Oksana Nelson was extremely lonely as a child, growing up in a Russian orphanage where resources were scarce. With no parents or loved ones to connect with, she yearned for a loving family.
Nelson remembers feeling utterly hopeless -- until something changed.
When she was 9 years old, she received a shoebox filled with small trinkets and hygiene items from a nonprofit group in the United States. Today, she credits that simple gift with helping build her confidence and self-worth.
That shoebox was given as part of the Operation Christmas Child outreach program, a project of Samaritan’s Purse, an evangelical Christian organization. To many, a small box filled with simple toys and items might not seem like much, but to Nelson, now 23, it meant the world.
"It was my first gift in my entire life," she told WTVF-TV in Nashville, Tenn. "My first gift ever -- not even a Christmas gift, but just the first gift that someone gave me that made me realize I am special, I am loved."
She added, "In the orphanage we all shared one toothbrush and whenever I looked at that box and at the bottom I saw my own toothbrush and my own tube of toothpaste -- I couldn't ask for much of anything else."
It wasn't only the material items, though, that impacted Nelson's life.
In a video profile made available by Samaritan's Purse, Nelson also shared that the most meaningful item in the box was a picture of the children who had sent it to her. Seeing the people who cared enough to give her the items made Nelson feel as though she truly mattered.
She also said that the shoebox taught her how to pray, as Operation Christmas Child includes biblical messages for each recipient. And it was prayer, she said, that helped change her worldview.
"Once I started doing that, every morning I had a reason to wake up," Nelson told WVTF.
After receiving the box, her life profoundly changed. Nelson prayed diligently for a family and she was eventually adopted by a parents in the U.S. After moving to the states, she became a spokeswoman for Operation Christmas Child.
According to an online biography, today Nelson is a financial analyst and currently studying for her Master of Business Administration at Lipscomb University in Nashville. Her experience has also inspired her to bring hope to other children in need and she speaks out each year about how a simple gift changed her life.
Operation Christmas Child boxes are organized by churches, schools and families across the nation. The shoeboxes, who are sent to kids in 130 countries, generally include toys, school supplies, hygiene items, clothing and accessories and a personal note.
Operation Christmas Child has recently gained media attention over controversies surrounding church-state separation. Two schools have cut ties with Samaritan's Purse over claims that allowing students to participate violates the First Amendment.
Featured image via YouTube/Samaritan's Purse