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Operation Christmas Child employee shares personal story of receiving N.C. gift in Asia

By Marina Shankle, for the SNAP

A purple box, a toy puppy and a letter: These three simple items changed the life of a child named Yuliya Shubina forever.

A toy puppy was the first item Yuliya Shubina saw in a package through Operation Christmas Child.

Now grown, Shubina shared her story with others at an Operation Christmas Child project leader workshop July 15 at First Baptist Church of Albemarle.
Operation Christmas Child is a charitable program that is part of Samaritan’s Purse, an international relief organization led by Franklin Graham, son of late evangelist Billy Graham.
Through the program, volunteers pack and send shoe boxes or plastic containers filled with gifts to children in need around the world. Samaritan’s Purse staff and volunteers follow up with recipients through a Christian discipleship program.
Last year, 8.8 million boxes were shipped worldwide, including just over 900,000 from North and South Carolina.
The local workshop kicked off with a greeting from Lauren Patterson, OCC area coordinator for Stanly County.
Patterson welcomed volunteers from Stanly, Montgomery and Randolph counties, expressing her excitement to celebrate OCC’s success with them and to look at more ways to help others through the program.
According to Patterson, 18,270 filled gift boxes were donated by churches and individuals from this area, which is an increase from the previous year’s donations.
“Usually our goal [for shoeboxes given] is 7 percent growth, and we far exceeded it,” she said. “That is phenomenal. This is a time of celebration.”
Patterson led participants in the workshop in sharing “wow items,” their favorite items to pack for OCC. The group’s wow items included stuffed animals, fishing kits, blankets, school supplies, toys and personal letters.
Patterson also shared a presentation on OCC’s goals and successes and talked about how each child who receives a gift box also receives a storybook about Jesus and the opportunity to participate in a discipleship program.
“I call it the meat and potatoes of the shoebox,” she said.
She encouraged the project leaders to continue “planting seeds.”
“We don’t always get to hear the outcome, but today, we have a shoebox speaker,” Patterson said.
Shoebox speaker Shubina began by reading a scripture from Psalms, then directly addressed the workshop participants.
“You are all passionate about making the name of our Lord Jesus Christ known in the farthest parts of the world,” she said. “You chose to be here to learn what OCC is all about, and it is my privilege to share my story.”
Shubina grew up in an unnamed country in central Asia — unnamed because, in her home country, it is illegal to profess Christianity or to own a Bible.
“My mom would stand in line for hours to exchange ration coupons for flour and other cooking ingredients. My sister and I would play for hours at the gas station waiting for our dad to get gas,” she said. “We had some toys, but they were not particularly good quality.
“During that difficult time, God created a time, a window, when my country allowed missionaries to come in.”
Shubina’s father found work helping the missionaries and serving as a guide and interpreter. One of the groups allowed to enter the country was Samaritan’s Purse.
“At the end of 2001, they received permission to land a huge cargo airplane in my country,” Shubina said.
OCC shoeboxes were the primary cargo of that plane, and Samaritan’s Purse workers asked Shubina’s father how many children he had. When he told them he had two daughters, the missionaries gave him two boxes.
“I still remember very vividly that day,” Shubina said.
When her father came to the door, he presented the two shoeboxes and told her to pick one.
“I reached for this beautiful purple shoebox,” she said.
Then she began to wonder who had sent it to her and why. She asked her father and he told her that someone in the United States wanted to bless her.
“For a 9-year-old, that was a most confusing answer,” Shubina said.
Shubina’s family gathered on the living room floor. They were excited, she said, but they were also very careful. They did not want to damage any of the gifts inside the boxes, and they wanted to savor the moment. They had never seen Christmas wrapping paper before, since their country did not promote the celebration of Christmas.
Shubina opened her box. Right on top was a stuffed toy, a puppy.
“That puppy dog instantly became my new best friend,” said Shubina, who still has the stuffed toy.
An item that initially baffled her and her sister was an Etch A Sketch. They did not learn how to use it until her sister bumped it accidentally while dusting one day and noticed how the knobs worked.
“Every single item was a wow item,” Shubina said. “So many items I didn’t use for what they were for because I didn’t want them to run out.”
At the very bottom of Shubina’s box was a letter. Shubina still has the letter, and she read it to the workshop participants.
The letter ended, “I am praying for you. God loves you.”
“I wondered why would a stranger tell me she’s praying for me and that there is a God out there who loves me,” Shubina said. “I will never forget the feeling the letter left in my heart.”
Shubina became penpals with Katie, the little girl who wrote the letter.
“God used letters and prayers from a girl in North Carolina to plant a seed,” she said.
Later, Shubina’s country began severe persecution of Christians. Her father lost his job when the missionaries were deported, leading the family to move to Russia. Shubina eventually moved to the United States.
“That was when I accepted Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior,” she said. “I moved to Boone, North Carolina to work for the ministry that had and continued to have an impact on my life.”
In October 2015, Shubina was able to meet the family that sent her the shoebox, including Katie.
When she spoke to the mother of the family, she learned the family had specifically prayed the box would go to someone in a country where Christianity was rarely preached and that Katie herself had picked out and packed all of the items in the box.
“After this, I was convicted to share my story,” Shubina said.
She now serves full-time with a team of OCC speakers.
“Together, we work to tell the story of God’s faithfulness in our lives,” she said.
After Shubina spoke, Patterson and local church relations coordinator Dave Mahoney talked to the workshop participants about various aspects of OCC.
Mahoney spoke of his personal experiences with OCC and about what he and other church relations coordinators do for the program.
“I encourage each of you to carry out the commands of Jesus,” he said. “The impact and results are phenomenal.”
For more information about Operation Christmas Child and local efforts, contact Lauren Patterson at lauren_8717@yahoo.com or at 980-581-6810.

Marina Shankle is a freelance contributor for The Stanly News & Press.