WATER VALLEY – Each fall many of the churches in the county and across the nation help with a special ministry that provides Christmas presents for needy children across the world as part of the world’s largest Christmas project.
Operation Christmas Child uses gift-filled shoeboxes to demonstrate God’s love to children and has delivered more than 100 million gift-filled shoeboxes to children in more than 100 countries since starting in 1993. As the gifts are delivered, the boys and girls learn that God loves them so much that He sent another gift – His son, Jesus – as their savior.
Last Friday, a special guest came to the county to share how receiving one of these boxes filled with gifts made an impact in her life. Elena Hagemeier was an orphan living in Russia with her sister when 300-plus shoeboxes were delivered to her orphanage.
Speaking at Bayson Chapel M.B. Church to an audience from churches across the area, Elena described how the bright gifts inside the box were in stark contrast to the cold, drab environment in which they lived.
She said the shoe box gift, along with the colorful gospel booklet offered at the distribution, proved that not only did someone across the world love her, but God loved her too.
“When I read the book ‘The Greatest Gift of All’ I thought it was a fairy tale,” she said. “I could not believe that the King of Kings would die for a nobody like me. That booklet gave me hope, and I started praying to God.’”
Elena also shared her emotional story – highs and lows with a Cinderella twist when she and her sister were adopted by a Missouri couple when she was 12.
Her life started in a small house with poor parents in northwest Russia, a small town about eight hours from Moscow by train. Their parents were alcoholics and food was scare. The girls ate leaves and treasured apples from a nearby tree when they were in season. The parents were ultimately jailed for stealing and the sisters lived in different orphanages for the next several years.
Now a college student at Ozark Christian College in Joplin, Mo., Elena also travels the country sharing her testimony about OCC.
Two years ago she was one of 20 teens selected to deliver shoe boxes with the ministry through a program called Samaritan’s Purse Youth. She was able to deliver the Christmas boxes to an orphanage in Uganda, a scene that hit close to home for Elena, who was 19 at the time.