Returning Gifts of Love

Claire Peterson's life was changed by caring Christians. Now, she's trying to do the same.
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Small gifts, changed lives: Claire Peterson, 19, knows a shoebox can change a life. Each Christmas, she and her four adopted sisters pack up more than 30 boxes of gifts to send to needy children around the world. Claire gives because she was once one of those needy children.

Before being adopted by John and Marie Peterson of Texas, Claire lived in a Russian orphanage since her alcoholic mother left her in a train station when she was 5.

Claire doesn't remember being given any gifts before she turned 13. So when American missionaries with Operation Christmas Child handed her a present, she began to cry. "We always got candy at Christmas in the orphanage, but this time we each got a box filled with toys, hair clips, lip gloss and more," Claire said. "Just to know someone from across the world loved me really touched my heart."

More than a shoebox: Operation Christmas Child is a gift-giving program developed by Samaritan's Purse. They offer more than just presents. Operation Christmas Child missionaries were the first people to tell Claire about Jesus.

Still, things looked bleak. At Claire's orphanage, when girls graduate from school (usually around 16), they are forced to leave. If they cannot find jobs, many become prostitutes just to survive. Claire worried about her future—but trusted solely in the Lord. Often, Claire would retreat to a closet to pray so that she wouldn't be discovered and beaten. "We weren't allowed to show our faith or pray in the orphanage," she said. "But my only hope was God."

Spreading her blessings: Those prayers seemed answered when Claire met John and Maria Peterson, two Operation Christmas Child donors who'd come to Russia to adopt a set of twins, Molly and Abby, now 16. "When I saw them I knew they were my parents," Claire said. The Petersons felt the same way. They wanted to adopt Claire, but paperwork snags made it impossible.

"I knew I was supposed to be with them," Claire says. "So,

I told Molly and Abby what God was telling me. When they could speak English, they translated it to the Petersons."

It took time to work through the paperwork—almost two whole years—but the Petersons not only returned to adopt Claire but also two biological sisters, Julianne, now 19, and Tess, now 14. "It feels so good to have parents, real sisters, and to be loved," Claire says. "And it's just as awesome that our parents are so caring that they had been sending boxes overseas long before they ever adopted us."

Now, Claire wants to be a missionary to orphaned children. Through Operation Christmas Child, she's getting a head start. Last year, she and Julianne went to Belize to hand-deliver gift boxes.

"After each child cried and thanked me, I gave him or her a hug, said I loved them, and that Jesus does too," Claire says.

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