December 2013 - Cover Story
by Dawn González
Back in October when the weather was addictive and it was tempting to sit all day on the back porch with a pumpkin spice latte, people across the Midlands were packing shoeboxes. They tucked Silly Putty, sunglasses, stickers, teddy bears, and candy into tightly-packed shoeboxes for wide-eyed boys and girls to open somewhere on the other side of the world. Now, in December, when Americans are filling shopping carts for their own Christmas mornings, many have forgotten the shoeboxes they packed months ago. But Elena Hagemeier and Irina Creek, two young Russian girls who received boxes, never forget.
Samaritan’s Purse, an international relief ministry based in North Carolina, is headed by Billy Graham’s son, Franklin Graham. One of their many relief projects is Operation Christmas Child, which delivers gift-filled shoeboxes and the gospel to hurting children worldwide. By partnering with churches and individuals, OCC has distributed 100 million shoeboxes since its inception in 1993.
Elena Hagemeier, now a 22-year-old junior studying to become a missionary at Ozark Christian College in Joplin, Missouri, was once a poor, neglected, 7-year-old Russian girl doing her best to feed and care for her younger sister. “We lived in a front room with a kitchen and broken windows,” she recalls. “It was always cold.”