Nicoleta – A simple shoebox was part of directing the course of my life

10th September 2018

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I was born in Communist Romania in a beautiful city by the Black Sea. I grew up in a loving family, with my younger sister. We had a beautiful, worry-free and adventurous childhood thanks to our parents who did a great job to shelter us from all the difficulties of those days. We never lacked anything, but I remember how my mother was so good at stretching my father’s salary across a month.

I was two years old when Ceausescu was assassinated. The country slowly started to move in the right direction after the revolution but it was a slow progress. The little we had we cherished and shared. There was no way that my sister or I would receive one sweet and not save half of it for each other. My mother says that we were good children and we would understand not to ask for things. She recalls how we were in the market and we saw some bananas. They were very expensive back then; a luxury that we would probably only receive for Christmas with a couple of oranges. I asked my mum for a banana and she said that we don’t have the money at the moment to buy one. A minute later, I asked again, but just for half a banana, thinking that we might afford it this way!

My grandmother was the one who would take us to church for Easter and Christmas and made sure we got all our confessions and fasting done. I tried to find out more about God through every possible way: at school in RE, from friends who would go to the Orthodox Church more often than we did, or other activities outside school which my RE teacher would run. One Christmas I received a children’s Bible, and was overjoyed to have a whole book about God! But I still was seeking more.

When I was ten years old my aunt and uncle invited my sister and I to join them for a picnic in the park for the 1 May celebrations. This was one of the very few occasions we would picnic in our country. During May Romania is nice and hot, and we agreed happily to join them. It was a beautiful warm day, the air was perfumed with lilac and rose scents and the grass was just beckoning us for a picnic. After we had the food my aunt told us she had a surprise for us.  My aunt and uncle were both Christians and were attending one of the evangelical churches in the city. She revealed to us two beautifully wrapped shoeboxes. They had wanted both my sister and I to receive a shoebox but because we were not allowed to go to the church they decided to bring the shoeboxes to us. We didn’t really know what to say as we didn’t usually receive gifts. My aunt said the boxes had come from the UK. Now that was extra special; we never received anything from a different country!

We took the boxes and slowly started taking the pretty wrapping paper away; when I opened mine up I couldn’t believe my eyes. There were a multitude of things in it, filled to the brim! How could a box so small fit so may wonders? I started going through each item: colouring pencils, hair elastic bands, miniature animals, drawing pads. Carefully tucked towards the bottom, was the big prize. A little doll, with green eyes and blond hair. My face beamed. At home I had one of the so called Barbie dolls and an improvised male doll and all I was lacking for my dolls’ family was the baby – and this was it! I turned to my sister and she just found in her box the pair to my doll; a boy baby doll. Hours and hours of pretend play opened up – we played with those dolls until we were 14, and I still have that special doll kept in my memory box at home. When we moved to the UK I brought it with me, thinking it would be a good doll for my children.

What was very nice about our two boxes was that they were packed by the same person, hence the two matching dolls. And although there were so many boxes handled and given away in our city, those two stayed together and landed in the hands of two sisters. That is more than just coincidence.

Children at an outreach event in Romania in 2017.

We also received a little booklet about Jesus, with a drawing of Him and children on the cover. It looked a lot like my children’s Bible. I devoured it that day as I was eager to learn more.

That evening, tucked in with my new dolly, I laid thinking why would someone so far away would send us these gifts? Did God tell them to? I wondered if they would know the happiness it brought us.

Looking back, that shoebox that ended up in my arms, coming from a faraway country, put on my heart to go to the UK one day. After coming to study here when I was 21, God called me and my husband to join our pastor from Romania and plant a church in Birmingham. This happened in 2012 and today there are over ten churches that Emmaus Church has helped plant.  I had the opportunity to work for a few years for one of the biggest mission support networks in the UK, being connected to hundreds of ministries and being able to help other churches and organisations in serving God’s mission. Today, as I serve in our local community and church family, together with my family, I pray God will use me for His purposes.

A simple shoebox; you might think that it is impossible to make a difference. But God will use the smallest and most insignificant things to lift us up, to draw us closer to Him. Just as He did with me. You too can be part of someone’s story and one little piece of the puzzle in our Creator’s mighty hands. I encourage you to pack a shoebox and offer your support to this ministry.

Read more of our UK Shoebox Stories, and request a visiting speaker

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