NASHVILLE — Oksana Nelson’s recollections of her life in an orphanage in Russia are vivid, but her memories are not very pleasant.
Nelson, now 21, thinks she was 7 or 8 years old when Russian authorities removed her from her father’s home to the orphanage.
Both parents had a history of using drugs and alcohol.
Nelson remembers well hearing that she was the child that was not wanted — an “accident.”
Nelson, an administrative assistant in the missions department of Brentwood Baptist Church, Brentwood, and a graduate student at Lipscomb University in Nashville, shared her testimony July 21 at Donelson View Baptist Church here.
Donelson View was holding its first Ladies’ Christmas in July Dinner to kick off their collection for Operation Christmas Child, normally held during November.
Operation Christmas Child is a ministry of the Franklin Graham Evangelistic Association. People pack shoe boxes with candy, toys, gum, Bibles, etc., for needy children all around the world.
Nelson is the national spokesperson for Operation Christmas Child. She speaks from first-hand knowledge of the value and importance of the Operation Christmas Child ministry.
While in the orphanage in Russia, Nelson was the recipient of a shoe box filled with goodies.
Nelson recalled that two missionaries came to their orphanage. The man did a skit and told them about the love of Jesus Christ.
Afterwards, the two missionaries passed out a shoe box to all the children. “I had never received a gift before in my life,” Nelson said.
In sharing her testimony, Nelson recounted how bad life was in the Russian orphanage. Children had to share everything, including a toothbrush and toothpaste. She also had never had candy before receiving that shoe box.
One item in the shoe box that really meant a lot to her was a picture of the two children who had packed her shoe box. “They didn’t know me yet they loved me enough to send a gift and share the love of Christ with me,” Nelson said.
Two things happened before the missionaries left the orphanage. First, the woman missionary put Nelson on her lap, and hugged her and rocked her back and forth. “I had never been hugged or kissed before,” she said.
“Sitting on that lady’s lap, I saw God for the first time in my life,” she recalled.
Secondly, the missionaries taught her how to pray. “I could talk to God. That was a foreign concept to me,” Nelson remembered.
“I was told that I could have a relationship with a Heavenly Father who would never fail me.”
After they left, Nelson began to pray faithfully that she would be adopted into a loving family. She did not have much hope, however, as she was soon approaching the age (10) when most children were not adopted.
Yet she was 10 when Becky and David Nelson, who had already a-dopted three international children, decided to adopt her into their family.
The Nelsons lived in Southern California but moved to Texas when Oksana was 16 years old.
The Nelson family began attending a small Southern Baptist church in Weatherford, Texas. One Sunday, Nelson heard a presentation for Operation Christmas Child for the first time.
“I began to put the pieces together and realized that I had been the recipient of one of those shoe boxes,” she recalled.
After the service, Nelson went to the pastor and told her story. One thing led to another as she met representatives of Operation Christmas Child and began speaking and sharing her testimony on their behalf.
Though she has no idea how long she will continue as a spokesperson for Operation Christmas Child, Nelson said she will talk about the shoe boxes “for the rest of my life.”
As she concluded her testimony with the women at Donelson View, she reminded them that the life of a child can be changed by a single shoe box. “That one box literally planted a seed (for me),” she said.
She encouraged the women not to look at the shoe box as just a gift.
“One box is a child. One box is a life. One box is a potential salvation,” Nelson said.
Alicia Fawbush, who coordinated the event for Donelson View, said the opportunity that the shoe boxes have to share the gospel with children who have never heard of Jesus Christ is one reason the church participates so willingly with the Operation Christmas Child ministry.
Over the past three years the church has packed more than 1,250 boxes, Fawbush noted.
“A gospel presentation is given when the boxes are handed out,” she said, but added that it does not stop there. “Each child is given the opportunity to participate in a 12-week discipleship course and if they complete the program, they are given a Bible in their language,” she observed.
It really is a tremendous opportunity for us to make an international gospel impact without us ever leaving the United States,” said Fawbush, whose husband, Bo, is pastor of Donelson View.