Young woman details how Operation Christmas Child affected her life in Russia
By ROBERT PIERCE
• Leader & Times
Oksana Nelson now resides in America, but her journey to the States from her homeland in Russia has been a perilous one.
Nelson spent the first years of her life with her birth parents, but after both mother and father fell on troubled times, she was taken to an orphanage in Russia. Nelson recalled that prior to the orphanage, she never remembers seeing her birth parents together.
“I’m assuming they were divorced, split up maybe,” she said. “I don’t know. I spent the first several years of my life with my mom, but because of abuse, neglect, she was into drugs, I ended up being passed on to my dad.”
Nelson said she felt this was going to be better for her, but the father turned to alcohol.
“The authorities found out about what was going on,” she said. “They took me out of that and placed me in an orphanage.”
The situation did not change much at this point. Baths and changes of clothes came once a week for Nelson, who was in the orphanage for about two to three years. She said children also shared some things such as toothpaste and toothbrushes.
“We didn’t have simple luxuries like windows that close tightly or running water,” she said.
Nelson said unfortunately, little care was given to these needs.
“I was just a number – a face among many,” she said.
She described the orphanage as “black and dreary,” and she said she and the other children, “never grew close.”
“We never learned to love,” she said. “We never learned to trust.”
Nelson spoke at Saturday’s kick-off to this year’s Operation Christmas Child campaign at Liberal’s First Southern Baptist Church, and while living as an orphan in Russia, she received a shoe box from the organization which brought optimism to a young girl.
“That is something a simple gift like a shoe box gave me,” she said. “It give me hope in people.”
Nelson said being the recipient of a shoe box literally changed her life.
“I didn’t think it was possible for me, an orphan, a nobody, to get any kind of affection like that, but one day, everything I knew about life, about existence, people, about love, all of that was turned upside down.”
In the box, Nelson found some items she did not have much of at the orphanage, mainly toothpaste, but it is a picture of the family that sent the box that she remembers most.
“When I literally had nothing to call my own, each item meant a lot to me,” she said.
After receiving the box, Nelson said she had a better outlook on life.
“Being special enough to be the recipient of a gift,” she said of her reaction to the shoe box. “Just getting a gift for the first time in my life was incredible. It’s hard to describe. It was this overwhelming excitement that I got a gift from someone.”
Nelson said she is not sure of how the shoe box got to her, but in her mind, it does not matter.
“I’m thankful they did whatever they did just to share this gift with me,” she said. “They shared Christ’s love with a stranger – someone they didn’t know.”
Christ is something, Nelson said, was missing in her life, and the missionaries who delivered the boxes helped out in that aspect.
“They taught us about Jesus,” she said. “I’d never heard about Jesus.”
The missionaries told Nelson something which gave her even more hope about life.
“Even though your earthly father has failed you, you have a Heavenly Father who never fail you,” she said. “You have a Heavenly Father who would give you the desires of your heart so you can talk to Him, you can pray to Him.”
The following year, Nelson was adopted by an American family.
“I was 10 when it happened,” she said. “Only God made it happen. There’s really no explanation. My parents now saw a picture of me, and even though they didn’t plan on adopting, God had different plans and they followed through and came and got me.”
Nelson feels being adopted by Americans was a divine appointment.
“God tugged on the heartstrings of a man and a woman in the United States who had just recently adopted two kids,” she said. “They adopted me, and I’ve lived with my family for eight years now.”
She remembers when she found out about the adoption and what was said to her before exiting the orphanage.
“It’s your last day here,” she said. “Your family has come to get you. Say goodbye to your friends.”
Nelson and her family moved to Texas from Southern California when she was 16 years old. She said this is usually the age when children are set free from orphanages, but do not have much to help them out on their own.
“You’re let go with no money, resources, no financial support, nothing,” she said.
Drugs and prostitution were common paths for orphans. Nelson said she was told that she would go down the latter path and that she was a mistake and a burden.
Nelson is now a volunteer packing boxes for OCC, and the first time her church helped out in the drive, she told her pastor she was once a recipient. This launched the beginning of speaking engagements on a local and national level.
“It’s amazing,” she said. “I get to go and share my story with everybody and wouldn’t have it any other way. It’s a lot of fun.”
Since 1993, OCC has packed about 86 million shoe boxes for children around the world, and Nelson said each gift has an impact on a kid.
“Each shoe box will flourish someday,” she said. “We’re planting seeds with each shoe box, and I’m excited about that.”
Nelson is grateful for everything she has and what she can do for children in situations just like the one she faced when she was younger.
“These kids need hope and love just like other kids in the world, and I’m just so thankful to be here and be a part of giving them joy,” she said.
After being adopted, Nelson went to public school, graduating in 2008, and this year, she finished an economics degree at Tarleton State in Stephenville, Texas. She added her experience with OCC has helped her come to know God in a better way.
“The shoe box planted that seed, and that was when I first heard about Him,” she said. “Once I was adopted, I just began learning more about Jesus Christ and being discipled more and more.”
Nelson described her Creator as “one amazing God.”
“God has created us to serve,” she said. “God created us to please Him and serve Him, and everything we do is for Him.”
Nelson said the OCC gifts go well beyond that of a normal Christmas present.
“That’s 86 million lives that have been impacted,” she said. “That’s 86 million souls that have been reached, and more importantly, that’s 86 million possible salvations that will be made.”
Nelson emphasized serving God through a simple equation.
“One box equals one child equals one life equals one salvation, and that’s what it’s about – reaching out to kids through tangible items, but leaving everlasting impacts in their life,” she said.