Thursday, November 13, 2014

Alina's story, part two

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(This is part two of Alina's story of how God used a shoebox in her life.  For part one, click here.)

Growing up, we continued to attend the church, going to Sunday school and learning more about God. God spoke to me and I received Him in my life as my personal Savior at 17. Then I started working with children every Saturday in a small village close to my home town. The kids were from poor families, mostly not Christian. Every Christmas, for the 5 years I worked there, we had Christmas celebrations in the little church where we were gathering, singing carols, putting up dramas, reciting poems, and Bible verses.  A Christmas message was always shared with all the children and parents invited for the occasion. At the end of the program, every child in the room received a shoebox. I still have pictures from those days. The smiles on the children's faces in the pictures remind me always of my little brother's smile, that Christmas when we received our own shoeboxes.

After college, I got a job at a bank in a bigger city. First I thought that it was a lot of money and an amazing career but after 3 years I realized that it wasn't was I wanted at all. I decided to quit my job and come to the States to visit some family friends, for 6 months, mainly to get away and find myself. It was a good break from everything and a good time to think about my priorities and what I want in life.

When I got back to Romania I started working for a Christian charity organization that was helping abandoned children living on the streets and poor families. They were also the main distributors of shoeboxes in Romania. We received each year around 300,000 shoeboxes from England and Germany.  These shoeboxes were distributed in orphanages, hospitals, kindergartens, village schools, poor communities, Gypsy communities and so forth. The trucks loaded with thousands of shoeboxes usually arrived at destination (usually a church or a warehouse) before Christmas. This way, there was enough time to set up a Christmas program and invite children and their families. If the program was held in a church, school, kindergarten or in an open space, it usually had a Christmas play performed by children and carols followed by a short Christmas message empathizing the real meaning of Christmas. 

At the end, the distribution teams would hand each child a shoebox. You could feel joy in the air, and see happiness, literally see it. Distributing shoeboxes to children in hospitals was the hardest part for me. Each time I was so overwhelmed by the mixed emotions while seeing terminal cancer children patients open their first shoebox, not under a Christmas tree, but in a hospital bed, tied up to a machine, but still, with that same smile on their faces.

In poor communities or Gypsy villages the distributions were always chaotic because of the culture. A “traditional” Christmas program doesn't work there. Because of so much poverty and despair, sometimes children and parents holding children in their arms would almost tip over the distribution cars trying to get a shoebox. Most of these children were barefoot, in the snow, wearing just a shirt, sometimes not even underwear. They would wait in the cold, just like that, until they could embrace their own shoebox and return to their shacks with a huge smile on their dirty faces.

I was blessed to participate in shoeboxes distributions two winters in a row. I was able to see the smiles again, the wide open eyes, the curious faces...and joy, a moment of joy, while each child was holding his shoebox like it was the most precious treasure in the whole wide world. And it was their own!

When I first visited the States, I met Jesse, who three years ago became my husband. We kept in touch over internet and five years ago he came to visit Romania and stayed for 7 months. When he went back to the States for a job interview, we realized we never want to be apart again, and I packed my bags, well, all my life actually, and moved to San Francisco to be with him. 

I started searching for volunteering opportunities, because my 3 years at the Romanian charity were still so fresh in my mind and I couldn't just sit around not helping the ones in need. I guess it was already in my system. So when I came across the Samaritan's Purse (SP) website, it was an answer to my prayers. I knew SP, I knew what they were doing, I knew their projects, because they were our organization’s main partner in Romania. I contacted Angenette, the OCC area coordinator for San Francisco and we first met during the collection week at the Crossing Church in Belmont.

I volunteered with OCC as a Church Relations team member for over a year and now I am focusing on my little ones as a teacher at the Christian preschool where I have the opportunity to work. I look forward to packing as many shoeboxes as possible this year and send them overseas, to children like the ones I met in Romania, children in need of hope and the acknowledgment that they are loved and somebody is thinking of them, that they are not forgotten.

Why I choose to do this? I think that my story says it best, and also because I know how it is at the other end of the chain. I had the privilege to see it and be a part of it. I have seen starving children, I have seen abandoned children living on the streets, I have seen abused children, I have seen sick children, and I have seen what God can do when the tiniest door is opened and when a single person lets themselves be used as an instrument in His hand.

Packing a shoebox is opening a door for God to change hearts, lives, and bring a smile and a little bit of hope in a child's life.

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