this stuff before so it is just as great to them as a $50 gift.”
If your church or organization would like for Womack to speak about her trip to Rwanda and the OCC program, contact her at (828)421-4176.