Elena and her little sister ate leaves from a tree in the backyard to calm the ache in their empty stomachs.
“God did provide apple trees,” Elena said, “and we ate apples [in season]. If it weren’t for what God provided in nature, my sister and I would have died of starvation.” Their mom and dad both worked but were paid with alcohol.
“They never brought any money or food back home,” Elena said.
She shared her story with American Family Radio’s John Riley during an Operation Christmas Child promotion on AFR. Now a young adult living in the U.S., Elena was born in a small town in the former Soviet Union.
When she was about eight years old, she and her sister were placed in an orphanage when her parents were put in prison. Two years later, the girls were moved to another orphanage.
A child’s first gift
“There was one year I was very, very hopeless,” Elena said. “There was no hope, no future for me, and that’s when God provided a shoebox full of a lot of pink items – which I loved.”
“It was the first gift I ever received. I had fantastic toys in that shoebox, and I loved every one of them.”
However, Elena said the coolest thing in the box was a booklet, The Greatest Gift, which tells the story of Jesus.
“Reading that booklet, I thought it was a fairy tale,” she said. “I just couldn’t believe that the King of Kings would come and die for someone like me. At the time, I felt unwanted, unloved, and this was telling me that a Creator loved me so much that He came and died for me.
“And even though I thought it was a fairy tale, I needed some hope, so I began praying to Jesus, asking Him for a family – not only a family but a family who wanted my sister and me together.”
In 2004, a Christian couple in Missouri adopted them. Elena soon began packing OCC shoeboxes herself because she knew the shoeboxes were about much more than toys. They are about the hope and love they give the children.
The gospel’s impact
After receiving a shoebox gift, many children have the opportunity to enroll in The Greatest Journey, a Samaritan’s Purse 12-week discipleship program, guiding them through what it means to faithfully follow Christ. (See below.)
Elena explained the eternal impact of each shoebox gift by sharing the story of a little boy who was going through The Greatest Journey courses after receiving his shoebox gift. His mother said that one morning, he was almost late to school, rushing to finish writing in his TGJ journal.
“That day when he got to school,” Elena said, “some people came in and ended up shooting the children.”
When his mother read the child’s last TGJ entry, he had recorded ‘Yes,’ that he had accepted Jesus as his Savior.
One person packed one shoebox. And it impacted eternity.
Send the Gospel
Pack a shoebox with simple gifts, send it with prayer, and share the gospel. Drop off your shoeboxes during National Collection Week, November 13-20, when nearly 5,000 drop-off locations will be open across the nation.
A Packing Party – Anyone can have a packing party – family, a neighborhood, a Sunday school class. It doesn’t require great crowds. Learn more.
▶ Plan a packing party
▶ Collection locations and dates
▶ How to ship a shoebox
▶ How to pack a shoebox
The Greatest Journey