Forsaken by her prostitute mother and alcoholic father, Oksana Nelson became an orphan at age seven. Although she no longer had to steal food or spend nights on the street, she recalled the orphanage as a “difficult and challenging place.” There she shared one toilet, one sink, one bar of soap and one toothbrush with more than two dozen other children.
“Many other orphans who aged out of the system at 16 turned to drugs and prostitution to survive,” said Nelson, a spokeswoman for Operation Christmas Child, who shared her story during chapel in early October to kick off a University-wide service project. “We saw that and thought it was the path for our lives. You see, we were taught that we were the bottom of society and that we would never amount to anything. You were an orphan because you were an inconvenience, a nuisance; you were just in the way and not supposed to happen.”
At age nine, missionaries came to her orphanage, played games with the children and shared the Gospel.
Nelson remembered, “He said, ‘Even though your earthly father has failed you, you now have a Heavenly Father who will never, ever fail you. I thought, ‘I don’t know who you are talking about, but one day I will meet him.’”
It was the first time she remembered being hugged. And she was also given a shoe box packed full of Dominos, socks and candy. But what she cherished most of all was her own toothbrush and toothpaste.
The missionaries also taught her how to pray, which she said she did daily asking God for a family and the money to afford a one-way ticket to the United States. A few months later, she was adopted by a family in Southern California.
That shoe box was brought to her by Operation Christmas Child, a project of international nonprofit organization Samaritan’s Purse. Using a shoe box or small plastic tub filled with toys, personal hygiene items, socks and school supplies, the organization demonstrates God’s love to orphans around the world.
“It is an incredible opportunity and an incredible project that that saves lives, transforms lives and ultimately brings salvation to children all over the world,” said Nelson.
It has become a shared initiative of many University departments and organizations in effort to bring great joy to children across the world through the small green and red boxes. The University Staff Advisory Council is hosting a Chili Cook-Off on Oct. 25 to raise funds to ship the boxes overseas, and the Student Activities Programing Board will provide transportation in November for students to get to local retailers and fill their boxes.
“The Bible calls us to ‘help orphans in their troubles;” not just to feel bad for them, but actually to do something to help. That is the Belmont way: to identify needs and then work with other Christian organizations to meet them,” said Vice President for Spiritual Development Todd Lake, whose office is spearheading the University’s efforts. “Operation Christmas Child gives all of us a chance to pack a box that will be perhaps the first tangible bit of Good News a child receives. One of the best things any of us can do to show God’s love to an orphan is to send them a shoebox filled with both practical and fun gifts. I am so glad that our faculty, staff and student leaders have rallied together to make this possible.”
Students, staff and faculty can pick up boxes in Belmont Central, the Beaman Student Life Center or University Ministries’ lounge or use their own shoe boxes and fill them with toys, school supplies, hygiene items and clothing. The filled boxes should be returned to the Alumni House between Nov. 20 and 22.
“It looks like just a box right now, but imagine the children who will be impacted, whose lives will be transformed and who will receive salvation because we decided to pack a gift,” Nelson said. “So whenever you pack your box, remember it’s not just a box. One shoe box is a child. One shoe box is a life.”