One small shoe­box makes a dif­fer­ence

Speaker en­cour­ages con­gre­ga­tions to sup­port Op­er­a­tion Christ­mas Child

Maryland Independent - - Front Page - By CAROLYN HARDY Spe­cial to the In­de­pen­dent

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.”

PHO­TOS BY CAROLYN HARDY

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.

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