Anytime Izabella saw a crowd running she started running, too, as fast as she could, even if she didn’t know why the crowd was racing to the grocery store. “We knew that whatever was on the new shipment we didn’t have at home. So we were taught to run. My brother and I got a place in line and then my parents caught up with us, bringing the money,” she said.
Izabella’s family was allowed only to shop at their assigned grocery store. She remembers one time waiting in line more than 24 hours for four bananas, and after waiting in line all that time, waiting several days before eating them.
“My mom put the bananas on the top shelf, out of reach, and told us we couldn’t eat them yet. She said they had to turn yellow. I had no idea why we had to wait for them to turn yellow, and I had no idea how she knew they would turn yellow,” Izabella said.
Growing up in the Communist-ruled country of Romania was not easy. Izabella’s parents worked hard, but there was still no money for electricity. They went to work very early in the mornings, and Izabella and her brother, with only the help of an alarm clock, were left to get themselves up and ready for school. Izabella was 3 years old and her brother was 6 years old when this became their normal pattern of life.
They walked to and from school by themselves. They did their homework and then waited for mom and dad to come home.
Izabella and her brother enjoyed reading books to help pass the time. They only had four or five books and knew them cover to cover. When they discovered a new book hidden under the floorboard in the living room they couldn’t wait to read it.
They began reading from page one and set out to read the entire book. “To me and my brother, this was just a new book filled with exciting stories,” Izabella said. They did not yet know the stories in the book actually happened.
Izabella McMillon, seen here with her family, went to her home country of Romania to distribute Operation Christmas Child shoe boxes last year. Izabella was given one of these boxes when she was 13.
One day they told their dad about the book they found. “He told us we could never tell anyone we had that book in our house. We knew he was serious,” Izabella said.
Her dad knew if anyone found out they had the book, which they later learned was the Bible, in their home their family could die. Just walking on the street holding a Bible was illegal and grounds for government officials to kill someone on the spot, no questions asked.
But Izabella and her brother couldn’t put the new storybook down. They continued reading every day huddled under a blanket with a flashlight. From their upstairs window they could see their parents walking home from work, giving them time to return the book to its hiding place.
Izabella knew her dad didn’t want them talking about the Bible, but that didn’t stop her from asking to go to church with a classmate on Saturday nights. After saying “no” for a long time her parents finally gave her permission.
Izabella had many questions for the pastor. “I had never heard anyone pray. I told the pastor I was reading about prayer and wanted to know how to pray,” she said.
“He told me to talk to God like I would a friend, and that God would always hear and answer my prayers.”
To a young girl looking at months of dreadfully cold weather, she knew just what to pray for: snow. She prayed for weeks that turned into months and still no snow. Izabella’s pastor told her that God always answers prayer, even if not in the way she expected.
Izabella continued praying for snow, and still nothing. She began doubting that God existed and was ready to give up ever having her prayer answered.
God did answer, and He did so in a way that changed her life forever. When Izabella was 13 she received an Operation Christmas Child shoe box from Samaritan’s Purse. She remembers running to catch up with a crowd of children and thinking they were headed to the store like usual. The crowd gathered around a truck and a group of people passing out shoe boxes. Izabella hesitated at first when offered a box because no one ever gave her anything for free. A woman knelt down, told her the gift was free, and asked if she had any prayer requests.
“She didn’t laugh at me or tell me my prayer request was silly. She prayed with me right then for snow,” Izabella said.
Izabella had to wait for the other children to get their boxes. When it was time to open them, one of the toys inside Izabella’s box was a snow globe. She didn’t know what it was or what to do with it until a boy standing next to her took her hand and turned the snow globe upside down.
As Izabella watched the snow fall inside that small globe her heart was overwhelmed. “That was a life-changing moment for me,” she said. “Of course I had a lot of growing and learning to do, but in that moment, I decided that if there was a God who would orchestrate such an event in my life just to show me He loved me and cared about even the small things in my life, I wanted to follow Him.”
When Izabella grew up she worked as a teacher in Romania and Hungary before coming to the United States in 2002. She lived in Pennsylvania two years before moving to Durham, N.C., to teach at Gorman Christian Academy, a ministry of Gorman Baptist Church. She met her husband, Joel McMillon, at Gorman Christian Academy and they married in 2006. Joel is now the youth pastor at Gorman.
Izabella did not know until 2004 that the box she received as a child came from Samaritan’s Purse and Operation Christmas Child. That year students from Gorman Christian Academy packed 100 shoe boxes. Since then, a school of about 200 students has packed more boxes every year, with 1,463 boxes packed last year.
“Every year God provides,” Izabella said. “We set our goal, and every year God shows us He is able to do far more than we can imagine.”
Last year Izabella and her family traveled to her hometown in Romania to help distribute shoe boxes.
“I met this one little girl, and when I looked into her eyes, I could see myself. She couldn’t believe anyone would give her something for free,” Izabella said.
Before opening her box the little girl told Izabella she really wanted something pink; she didn’t have anything pink at all. As Izabella watched her open the box, all she could see was pink. Every single thing in her box was pink.
“We hear stories like that all the time,” Izabella said. “One little boy in that village was always being picked on because he wanted to be an artist. When he opened his box, it didn’t have any hygiene items or socks or a toothbrush. It was filled with nothing but art supplies.
“These boxes are called GO boxes because they are gospel opportunities. God is using something simple to change lives all around the world.”