When Izabella McMillon was a young child in Communist Romania, a pastor in a secret church she attended told her one day God was going to do something big with her, but for the moment she needed to be quiet.
Today McMillon lives in the U.S. and works for Operation Christmas Child, which provides gifts to needy children around the world in the name of Jesus. She no longer keeps quiet about Jesus and what He has done for her.
McMillon shared the stunning story of how receiving an OCC box as a child changed her life. She reminded students that 100 percent of the children who receive a shoebox will be happy about it. “What goes in the box is fun,” she said, “but what comes out is eternal.”
Growing up, McMillon and her brother were left alone while their parents worked in a factory. At 3 and 6 years old, they got up at 5:30 a.m., ate, and got themselves to school. They learned to be independent because they had to. After school they had three rules: eat lunch, do homework and behave.
One afternoon they noticed something amiss with the area rug and began pulling up floor tiles, only to discover a book hidden in the floor. Thrilled to have a new book to read, they started at the beginning. When their parents came home, they were aghast to find them reading a Bible, an offense resulting in death in Romania. The children were told to hide it again and never get it out.
As often happens, the children were drawn to the forbidden. “We could hardly wait to get home and learn what the next story was,” said McMillon. Holding up her Bible, she said, “Now we have this book at our fingertips and take it for granted. When was the last time you were thrilled to open it? We need to pray for God’s Word to fall on us fresh.”
Finding the hidden Bible was the first in a chain of events where God revealed Himself to McMillon. A classmate invited her to a secret church, where she was amazed to learn the pastor read from the same storybook she and her brother had. She was the persistent pupil who always had her hand raised. The pastor asked her to wait until the end when everyone was gone to ask her questions. McMillon had made it her quest to soak up everything the secret book offered. One night she told the pastor he needed to teach her how to pray, because the book said she needed to.
She prayed for snow so she could go out and play and stay up late. Night after night there was no snow. She told the pastor, this prayer thing doesn’t work, but he assured her God always answers, sometimes in ways we can’t imagine. Three weeks later the dictator was overthrown, and Romania was free.
Then came a day when McMillon ran through the streets because everyone else did. Under Communism, you automatically joined a running crowd because it meant there was something to buy at the store. Instead, they found trucks, filled with beautifully colored boxes full of gifts. More colors than McMillon had ever seen.
McMillon held up her 20-year-old globe and said, “This is what I got in my box.” She didn’t know what it was until a little boy running by told her to shake it up. Snow. “In that moment I understood what the pastor told me. God knew He had to step in and show me He is listening, and He is real.
“I had nothing to offer,” she said. “But He can take what’s broken and make something beautiful out of it. And He can take what comes out of a shoebox and make it eternal.”
Charleston Southern University will hold its annual Operation Christmas Child packing party at Elevate, Thursday, Nov. 19.