Livia Young was an 80-pound 12-year-old living in an orphanage in Romania in 1998, when she received a shoebox of gifts, as part of the Operation Christmas Child (OCC) ministry for children around the world.

Livia Young was an 80-pound 12-year-old living in an orphanage in Romania in 1998, when she received a shoebox of gifts, as part of the Operation Christmas Child (OCC) ministry for children around the world.

Young spoke Sunday, Oct. 8, at Calvary Baptist Church in Hannibal, sharing how much her life has changed since that day. She was later adopted by the American woman, Connie Satterfield, who delivered her shoebox.

Young said the most important gift was learning about Jesus and accepting Christ as her Savior. “The best thing was learning Jesus died for me, because He loves me. The same day I accepted the shoebox I accepted Christ as my Savior. … When I accepted Christ I remember wanting the shout 'I have Jesus in my heart.' I was accepted twice, once by my family and once by Christ.”

She described bad food and other conditions at the orphanage, noting one of the worst things was that the children had no personal possessions, but the thing they most wanted was to be loved.

Before describing the emotional way the children received the shoeboxes, she said “to compensate for the absence of love in our lives, we compensated ourselves by rolling our heads back and forth, and rocking ourselves back and forth.”

When the shoeboxes were given to the children, she heard screaming and laughter, and they ate all the candy (candy is no longer allowed).

When she met Satterfield, she grabbed her hand and would not let go. Two days later she returned and asked if Young wanted to be adopted.

Young said when she received her shoebox, “my dream just came true. I had hair clips, which I longed for, and I yearned to be loved.”

The children were afraid the workers at the orphanage would take their gifts, because they had taken the bicycles and roller blades that had been delivered for Christmas presents, but the workers did not need their shoebox gifts and let them keep them.

She gave some advice to the people filling shoeboxes. “I recommend a letter and picture. They love a letter and picture from the donor.”

During an interview before her program, Young explained that when asked if she wanted to be adopted, “I said yes and immediately began calling her Mom,” It took two years for the legal adoption, but meanwhile her new mother found a Christian home there, so she had a safe place to stay.

In addition to the hair clips she had yearned for, her shoebox contained hygiene items, school supplies and a best friend necklace. She took out the necklace and gave half of it to her new mother. Her box also had a bar of Dove soap. She decided to only rub it on her for the scent and never use it. And to save it for her new mother.

Young reported that before receiving the shoebox with the story of Jesus, she knew nothing about Jesus except for a photo of him on the cross.“We were prevented from hearing the Gospel.”

Young has been married for three years and lives in Newnan, Ga., where she and her husband have six chickens, a dog and a cat. She works at Chick-fil-A. “During Christmas season I go out and speak” about Operation Christmas Child, she said.

She does this for people “to see first-hand what it is like for a child to receive a shoebox and see the impact.”

Her goal is “for people to understand that this ministry is about the Gospel, because every child longs to be loved, and the best way of loving them is sharing the Gospel, because they can always cling onto Jesus' love for them.”

Before speaking at the church, Young was introduced by Cheryl McGowan, OCC church relations team volunteer from Calvary Baptist Church. She reported the goal is 16,000 shoeboxes in the Two Rivers area, which includes several counties in Missouri and Illinois.

She encouraged everyone to fill medium-sized boxes so more could be delivered than if large shoeboxes were filled.

Drop off locations in Missouri include Immanuel Baptist Church at 3600 McMasters Ave. in Hannibal and Mission Hill Baptist Church at 4653 Business 612 in Palmyra.

OCC is a project of Samaritan’s Purse, an international relief organization. Since 1993, OCC has delivered gift-filled shoeboxes to over 146 million children. For more details, see samaritanspurse.org.

Reach reporter Bev Darr at bev.darr@courierpost.com.