Operation Christmas Child makes lasting impression on 11-year-old
By Shavonne Potts
Sorina Riddle grew up in a poor family in communist Romania during the late 1980s and ’90s.
“Things were hard back then,” she recalled.
Especially at Christmas, when the best she could hope for was that Santa might leave bananas and oranges in a boot.
As an 11-year-old in 1991, Riddle ó then Sorina Dragoi ó wished for a scarf for Christmas, not really thinking she’d get one.
She attended a children’s Christmas program at a local Baptist Church, though at the time it was nearly unthinkable to attend any other church but Russian Orthodox, where Romanian citizens went on Christmas and Easter to kiss the priest and paintings of Jesus.
During the Baptist church’s program, Dragoi recalls, the speaker described Christ as a gift to the world. At the end of the program, each child received a shoebox full of goodies. Inside Dragoi’s box was a white knit scarf with matching hat and gloves.
“I didn’t really pray for it, but it was a wish God granted,” she said.
The shoebox was a present from someone thousands of miles away, delivered through Operation Christmas Child.
Outreach to the world
Operation Christmas Child is an outreach of Samaritan’s Purse, a nondenominational Christian organization led by Franklin Graham, son of the Rev. Billy Graham. The ministry gives toys and other items to needy children in more than 100 countries.
Monday kicks off the program’s national collection week, which runs through Nov. 23. During that time, boxes will be collected at local sites.
Riddle said her shoebox “helped me believe in God.” A few years after receiving it, she was baptized in the same church, along with her mother and brother.
Today, Riddle speaks on behalf of Boone-based Samaritan’s Purse and its Operation Christmas Child. She speaks about receiving a box nearly 20 years ago.
Coordinator of the Pfeiffer University learning assistance program and a liaison to its International Student Association, she also is helping to organize Pfeiffer’s Operation Christmas Child shoebox collection project.
On Wednesday, Pfeiffer students will have a packing party and box up all the toys and other goodies they’ve been collecting at the Stokes Student Center.
Sharing the gift
Before coming to the United States, Riddle taught English to underprivileged children. She connected with someone from Operation Christmas Child so her students could receive their own shoeboxes. That holiday season, a truck filled with more than 500 shoeboxes pulled up at her school.
When all of her students received boxes, they decided to pass on their blessings to others in the community.
It was then, Riddle said, that she realized “it was a worldwide ministry.”
After teaching four years, she came to the U.S. in 2005 to attend college in Knoxville. She had a hard time adjusting but met a friend, Rachel Mills, who had just begun working as a volunteer with Operation Christmas Child.
As she heard about Mills’ job conducting devotionals and packing boxes, Riddle says she understood the impact of the ministry.
She was invited to speak at a collection site in Knoxville about her shoebox experience. Riddle has since been invited to share her story with thousands in Charlotte, Hendersonville and Albemarle. She has been featured on local radio stations as well as stations in Nebraska, Hawaii and elsewhere.
She tries to speak in as many places as possible to share the impact one North Carolina ministry had on a little girl in Romania.
“I think it’s a worthwhile ministry because it’s one of the ways you can serve God, in home or church, and doesn’t cost you too much,” Riddle said. “Just like me, you can contribute to somebody’s salvation or knowing God.”
One more box
Riddle said she would not be where she is today if she had not received a box from Operation Christmas Child. And the folks at the ministry are thankful for what she’s done to further their work through her story.
During a visit to the Boone office, she was overcome and confused about why they were all being so nice and showering her with thanks and gifts.
Her husband, Lance, whom she married in 2007, said to her, “You validate the work that they do.”
The shoebox ministry is a tool, Riddle said. And she’ll speak wherever she’s asked to get one more box out into the world and into the hands of a child.
The goal for this year’s program is to collect 8.2 million boxes. Last year, the program collected and distributed 7.9 million boxes.
Since its inception, Operation Christmas Child has distributed 69 million boxes throughout the world.
For more information about Operation Christmas Child, visit www. samaritanspurse.org.