Paul reminded the church in Ephesus: “In everything I did, I showed you that by this kind of hard work we must help the weak, remembering the words the Lord Jesus himself said: ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive’ ” (Acts 20:35).
Receiving is an expression of admitted need and accepted dependency. At some points in our lives we have all been part of the category of “the weak” Paul describes. From time to time we have deep needs, and our lives might depend on the kindness of others. For many children around the world, deep needs are met through a project called Operation Christmas Child—the world’s largest Christmas project of its kind. Each year, Operation Christmas Child collects gift-filled shoeboxes filled with fun toys, school supplies and hygiene items, and delivers them to children affected by war, disease, disaster, poverty and famine. These children are in desperate need of love and hope. I am deeply passionate about this project because I was once one of these children in need.
Growing up in communist Romania, I was raised by two hardworking parents. They worked in a factory their entire lives to provide the very basic necessities for us. Food was scarce, but we managed. Our small, two-room apartment was our safe haven where mom and dad strategized daily on what food to put on the table or how to buy new shoes for us growing kids. Mom’s hands were often bleeding as she worked hard to wash our clothes in the sink, hoping to remove stains. My older brother was in charge of looking after me while mom and dad tirelessly worked in the factory from 6:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. every day. We quickly became independent and had to learn how to take care of ourselves. We spent many hours home alone, and one day, when I was seven years old, we found a hidden Bible in the floorboard of our apartment. Bibles were not permitted during communism—churches were forbidden and speaking the name of God out loud could easily become a death warrant—so the contents of this book were a mystery to us. Despite the potential harm that could come, we began to read and fall in love with its stories. God started working on my heart and my brother’s heart through this small Bible. When I was 11 years old, a classmate of mine invited me to a small underground church not far from our home. This is where I learned that the book we had been reading was a well-known book many people were reading around the world. My excitement grew stronger, and I was determined to learn every story.
My pastor at this little underground church eventually discipled me and taught me how to pray. I always dreaded the cold and dark winters in Romania. Whenever it was dark outside we knew it was bedtime. The only exception to this was if there was snow on the ground. It was the perfect opportunity to pray. I prayed for snow for more than three months, but my prayer was not being answered. I was disappointed and wondered if all the stories in the Bible I read were true after all.
My answer came in an unexpected way: a beautiful, colorfully wrapped shoebox. Within this box I found a snow globe that brought snow to life like never before. I understood through that little globe that God knows me and the desires of my heart. He knew that I was ready to give up on Him, but He was not ready to give up on me. On that day I learned that He is a God who answers prayers. His answers just sometimes look differently than what I imagine. For me He answered months of prayers in the form of a gift-filled shoebox. He became real to me on that day, and my life was changed forever.
Today I live in Charlotte, North Carolina, with my husband Joel and two beautiful children, Kaleb (8) and Naomi Joy (5). We live in a comfortable little home with heat and air conditioning. The fridge and pantry are never completely empty. I have a washer and dryer that make my daily life a little easier. But these are things I do not take for granted. I want to give back the blessing I received through a gift-filled shoebox. Each year, we collect fun toys, hygiene items and school supplies for children in need. My kids love to pack color-coordinated boxes. Kaleb is a fan of packing yellow boxes with as many yellow items inside as possible, while Naomi Joy is a fan of purple. We’re planning to drop them off during Operation Christmas Child’s National Collection Week this year, Nov. 13 – 20.
We spend time praying for the children who will receive them. We pray they will find the beauty of our Savior through the boxes we pack. We pray they will join The Greatest Journey discipleship program that is offered to shoebox recipients. Ultimately, we pray they will feel loved and not forgotten—just as I did as a young girl on a gloomy winter day.
I am grateful that today my family and I get to give shoeboxes and have an opportunity to be a blessing to others. Since 1993, Operation Christmas Child has collected and delivered more than 146 million gift-filled shoeboxes to children in more than 160 countries and territories. This year, Operation Christmas Child hopes to collect enough shoebox gifts to reach another 12 million children. We are thankful to be a part of this life-changing project, and we are overwhelmed that we get to give! I don’t ever want to take that opportunity for granted. Today we can go and be a blessing!