Samaritan's Purse organization gifts shoe boxes, influences outlooks
During Rob Foshee's third period Bible class, Luba Travis gives a presentation on her experience with Operation Christmas Child. She had lived as an orphan in Moldova until being adopted by an American family.
Many children in the United States enjoy comfortable lives with numerous provisions, such as clothing and food. While these personal benefits may be taken for granted by some people, 17-year-old Luba Travis has developed deep appreciation for the privileges of this country.
In 1993 Travis was born in Moldova, a small country located in the southeastern part of Europe, on the western border of Romania. The youngest of three children, Travis's mother told her and her siblings that she could no longer care for them, and sent them to live with their blind grandmother. When Travis was three months old, she and her siblings were sent to an orphanage with insufficient living conditions.
According to Travis, the emotional and physical needs of the children did not seem to be a priority for the owners of the orphanage. On some days, they would not provide meals for the children, leaving them to find food for themselves.
"We lived near a highway where food trucks would pass by,-- Travis said. "My brother and sister would jump into the back of the cars and steal food. They were the only ones who cared about me and risked their lives to feed me. As I got older, I was expected to fend for myself. I used to rummage through trash cans and, at one point, ate sand because I was so hungry."
In addition to the lack of food, nearly all of the orphans had to cut their hair short because of a lice infestation, Travis said. They were only allowed to take a shower once a month, using the same water as everyone else. Once the water turned black, no one could bathe themselves.
Travis said the children grew up thinking of themselves as burdens to the orphanage. They were sent to school but always felt fearful to attend, because of the expectation that they would know the answers to everything.
"All of the kids were afraid to go to school because, whenever we gave a wrong answer, the teacher beat us," Travis said. -Our teacher wanted us to be smart, but every time we fell short of standards we received punishment."
OCC visit impacts life
When Travis was 5 years old, a group of Christians came to the orphanage to present the gospel. Two years later, she received a shoe box full of Christmas gifts from Samaritan's Purse, a non-profit organization. The package contained a stuffed teddy bear, watermelon lip balm, an assortment of candy, a toothbrush and toothpaste.
Out of all the objects before her eyes, the only recognizable item was the teddy bear. An American man came beside her and watched as she tried to figure out what the other items were.
"None of the orphans brushed their teeth, so when I opened the toothbrush I thought it was for brushing my hair," Travis said. "As I ran the toothbrush through my hair, the man looked at me like I was crazy. He explained what it was really meant for and taught me how the toothpaste is supposed to be used for brushing your teeth, not your hair."
"The shoebox was the beginning of my story." --Luba Travis, Moldova native
It was not until these Operation Christmas Child (OCC) workers from Samaritan's Purse came that the children found religion. As they began opening presents, Travis saw it as proof that others cared about her. However, while her friends developed hope for a better future, Travis questioned the purpose of the missionaries.
"Why would a stranger give gifts to someone they didn't even know?" Travis said. "Why would someone care about a filthy little girl? Who inspired them to make these boxes?"
Later on, the manager of the orphanage came to Travis and gave her news that a woman was waiting to see her and her siblings. The woman already had three children, but wanted to adopt three more.
After receiving a shoe box at age 7, Travis found faith and felt loved by her sponsor overseas. Now she publicizes the operation to help other children.
"At first I didn't believe that someone actually wanted to adopt me," Travis said. "I thought the woman would look at us and then decide that she didn't want us. But when she stayed, I was so excited for the new adventure that would lay ahead."
The three children were adopted and moved to the United States to live with the Travis family in Etna, CA. Travis describes her siblings' adoption as a miracle, because they would have been considered unadoptable the next year. When orphans reached the age of about 12, they were not allowed to live at the orphanage. A year after they moved to the US, the orphanage closed due to mistreatment toward the orphans.
"The shoebox was the beginning of my story," Travis said. "If I hadn't received it, I wouldn't have prayed for a family, and I wouldn't have been adopted. I realized Jesus Christ was real and that someone did love me."
OCC in depth
The Samaritan's Purse organization, founded by missionary Bob Pierce in 1970, serves to help children just like Travis. Through this foundation, OCC was formed with dedicated volunteers working year-round to package and promote shoe box gifts. About 8.5 million boxes are delivered around the world every year, and about 5.5 million of those go to the United States.
The OCC regional manager for the northwest region, Tracy O'Neil, joined the organization a year and a half ago, after graduating with a degree in Human Services. O'neil claims that her trip to Ecuador in February for a shoe box distribution was life-changing.
"I discovered a love for reaching children with the gospel," O'Neil said. "I also love working with passionate volunteers who are following God's calling."
Nine years ago, volunteer Karen Garren began working with OCC in the Fresno and Clovis area. Since Garren and her husband never had children, she felt called to help package shoe boxes for children all over the world, she said.
"My favorite part about making the boxes is seeing what a blessing it is to children like Luba Travis," Garren said. "What seems like simple boxes of toys brings happiness to many children."
According to Garren, she had never before seen kids happy with the knowledge that someone might care for them outside of the orphanage. Travis says that prior to the day of receiving gifts, Travis's brother and sister had never hoped for a better life.
For information on packing and sending a shoe box, visit the organization's website or contact Samaritan's Purse. For more coverage of OCC, read the Dec. 14, 2009, article, Nakashian introduces Operation Christmas Child project.