There’s a common but mostly far-fetched dream shared by many of the people who pack up treasures in shoeboxes for Operation Christmas Child and as they shop for those children they’ll never know: Just once, they’d like to meet a child they’re helping.

The overseas outreach program run by Samaritan’s Purse just doesn’t lend itself to such meetings, though. Often those packages go to remote and developing countries or to areas where the program is narrowly accepted by the governing forces that impose tight restrictions on its reach.

But that dream was realized in a way last Saturday for a handful of local Christmas shoebox packers. Alina Aisina, now 22, received one of those boxes when she was a 5-year-old living in a Central Asia community she still would not be wise to name, and she didn’t, when she met with those packers last weekend.

Aisina is now on the staff of Samaritan’s Purse, living in the United States and working as a touring spokesman and ambassador for the Operation Christmas Child shoebox program. Appearance by appearance, she’s giving those yearning givers a glimpse of what their boxes might mean to the youngsters who receive them.

She was at Eastside Baptist that evening, and although she couldn’t speak the name of her hometown, she shared many other aspects of her life story with the group assembled there for an ice cream social in her honor.

As she spoke of receiving her box 17 years ago, she reached down to get something off a nearby bench, then carefully half-unfolded what she’d picked up. It was a colorful square of wrapping paper. It was creased where it had been folded, but the fragile paper had obviously also been carefully tended over time. The Disney princess-themed paper with a purple background is fading a bit but it has been kept smooth and flat for many years.

It was the paper that had wrapped her little shoebox. It has survived much, including the successful journey that she, her mother and her sister embarked upon in 2008 seeking asylum in the U.S. There had been many small treasures inside it, including a pair of plastic “princess” heels she remembers fondly. But the best gift of all was a picture of a smiling little girl about her age, the child who packed her box, she surmised. She kept that photograph carefully for years but she sadly recalls that it was lost or sacrificed in the family’s escape to the states.

But the image is etched in her memory and heart forever, she says, along with what Aisina believes the shoebox represented: The body of Christ, His people, providing by example a very small but tangible and powerful example of His humanity and love. Her mother had converted to Christianity when she, Alina, was just 40 days old. Alina’s father was of a different faith, the one dominant in their homeland, and made his wife choose between himself and the God she had come to believe in.

Converted during a time of widespread crisis during which a narrow window of opportunity was raised for outsiders coming in with aid, including missionaries, her mother’s faith was forever sealed as she listened to the messages that three Indiana families brought the message of the Christian gospel. When confronted with the difficult choice her husband demanded, she chose God. Alina’s father left.

Many financial struggles followed as the mother and her daughters continued mostly on their own. Alina would follow her mother into the Christian faith and it helped them cope all through their most trying years, she said. Alina’s father did visit his daughters from time to time, but she says she feels he was not a warm and loving figure in their lives. They have through the years come to a certain resolution in their relationship but it is not an easy one. Her heavenly Father, she said, is her true father figure, and her work with Samaritan’s Purse, she said, is a calling from Him that she is happy to answer. That Father, she said, has wrapped her in love and care.

Her mother is a missionary well away from the states. The mother and daughter haven’t seen each other in person for three years now but they are in constant contact through social media sites. Their shared commitment to God, Alina says, helps bridge their loneliness for each other until they can meet again.

Meanwhile, she is touring the country in hopes of inspiring more to get involved in Operation Christmas Child and to thank those who are already doing a work she considers of vital importance to children in need. It’s about far more than the playthings and essentials they receive in their boxes, she says. It’s also about spreading the gospel to all corners of the Earth, she says, a mission she feels blessed to be involved in.

To contact the local Operation Christmas Child team at Eastside, call 526-2004.

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