Livia received her shoebox in a Romanian orphanage when she was 12.
All my life I really wanted hairclips but growing up in an orphanage where we had very little I could never get them. But I really, really wanted hairclips. Then Operation Christmas Child came and there it was—a big packet of hairclips sitting at the very top of my shoebox! I couldn’t believe my eyes. I thought, how can someone give me something that I’ve wanted for so many years? Someone far away decided to pack it up, never knowing that it would be somebody’s dream come true.
I took the packet out. I tore it open and tried to put every single one of them in my hair. And I did! I really wanted something to keep my hair off my face. I wanted to feel the wind touch my neck. When I got those hairclips I was so excited to finally be free of all the stuff that covers your face or neck or ears. Receiving those hairclips meant a lot.
At the distribution event they shared the Gospel with us. That was something brand new to me. When I got the hairclips I just couldn’t believe how God could make something like that possible. It made me realize that there is a God who loves me. He loves me because he wanted me to have the hairclips.
As they spoke about the Gospel, I was mesmerized by the words of love. How could anyone possibly love me? After 10 years of living in the orphanage, all of a sudden people were telling me that I’m loved. I thought, there’s no way. How am I supposed to take this? I was really shocked to hear the news of not only God loving us but also people from all over the world. Love was a brand new word in my vocabulary. The same year I received the shoebox I accepted Christ into my heart. The shoebox is almost nothing compared to knowing Jesus. There was so much joy. I wished I could tell everybody in the world that I accepted Christ. It’s a different feeling because the things in the shoebox gift get lost or broken or used up, but our Saviour never does. He’s always there for us. That’s what I love about it. To have a God who loves us unconditionally every day to make up for the years of my life living in an orphanage, that’s the greatest gift of all right there.
An American mission team was helping to give out the shoebox gifts at our orphanage. Every kid wanted one of them to hold on to, to give them hugs, to talk with them, to look in their eyes and let them feel important. I became super-glued to a woman named Connie because I wanted the attention and the love that I didn’t get in the orphanage. I literally didn’t share her with anyone else. I was so defensive of her, protecting her from every other kid because I knew this was my only chance to ever have someone talk to me, to ever have someone hold my hand. I told every kid who tried to get Connie’s attention, “Go away. This is my person. You go find somebody else.”
Connie was with me the whole time I looked at my shoebox. At the top of the box, I found hairclips that I loved. Then I saw a bar of soap, a toothbrush and toothpaste, and other hygiene items that meant a lot to me. And then I found a friendship necklace.
I really wanted to thank Connie for the gift and for sharing about the Gospel. For the first time I knew that there was hope out there and there was a God who loves me every day. I just wanted to tell her thank you for everything. I picked up the friendship necklace and told Connie, “You keep half of the necklace. I’ll keep the other half. Maybe one day we can put our hearts together.”
As I shared the necklace with her I told her, “I love you.” That’s when God told Connie that she needed to adopt me.
I didn’t just hear the Gospel and learn that there is hope and love and get a bundle of joy that day with the hairclips. God wanted me to have more than that. He wanted me to have a family. Living in the orphanage, I never allowed myself to dream. There was no way I could ever dream because I’d never get any of the things I wanted to get. So when I found out that Connie’s family wanted to adopt me I was blown away. It was one of the most unexpected things to happen in my life.
The same year that I received the shoebox gift I accepted Christ. For the next two years while I was waiting for the adoption to be finalized I prayed constantly that God would make a way for me to be able to come to a family that would love me unconditionally.
I got the shoebox when I was 12 and I came to the United States to a brand new family when I was 14. It was something that only God made possible. My shoebox is something imprinted on my heart that never goes away. It’s an unforgettable moment that I talk about every day. It had an everlasting impact—an eternal impact.