WILDWOOD — Moving a mountain seems to be a small task to Zoya and Denis Ranostaj, 19-year-old twins adopted from an orphanage in Usseriisk, Russia. They are now members of West County Community Church here.
“When I accepted Jesus,” Zoya said, “I prayed for parents for Denis and me. I had the faith of a small mustard seed, and God answered my prayer.”
Both of the twins are active as “full circle stories” with Operation Christmas Child (OCC). Full circle stories are young people who received a box in another country and now pack boxes and work to encourage others to pack boxes.
“The shoeboxes were the only gift we had ever received,” Denis said. “We were given 20 rubles which is less than $1 and we were expected to buy toiletries. We were kids, so we bought candy and Ramen noodles.”
The Operation Christmas Child shoeboxes represented more than an opportunity to fight cavities.
“It was the first time we heard about Jesus,” Zoya said. “When they handed out the boxes, they also gave us a book about Jesus as the greatest gift to us. They told us about how He died on the cross for us. I wanted to pray to Him.”
Praying to accept Jesus did not come without cost.
“The older kids would beat you up,” Zoya said. “We were forbidden to talk about Christian things or we would be beaten up.”
“Bullying was a large part of life,” Denis said. “Younger children moved into the orphanage and the big kids would bully them. We just learned to stay out of the way of the big kids.”
Because of the fear that the prized boxes would be stolen, Denis reported that they were protective of them.
“When we went to school,” Denis said, “we took the boxes in our back pack and at night we would sleep with our box under our pillow.”
According to Zoya, the encouraging notes and photos enclosed in the boxes are important at night.
“I tell everyone to include photos and notes in the boxes,” she said. “Many of the children will put that photo next to them at night. They know that these people cared enough to pack the boxes and it offers them hope.”
Denis and Zoya are both eager to speak to churches and groups about packing boxes because of the great need. They are telling their story to churches and youth groups.
Phil Hunter, pastor of West County Community Church, can testify to their enthusiasm.
“Zoya stopped me in the foyer,” Hunter said. “She wanted to let me know that they were available to talk to our church when we started our packing of boxes.”
Hunter said he has pointed them out to the congregation in the past.
“When we collect shoeboxes,” he said, “I call them up and tell the people, ‘These are two precious lives that God’s grace touched through a shoebox.’”
Zoya and Denis are quick to agree.
“God can use a shoebox to make a difference,” Zoya said.
National Collection Week is Nov. 12-19. More information about OCC and how to pack a box is available on the web: www.samaritanspurse.org/occ. Information on your closest drop-off location is available on the website or by calling (800) 353-5949.