BRANDON — Churches and families all over Knox County are gearing up for Operation Christmas Child, The national collection week is Nov. 15 through 22.
With less than three months to go, many participants have already started to stuff shoeboxes with gifts for needy boys and girls around the world. On Sunday, visitors and members of Brandon Baptist Church gathered to begin the good work of giving and talk about the increasing need.
During the event, guest speaker Oskana Nelson gave a special message. Born east of Moscow in Russia, Nelson lived in an orphanage for several years. Her experience was one of sadness and one of hope. At the age of 8, she received a shoebox and her life was forever changed.
“I remember it was packed,” she recalled when a missionary handed her the gift. “I got dominos, socks, toothbrush and toothpaste, candy, and those were just the items I could remember.”
She also gained an intangible gift — one of love.
“For me having been an orphan, I never got love and affection from people. The shoebox showed me that there were strangers, who even though I didn’t know them, they care enough for me and that was special,” Nelson said.
In her message, Nelson explained a seed was planted of faith and hope. She believed she had a father in heaven who loved her, and from the picture that came with the shoebox, a family someplace that cared for her.
“I felt like they were my family and that they cared about and loved me to send me a shoebox.”
Nelson encourages those that send a shoebox to also give a picture of themselves and a letter.
“It really helps the kids connect,” she said. “For most of the kids who receive these shoeboxes, this is the first tangible gift they will ever receive. Each box comes with a gospel booklet, so each child gets to hear about the free gift of salvation.”
When Nelson was 10 years old, an American family adopted her, and her prayer was answered, she was given a family of love. She now resides in Texas and attends a local college. Her work with OCC began several years ago when she was ecstatic to learn her church would be collecting shoeboxes.
“I told my pastor that I had got a shoebox when I was a little girl. He was pretty excited and he had me share my story in church,” said Nelson. “And it just carried on from there. God really opened the doors for me.”
Three years ago, OCC learned of Nelson’s testimony and she became a part of the team. Since then, she has traveled the country spreading the word of giving the gift of hope and love to children across the world.