CURWENSVILLE – Twenty years ago, Livia Satterfield Young was a 12-year-old girl in a Romanian orphanage when her life was changed – forever – by an Operation Christmas Child shoebox.
Livia shared God’s story for her life Saturday afternoon at the First Baptist Church in Curwensville as part of the ministry’s Shoebox Recipient Speaker Tour.
She grew up in her home country for 14 years, and was an orphan for 10 years. She was placed in an orphanage at age 2 because her mother could no longer afford to take care of her.
Livia was believed to be in the best orphanage in her city of Galati, but she described a lack of food, hygiene supplies and the general feeling of love and happiness.
“Some days our food supply was so low that all we had was a piece of bread that was hard as a rock and moldy,” she said. “I would hit it off my metal plate and ask myself, ‘what will I eat from it?’”
She said they didn’t brush their teeth very often, but if they did, they had to share their toothbrush with all the other children and there were hundreds of them in the orphanage.
“We also wore the same clothes – same underwear, same socks – for a week,” Livia said, “and we took baths after 5 or 10 children in the same bathtub water.”
If the children took showers instead, they stood in lines and buckets of scalding hot water were dumped over their bodies, which turned from white to bright red.
They were given a bar of soap, they washed themselves and passed it on to the next child in line. Then, buckets of water were dumped over them again.
Christmas wasn’t a very joyous occasion, Livia said, because the orphanage received gifts like bicycles and rollerblades for the children only for the workers to take them all away the next day.
Before Operation Christmas Child’s visit, Livia didn’t have dreams of an education, a place to call home, a forever family or even a Barbie doll to play with.
Above all, she longed to feel someone’s love and warm embrace. “I wanted to feel like I existed in this world,” Livia said, “… and I wanted hair clips.”
In 1999, that all changed when the ministry delivered shoeboxes full of personal hygiene items, school supplies and toys to her orphanage.
The same day, an American missionary group also came from Newman, Ga., and Livia met a woman named Connie. They instantly bonded over God’s shoebox gift that clearly was meant for Livia.
“Before we opened our boxes, they shared with us about people like you who packed them because you loved us,” she said. “I was so mesmerized by the word ‘love.’
“[I thought] to myself: ‘how could you possibly love me when you are … across the ocean?’ I had workers there that didn’t give me a drop of love daily.”
She continued: “And then, they shared ‘the greatest news of all.’ That there’s a God, and He gave His one and only son who died on the cross for me because He loves me.
“For 10 years, it’d been held back – the Gospel message, but God made this possible through a simple gift. It sparked so much love, joy and hope in my life.”
When the children finally opened their shoeboxes, the orphanage exploded into laughter. The air was filled with scents of toothpaste (no longer allowed), soap and candy (no longer allowed).
Even though she had short hair, Livia always wanted to have her own hair clips. As soon as she opened her shoebox, she couldn’t believe her eyes because it was a dream come true.
Atop of her other much-needed school supplies and hygiene items was a large set of hair clips. She immediately tore open the package and began to put them all in her hair.
Connie tried to persuade Livia to put one on each side. “It’ll look much better,” she told her, but Livia was so overcome by joy she didn’t care if she looked like a “porcupine.”
Also, among her gifts was a break-apart “best friends” necklace. She gave Connie one half; she kept the other half. “Maybe, one day we can put our hearts together,” Livia expressed.
As they shared this special moment, she told Connie, “I love you,” in English. And through her small, yet powerful gesture, God spoke to Connie and told her to adopt Livia.
“God wanted me to have more than hair clips, he wanted me to have a family,” she said. “Two years later at age 14, Connie came back to Romania and took me home to my brand-new family.”
The same year Livia received her shoebox gift, Connie arranged for her to stay with a Christian family, and she accepted Christ as her personal Lord and Savior.
“And that joy was nothing comparable to the day I got my shoebox,” she said. “I wish I [would’ve] had a mega-sized microphone to tell the whole world I had Jesus in my heart.
“… I encourage you to pack one more box, because that means one more Gospel opportunity, and that one more child gets to be adopted into the Kingdom of God.”
Lisa Levesque, OCC regional manager, added: “We don’t all come from the same background; we don’t all go to the same churches, but we are united … to reach the ends of the earth with the Gospel.”
About Operation Christmas Child
The world’s largest Christmas project of its kind, Operation Christmas Child, uses gift-filled shoeboxes to demonstrate God’s love to children in need around the world.
Operation Christmas Child is a project of Samaritan’s Purse, an international Christian relief and evangelism organization, that’s headed by Christian evangelist and missionary Franklin Graham.
Operation Christmas Child collected more than 8.8 million shoeboxes packed with toys, school supplies and personal hygiene items from across the United States in 2018.
Combined with others collected in partnering countries, it sent more than 10.6 million shoebox gifts to children in more than 100 countries last year.
Since 1993, Operation Christmas Child has collected and delivered more than 168 million shoeboxes to children in over 160 countries and territories.
Since 2010, more than 14.9 million children who have received a shoebox gift have participated in The Greatest Journey — a 12-lesson discipleship program.
During the program, children learn from trained, local volunteers what it means to follow Jesus and share their faith with friends and family.
In 2019, Operation Christmas Child hopes to collect enough shoebox gifts to reach another 11 million children in countries like Peru, the Philippines, Rwanda and Ukraine.
In addition to its continued outreach to more than 100 countries, the ministry plans to deliver its shoebox gifts to more than a half-million girls and boys on 1,000 Pacific Islands over the next few years.
Anyone can pack a shoebox. Individuals, families, churches and groups fill empty shoeboxes with school supplies, hygiene items (non-liquid) and fun toys.
You can learn how to pack a shoebox, view gift suggestions, get your “Follow Your Box” label and find the nearest drop-off location at samaritanspurse.org/occ.
During National Collection Week (Nov. 18–25), Samaritan’s Purse will collect the gift-filled shoeboxes at nearly 5,000 drop-off locations in all 50 states and Puerto Rico.
Online shoppers can browse here to select gifts matched to a child’s specific age and gender, then finish packing the virtual shoebox by adding a photo and personal note of encouragement.
Shoebox gifts are collected in the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, Australia, Germany, Switzerland, Austria, Finland, Spain, New Zealand and Japan.
Nearly 500,000 volunteers worldwide — with more than 150,000 of those in the United States — are involved in collecting, shipping and distributing shoebox gifts.
To learn about year-round and seasonal volunteer opportunities or to serve with Operation Christmas Child, visit samaritanspurse.org/occ.