For this "Throw Back Thursday" -- a story from 2003
The letter, addressed to our church in artistic block lettering, arrived in a plain white envelope with a foreign stamp. The language of the return address was indecipherable to me, and even the postmark gave me no clues to its country of origin. I inspected the stamp, but that didn’t help either.
This was another one of about thirty letters that was sent to our church last year from children in other countries who received the gift-filled shoeboxes we sent as part of our annual Operation Christmas Child project. I tore open the envelope and stared at the precise writing marching along on graph paper. If only I could read it.
“I could try taking it to school,” my husband, Jim, suggested when I showed it to him. “We have a lot of kids who are from other countries.” So the next day Jim took the letter with him to work. He said he handed it to a student in one of his classes who came here last year from Afghanistan. “Can you read this?” Jim asked him.
“Sorry,” he said after glancing at the writing. “I think it might be Russian. Maybe she can help you.” He pointed to Maria, a shy girl in the next row. Jim approached Maria, extended the letter to her, and repeated the question, “Can you read this?”
She looked down at the letter for a moment, then her head whipped back up and she flashed Jim a huge smile. “Yes,” she breathed, “this is from near my home. In Ukraine.” Here in Erie, Pennsylvania, she was thousands of miles from her birth place, but this simple letter seemed to give her a moment of connection.
“Can you write the words in English?” Jim asked.
“Yes. I try,” Maria replied through her widening grin.
The next day Maria brought the letter and proudly handed it to Jim along with her translation written in pencil on notebook paper. “Hey, thanks. This is really great,” he said, giving her a warm smile. She was so excited to be able to help and seemed less shy as she took her seat in math class.
Later that night I was finally able to read the letter from a boy named Andrey who wrote, in part, “We got your presents. Most happy was my brother Serge because with your help his prayer to God was answered. Serge prayed for a big balloon, and on the next day we got your presents and there were balloons—just the kind he wanted and asked for from God. Serge right away thanked God for answering his prayers.”
I put the letter down and tried to imagine this child in Ukraine praying to God with a simple request for a balloon. Then I realized that God had anticipated Serge’s desire before he even prayed. Months before, God had our church packing a shoebox of gifts here in Erie, Pennsylvania, that would travel thousands of miles to be the answer to his childlike prayer. And giving us the words so that we could understand this miracle made Maria smile, too.
God brought a lot of blessings from some balloons in a shoebox.