One small shoebox makes a difference
Speaker encourages congregations to support Operation Christmas Child
When Nadia Karnatova lived in Kiev, Ukraine, her family endured poverty and lived with the reality of religious persecution. Her parents and their nine children struggled in the religiously oppressive country where her father was an underground minister, and she and her siblings had so little, they often had to share a toothbrush.
But just one small box of gifts from strangers at Christmas time helped to lift her family’s spirits.
Karnatova, now a resident of Columbus, Ohio, shared her personal account of the impact Operation Christmas Child had on her and her family while speaking recently at Union Church in North Beach and later at Lexington Park Baptist Church.
“I believe that when God sees people that are struggling, even if they are not Christ followers, when God sees them, He loves them,” Karnatova said, addressing the Union Church congregation. “And I believe that when He sees them, He always thinks, ‘Well, let me see if I can find somebody who I can use as my tool, my vessel, so I can answer their prayer.’”
Operation Christmas Child is sponsored by Samaritan’s Purse. It consists of a drive to fill thousands of shoeboxes with school supplies, hygiene items and toys to be distributed to children in impoverished countries. According to its website, Samaritan’s Purse has been helping victims of famine, poverty, natural disaster, disease and war since 1970. Its mission is to spread the love of God and Jesus Christ through its programs. Numerous churches throughout the region and country pack shoeboxes and raise funds for Operation Christmas Child.
Cliff and Sheryl Hartsfield of Port Republic are full-time volunteers for the program in Charles, Calvert and St. Mary’s counties. Cliff said Karnatova’s story reminds people to focus on what they have. He encouraged the congregation at Union Church to pack just one more shoebox, sharing the time they went to Rwanda for a shoebox distribution and there were not enough boxes for all the children.
Last year, the church members packed over 450 boxes for Operation Christmas Child and their goal for this year is 500.
Samaritan’s Purse has sponsored a series of presentations by Karnatova to bring awareness of the impact of Operation Christmas Child. Karnatova received her box when she was 10. She said she remembers her family’s joy and excitement of receiving the boxes. Hers included a Barbie doll she would have never otherwise had.
Parents are also thankful, Karnatova told the congregation, as the shoebox gifts help them to not give up.
“Remember, when you pack your shoebox, not only are you encouraging a little child and making him or her feel loved and telling them about the love of Jesus, but you are helping a struggling parent,” she said.
During her presentation, Karnatova spoke extensively about her family’s spiritual commitment and how it enriched her family and got them through very hard times and the poverty that they endured and were able to cope with through their beliefs. In the Ukraine, her family lived in a three-bedroom apartment. She related that many times her parents could not afford school supplies and winter coats for all their children and had to make the tough decision about which children could go to school that year. Karnatova spoke about the shoeboxes and the school supplies they contain, and how that helps families like hers.
Karnatova said one year her mother’s friend invited them to a shoebox party at her church. She did not know what a shoebox party was but the word “party” made it exciting. She knew there would be snacks, which, for a child who was always hungry, was also exciting.
When she arrived at the party, she saw a few children from her school, homeless children from the church and a lot of parents. She also told of what they called the “happy people” there, the American missionaries. They were called this because they smiled a lot and played with them and hugged them. She related that a lot of adults in the Ukraine lived hard lives and did not smile often. They were happy to see the missionaries because “they were alive in our darkness.” Karnatova said they were excited to learn about Jesus from them.
The children received the shoeboxes full of gifts. Hers contained the aforementioned Barbie doll that she had wanted for a long time. She played with and shared the doll with the whole neighborhood. She remembers her mother’s thankfulness for the boxes.
Karnatova said that night she and all eight of her brothers and sisters got shoeboxes. They all received their own soap and their own toothbrushes, which they did not have to share.
Karnatova was 14 when she moved to the U.S. through a Christian refugee program. Her mother gave away everything they had to their friends. Her Barbie was one of the things she gave away to her best friend’s daughter. Two years ago, she called that friend and was told that she remembered the Barbie doll and when her daughter got older, she gave it to another little girl. Karnatova related that her friend’s mother said she truly believes the Barbie is still out there.
“Today I want to thank you for everything you do, and people who receive your shoeboxes, it does something to them, and you are allowing God to use you and this is amazing. What a blessing to have an opportunity for God to use you,” Karnatova told the congregation.
After the program, when Karnatova was asked what her experience speaking on behalf of Operation Christmas Child means to her, she replied, “I really, truly believe in this ministry. I have compassion for those who are hurting and who are struggling, especially parents. I’m a mom. I have three children. Going back and thinking about my mom, I remember how much she struggled to provide and how stretched she was and how much she prayed and I remember when people helped us and when Operation Christmas Child helped us, that really encouraged my mom and it made us feel special. I truly focus on that part and I do that because I want God to spread His love to those who don’t feel loved.
“And that is the way we spread the Gospel, also,” she continued. “It’s an amazing opportunity for me as a mom to teach my kids the power of giving and practice that giving with them. I know how it feels to receive something when you don’t have anything. I know that feeling, so when I pack shoeboxes or when I go speak, I think of that and it motivates me to continue doing that.”
Posing with shoeboxes that will be packed for Operation Christmas Child are Jeannie Keyser of Port Republic, left, Nadia Karnatova of Columbus, Ohio (formerly of Kiev, Ukraine), Anna Earl of Chesapeake Beach (Union Church project leader of Operation Christmas Child), area coordinators of Operation Christmas Child Sheryl and Cliff Hartsfield of Port Republic, Melissa Coker of Waldorf, Samaritan’s Purse regional manager for Operation Christmas Child Connie Zinn of Elkridge and the Rev. David Keyser of Port Republic, pastor of Union Church in North Beach.
Nadia Karnatova speaks Sunday to the congregation at Union Church in North Beach about how she benefited from Operation Christmas Child.
Cliff Hartsfield of Port Republic, a Southern Maryland coordinator for Operation Christmas Child, speaks to the congregation at Union Church in North Beach on Sunday.