I was born three years after the 1986 Chernobyl accident released radioactive material into the western Soviet Union and Europe. Due to the radiation, I was born with a short neck—the only one in my family of five affected by the disaster.
My mom and dad worked long hours at a tire factory where they made tires for buses and 18-wheelers. My grandma, my dad’s mom, lived with us and cared for me and my younger brother from the time I was born until I went into first grade. We also grew our own vegetables which were our staple for survival throughout the year.
At age 5, doctors discovered that I had a hole in the roof of my mouth. When I had surgery on this internal cleft palate, I missed so much school I had to repeat kindergarten.
The next year, I was placed in an orphanage so I could get an education. As hard as it was on my family, my dad knew it was the best thing for me. My first year in the orphanage was horrid. All I really wanted to do was be home with my family. I was depressed and didn’t want to be there. I felt as though the world was crashing in around me.
In mid-December of my second year in the orphanage, my school received beautiful, colorful shoeboxes from America. I waited as the other six members of my class took their boxes before I picked up the last one. It wasn’t just my first Christmas gift—it was my first gift ever. When I held it, there was joy and love in my heart such that I never felt before. I knew there were people out there who cared for me. I was not alone. I was here for a reason. But little did I know that this box would eventually change my life.
The first thing I found in my box was a can of baked beans. (Rules have changed since then, however, and you can no longer pack food in shoeboxes.) I didn’t know what it was, but my teacher told me it was food in a can.
As my whole class was running around seeing what everyone else got, I just stood in one place in amazement. I couldn’t believe what was going on and what I was seeing in my box. Besides my baked beans, there was a doll, a coloring book, crayons, and hair clips. It took me a minute to let it all sink in. Because of my shoebox gift, I knew that the world wasn’t over yet. There was more to life than what I’d experienced. We were not forgotten. We were still loved.
Later that night at the dinner table, all seven of us kids in my class shared the can of baked beans. Everybody loved them, except for me! I thought it was the worst thing I had ever eaten.
As I continued to explore all that was in my shoebox, I came across a small colorful booklet in English. I didn’t understand it, but I knew it was valuable because it was in my gift box. I just tucked it back inside my shoebox and saved it.
For the following four summers after I received my shoebox, I received an opportunity to go to the United States to get medical attention and to get out of the radiation. Over those years, I started to learn English and began to be exposed to church and the Word of God for the first time.
After two short visits to the States, I learned enough English to go back to my shoebox, pull out that booklet, and begin to study it. I realized that the family who packed my shoebox had given me the story of Jesus and His plan for my life.
In the States a third summer, I attended a class at a church where I heard the Gospel in my own language.
The next summer I came, I attended a Vacation Bible School and gave my life to Christ. I am so thankful I was drawn to Him through that booklet in my shoebox and the love I received from my American host family.
Now I live in the United States and recently graduated from Liberty University with a master’s in business administration. I’m praying and hoping I’ll land a job that will not only focus on business, but will allow me to do missions and spread the Gospel to others.
#shoeboxstories is an ongoing series in which shoebox recipients share about the eternal impact of a simple gift.
Operation Christmas Child delivers great joy to millions of children around the world through shoeboxes lovingly and prayerfully packed with gifts that will bring delight to a child. In the hands of local churches, every gift-filled shoebox is a powerful tool for evangelism and discipleship—transforming the lives of children and their families around the world through the Good News of Jesus Christ! After receiving shoebox gifts, boys and girls are invited to enroll in The Greatest Journey, our 12-lesson discipleship program where children learn what it means to faithfully follow Christ and share their faith with others.