I was about 3 years old in my earliest Christmas memory. I had chickenpox, and because I was quarantined, my stepfather dressed as Santa to cheer me up. I don’t remember the gifts I got that year, but I remember feeling so special that Santa had made a house call to visit me.
That memory surfaced recently when I read the story of Valerie, a little girl in Togo. Valerie’s first Christmas memory happened last year — because it was the first time she ever celebrated Christmas.
Valerie doesn’t have a lot of joyful memories. She was 5 years old when she was enrolled at a Compassion child development center, but after only a few months she stopped attending. When the staff checked on her, they discovered that Valerie was being cared for by her 11-year-old brother while their mother worked away from home.
And one weekend when her mother returned home, Valerie was gone. Compassion staff pieced together the details that Valerie’s father had come and retrieved his daughter. But nobody knew where he lived. Nobody knew if Valerie was OK.
Two years passed. And then a miracle happened. A little girl named Valerie surfaced at another Compassion center, 30 miles away. She visited the center with her cousin, and soon she mentioned that she had gone to a place just like this a long time ago.
It was a puzzle that Compassion eagerly put together. They were able to track down Valerie’s former center, and when her former project director walked into her new center he was in tears. Valerie had been found.
But what does all of this have to do with Valerie’s first Christmas?
Unlike most of us, Valerie remembers her very first Christmas at the Compassion center. Her memories are not fuzzy like mine. She remembers the balloons she played with, the treats she ate and the Bible verses she recited with her friends.
Compassion made a house call to Valerie. When she thought she had been forgotten, she was found. And those gifts she opened on that first Christmas were a tangible reminder of that.
When you give to Compassion’s Christmas Gift Fund, you are reminding thousands of Valeries around the world that they are loved and valued; that they are worth more than the poverty that surrounds them.
Your gift is taken like a light into places of sickness and darkness.
And a child knows.
I am found.