God’s love can sometimes show up in a shoebox

Published 12:00 am Saturday, September 21, 2013

Can a plastic snow globe plucked out of a shoebox change a person’s life?
Izabella McMillon would say yes.
Izabella spoke Thursday night at High Rock Church’s Salisbury West campus to kick off the Operation Christmas Child season and motivate volunteers to donate the shoebox gifts that are the cornerstone of the popular ministry. Operation Christmas Child is part of Samaritan’s Purse, a non-denominational evangelical Christian humanitarian organization founded by Franklin Graham.
Begun in 1993, Operation Christmas Child has distributed close to 100 million shoebox gifts to children in more than 130 countries around the world.
Izabella grew up in Romania but now lives in Durham, where she teaches at a small school. As the grateful recipient of one of the earliest Operation Christmas Child shoeboxes when she was a child in a revolution-torn country, Izabella has spearheaded annual shoebox efforts at Gorman Christian Academy, which last year donated 1,856 shoeboxes — an astounding number for a school with only 100 students.
As a very young child growing up in Communist Romania, Izabella had no exposure to religion. Being a Christian in Romania was a dangerous proposition, so when Izabella and her brother stumbled upon a Bible that had been hidden under the floor and began reading it by flashlight at night, their parents warned them to put it back. They continued to read secretly. Later, Izabella begged to go to an underground church where she had been invited to attend, and her parents eventually gave in.
When she was around 13, her pastor taught her how to pray, she says. So she began to pray for her heart’s desire: snow. But several cold gray months went by without snow. When no white Christmas came, Izabella decided that prayer didn’t work. She didn’t forget, however, that her pastor had assured her that God would answer her prayers, but not necessarily in a way she could imagine.
A few days later, she and her brother noticed a big commotion in the streets and shouts about trucks coming. They ran to follow the crowd and got there in time to see the doors of a truck opening to reveal beautiful boxes inside. A woman who spoke Izabella’s language invited her to take one. Wondering what the catch was, Izabella took a box. “What can I pray with you for?” the woman asked.
Snow, Izabella said, and the woman joined her in a prayer for snow. A few minutes later, the woman was gone and Izabella opened up her box.
Inside was a plastic snow globe.
At this point in her story, Izabella showed the snow globe to her High Rock Church audience, the glittery flakes easily visible as she shook it.
The gift was a profound revelation for Izabella and the pivotal moment in her faith journey. “God knew me, my desires, my needs,” she said. At that moment, she said, “head knowledge” about God turned into heart knowledge.
“You know not to put these snow globes in a shoebox anymore,” she warned the audience, laughing, referring to the rule against liquids, which can spill and ruin shoeboxes. “I’m so thankful the rules were different 20 years ago.”
She emphasized that with God’s help, the right shoebox, packed in the right spirit, will reach the right child at the right time.
Locally, Operation Christmas Child has been a popular project for churches and other organizations. Last year, Rowan, Cabarrus and Iredell counties packed 26,368 shoeboxes, said Jennifer Davis, Carolinas Regional Manager for Operation Christmas Child. A total of 724,300 boxes were packed in the Carolinas last year.
The goal of Operation Christmas Child is twofold: to demonstrate God’s love in a tangible way to needy children and to share the gospel of Christ with them. The boxes are sometimes referred to as “gospel opportunities” because they contain a booklet about Christianity and are usually distributed by a local church.
High Rock Church lead pastor Chris Shelton, who traveled to Uganda in his previous job with Operation Christmas Child, announced that High Rock Church had set a goal of 3,000 shoeboxes this year.
The process goes like this: An individual packs a shoebox (or box of similar size) with toys, hygiene items, school supplies and clothing, destined for a boy or girl between the ages of 2 and 14 (each box is packed by age group and gender). After being collected by churches and civic organizations, shoeboxes are then delivered to a local relay center — in Salisbury, Catawba College and St. John’s Lutheran Church serve as relay centers. Boxes are then delivered to a collection center in Kannapolis, where they are loaded on trucks and delivered to a processing center in Charlotte. From Charlotte, they travel to Charleston, S.C., where they begin the voyage overseas. Then, various teams work to distribute the boxes, which may arrive to recipients in quite extraordinary ways — by elephant, donkey or canoe.
National Collection Week for Operation Christmas Child is Nov. 18-25. Visit www.samaritanspurse.org/occ for more information.