My shoebox opened my heart to something that changed my life forever.
I was an orphan in the former Soviet Union when I received my shoebox. We had to share everything at the orphanage, including towels. When I got a washcloth in my box I actually thought it was my own personal towel! It was very special because I was the only one who could use it. It was my own personal thing—something that I didn’t have before—so it was one of my favourite gifts.
Another favorite item was a notebook. It was awesome because when I was moved to a different orphanage I could use it to write letters to my sisters and stay in touch with them.
God used the shoebox to plant a seed at a time when I was looking for hope and something to believe in. It opened my heart to understanding that there must be a loving God. I’d never felt so much hope in my life knowing that there was someone who loved me.
Through the next couple of years that was the hope that I held on to, thinking, There must be a God who loves me. There is something bigger and better in life. Life is meaningful. As time went on, I hungered more and more to know that Truth. My sister Tanya had heard about a God who loved her when she received her shoebox gift. So she was praying, “God, if you’re real, give me and my siblings a family.”
One day I received a letter from her that said, “We might be getting adopted into an American family.” I again thought, there really has to be someone who cares for me. It could only be someone like a God. All these little things were pointing to this amazing, loving God and yet at this point I had little comprehension of who He was. I hadn’t heard about Jesus, but my heart was softening.
When I was 13, we were adopted. After I’d learned a little bit of English, my dad asked me if I was happy that I had a family and a house. My heart looked back to the day I received that shoebox and the amount of joy it gave me. But in Russia I had been taught a works-based religion with a God that would punish me for everything. I was a little confused trying to sort all this out, so I asked my dad, “Is there something more?” He told me that God created everything for His glory and that He gave us this earth and this life to enjoy but there’s this sin problem that separates us from God. I remember thinking, Same old story. But he went on that God loved us so much that He sent His Son to die on the cross for our sins and that it was a free gift.
I immediately remembered my Operation Christmas Child gift and thought, Wow, that makes sense. Someone who didn’t know me gave me a gift, and in the same way before we ever knew God, He loved us enough to give us this gift. At that moment I realized that the hope I was feeling had been given from God and it was a hope I could have the rest of my life in Jesus.
It was incredible how God used something as simple as a shoebox. It was such perfect timing. God ordained that shoebox and orchestrated it in my life. It opened my heart to something that changed my life forever.