UKRAINE — Elizabeth Groff praises God for the Operation Christmas Child shoebox gift she received while living in an orphanage in Ukraine. It softened her heart for the Gospel to take hold.
When I was about one year old, my father was killed. After his passing my mom just really could not deal with the pain of losing her husband. I kind of had to step up and be the head of the household at a very young age. Five or six years old, taking care of my sister, looking after my grandparents, going from cottage to cottage and begging for food because I was too young to work at that time.
I was mostly concerned with my sister Tanya, though. She was my main priority. Not having very much, we still had each other. So while I was taking care of Tonya, you know, my mom was coming in and out of the household and when one day she showed up and she was pregnant with my youngest sister Ilona. My mother, in her drunk state, fed Ilona alcohol instead of milk. When Ilona passed away I decided that Tanya and I would run away in search of a new life. We got on the bus and we left.
We eventually got hungry and so we started collecting empty bottles to trade those in for money and then use that money to buy food. And so, as we were doing that the clerk called the police. So that’s when the police came by, picked us up, and first took us to the police station to question us. They decided to take us to a detention center.
My mom was notified where we were. They asked her, they said, ‘Do you want your children?’ And she said, ‘No, I don’t want them.’ When my mother’s rights were taken away, Tanya’s biological father was notified. Sorry. I remember Tonya’s father telling me, ‘I’m taking Tanya home with me, but I don’t want you because you’re not my daughter.’ All I could feel was heartbreak, but I knew that I had to let her go.
After losing Tanya I didn’t think about the future. It didn’t matter anymore. I just remember on that day feeling very abandoned. No one cared about me. After about a year at the detention center I was transferred to an orphanage. Because I felt so empty I started praying on my own. Without even knowing God I was crying out to Him, asking Him to give me a sign that everything was going to be OK, that there was a purpose for me. Every night I would pray and that is when Operation Christmas Child came to our orphanage.
This is the day that I received my Operation Christmas Child shoebox. Once I opened it there were so many different things in there, but I remember my favorite item was a yellow yo yo. To me that yo yo represented hope. It was an answer to my prayer. In that moment, I knew that this was the sign that God was sending me that ‘You are not alone. You are not an orphan. You are my daughter.’ And that’s when I knew that God is real and that He is with me.
The orphanage sponsored a choir trip to the United States for two weeks. Because I was on that choir, I had the opportunity to travel to the United States and during the second week I was hosted by a family in Virginia.
Jim and Jean Henry:
We were at an event in the morning and we went to go out to lunch and Elizabeth had fallen asleep in the back of the van. And I looked back at Elizabeth and I heard ‘This is your daughter.’ It was supernatural for me. It was just– I knew that the Spirit had spoken to me at that point. So, I was fortunate enough to take a photo of that. I, in fact, still carry that with me today. When I knew she was my daughter.
They sat me down and they asked me if I wanted to be adopted. And I said, ‘Yeah. Duh. Of course.’ They all flew out to Ukraine together to bring me home as a family. And this was the moment right before the plane touched on US soil and that was the moment that I officially became a US citizen. It was a special moment.
After my adoption I had told my parents about this amazing gift that I had received at the orphanage and how much hope it brought me and what it meant to me and we decided to pack [a shoebox] as a family. My mom said, ‘Why don’t we pack two shoeboxes or maybe three?’ And I said, ‘No, we’re going to pack a hundred.’ Over the years, as a family, we have packed over 8,000 shoeboxes.
Operation Christmas Child is a part of my life so anywhere I go I always bring it with me. Starting as a family packing shoeboxes, going to college and getting people involved there, going to grad school and having my friends and grad school get involved and professors get involved, people at my gym. Anywhere I go I’m always going to take it with me. It was the first seed that was planted in my heart. The shoebox was a seed.
Samaritan’s Purse is a nondenominational evangelical Christian organization providing spiritual and physical aid to hurting people around the world. Since 1970, Samaritan’s Purse has helped meet the needs of people who are victims of war, poverty, natural disasters, disease, and famine with the purpose of sharing God’s love through His Son, Jesus Christ. The organization serves the Church worldwide to promote the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ.
The mission of Operation Christmas Child is to demonstrate God’s love in a tangible way to children in need around the world. Through this project, Samaritan’s Purse partners with the local church worldwide to share the Good News of Jesus Christ and make disciples of the nations.
CONTACT: Kaitlyn Lahm, firstname.lastname@example.org
- Global News Alliance, Elizabeth’s Story: Gospel Seeds Planted in Ukraine
- Samaritan’s Purse, Official Website