Christmas box recipient shares story

Published 8:00 pm Sunday, October 14, 2012

Brookhaven churches have been packing shoeboxes with gifts to send overseas for years, but Friday night they had the opportunity to hear a story about the receiving end of those gifts.

     Luba Travis spent the early years of her life in an orphanage in the eastern European country of Moldova, between Romania and the Ukraine. At the age of 7, she received a gift through Operation Christmas Child, a ministry of Samaritan’s Purse that distributes boxes packed with gifts to needy children around the world.

     It’s now about 13 years later, and Travis travels with Operation Christmas Child telling her story. She spoke at First Baptist Church Brookhaven Friday night, talking to local volunteers involved with Operation Christmas Child.

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     She told them about the difficult years of her early life at the orphanage. She was put into the orphanage with her older twin siblings at the age of 4 months.

     Due to the orphanage’s neglect, her siblings were often forced to steal food to feed her. Travis remembers looking through trash cans for food once she got older.

     “Never did I once have hope my life was going to get better,” Travis said.

     At age 5, Travis remembers that Christian missionaries came to the orphanage and told the story of Jesus.

     “I wanted Jesus to be real,” Travis said.

     However, she felt she couldn’t believe.

     “Even though I heard about Jesus, I didn’t believe in Him because of my circumstances at the orphanage,” Travis said.

      However, a year or so later, a group with Operation Christmas Child came to the orphanage.

     She remembers a man gave her a box and told her, “Jesus loves you, and so do I. Enjoy this gift.”

     Her gift box included a teddy bear, a Slinky, watermelon ChapStick, a toothbrush and toothpaste. She tried to eat the ChapStick and toothpaste and thought the toothbrush was a hairbrush.

     But her mistakes didn’t spoil the gift.

     “For the very first time, I felt joy in my life,” Travis said.

     That joy only became greater that night when she was told she and her siblings were to be adopted by a family in New York.

     Shelli Wishard, a regional director for Operation Christmas Child, called Travis’ a “full circle story” and an opportunity to see the results of the annual Christmas box collection.

     “Your boxes really do make an impact,” Wishard said. “You pack boxes and you might not ever hear back from that box.”

     Operation Christmas Child began in 1993, and last year, 6 million boxes were collected. This year’s goal is 6.5 million.

     An estimated 14,000 gift boxes will come from the Southwest Mississippi area this year.

     First Baptist Church of Brookhaven is a regional relay center. Other relay centers in the area are based at Meadville and Monticello.

     Anyone in the area that packs a box should take it to the nearest relay center. The boxes will go from that relay center to the collection center in McComb where the boxes are packed in 18-wheelers.

     Boxes will be collected this year from Nov. 12-19.

     Wishard thanked Friday’s crowd for their participation in the ministry.

     “There are lots of ways to fulfill the great commission, but you choose to participate through Operation Christmas Child,” Wishard said.

     Berenda Berry was among Friday’s crowd. She has been involved with packing gift boxes five years at her home church of Central Baptist and said she was left speechless by Travis’ story.

     “To think how that box influences a life,” Berry said.

     More information about Operation Christmas Child is available from First Baptist Brookhaven.