(Feature Photo by Lindsay O’Neil and Photo of Izabella Courtesy of DeMoss PR)
When You Believe
How Izabella McMillon of Operation Christmas Child is Inspiring Others to Dream
By Sarah Komisky
Many of us had dreams as a child when it came to Christmastime. Would Santa bring what we asked him for? Would we catch him flying with reindeer in the sky? Would we get the Christmas tree we so desired? All of us had dreams. But maybe some of us stopped believing when dreams were broken. Maybe Santa never gave the gift we really wanted. Possibly Santa never came or you discovered that Santa wasn’t who you thought after all. Or maybe you didn’t get catch a glimpse of reindeer flying by your window. Perhaps your parents could never afford that Christmas tree you desired. Through it all, maybe you were teased, let down, disappointed, angry, and in the end, you stopped believing. You stopped dreaming. Izabella McMillon knows the feeling. When dreams were shattered, this is her story how new dreams, came true. The story of what happens when you believe.
As a spokesperson for the Christian international evangelical relief organization known as Operation Christmas Child, McMillon has a heart for helping children in need. A part of the ministry known as Samaritan’s Purse, now under President and CEO, Franklin Graham, (Billy Graham’s son), Operation Christmas Child is helping children once again this Christmas by delivering gifts in shoeboxes to children who are less fortunate in the name of Jesus. Partnering with the organization for many years, she now shares her story every opportunity she can get. But to understand why it is so dear to her, we must take a look back.
Growing up in communist Romania, McMillon found a bible with her brother in the floor board of her living room at four-years-old. Beginning the journey of faith, she and her brother found themselves soon attending an underground church. Never learning to pray since the pastor had to be limited in what he shared because he might run into spies from the government, McMillon got the courage to ask her pastor one day how to pray.
“The reason for that was because it was really, really, cold outside and I didn’t like cold. And I also didn’t like the fact that in the winters it was dark at 5:30 in the afternoon and we didn’t have electricity in those days, so we would have to go to bed at 5:30,” says McMillon. “But the only way that my mom and dad would let us go outside and play and we wouldn’t have to go to bed at 5:30, was if it snowed.”
Seeking help from God, she went to the church, and after the pastor taught her to pray, she went home that night praying and believing that the next morning she would have snow. When it didn’t happen, disappointment set in. Determined, McMillon went back to the church and simply told the pastor, “This prayer thing isn’t working.”
She recalls, “When he sat me down he taught me a very valuable lesson and said, ‘You know Izabella God always answers prayers, but just sometimes his answers look differently than what we imagine. Just keep looking and keep watching and I promise you, God will answer.’”
Three weeks later, she received her shoebox sharing, “In that shoebox, I received a beautiful, little snow globe, and when I took that snow globe out, I didn’t know what it was at first. A little boy who was next to me shook it up for me and said, ‘This is what you do,’ and I loved it. And all I could think of was my pastor’s words. And I was at a point in my life that I was ready to give up on God because here I was almost three months after I started praying for snow, and he was not answering my prayer, and I was really questioning was he really real? Was he really there? I know it sounds really simple but from my thirteen-year-old perspective, it was just such a big deal for me. Because in that moment I understood that this God that I have been reading about and I had been praying to, doesn’t exactly function the way that I thought He did. He’s not like a genie in a bottle. He’s a God who knows me, and he knows the desires of my heart, and he knew I was on the verge of giving up on Him. And I look at this snow globe today (I still have it today), and to me, it’s just a sign of God’s faithfulness of showing up when we most need him. I hold onto it just as a reminder that God is good and he answers prayers.”
It was then that she made the decision to serve God with her whole heart desiring to do whatever he would call her to in life. Fast forward to 2004, and McMillon was now in the U.S. working in a small Christian school in North Carolina. Desiring for the children to be more mission’s minded, the principle handed her a brochure to read about an organization he wanted the school to get involved with – it was for Operation Christmas Child.
“I never heard of Operation Christmas Child before, and now I look at distribution and how these shoeboxes are being given to children and I understand that the focus is not on giving out the shoeboxes in the name of Operation Christmas Child but in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ,” she states. “But when I was reading this brochure back in 2004, I just fell into pieces and I thought, wow, this is the ministry and I know exactly how this ministry changes lives and nobody will have to convince me through a brochure about this one. This is the moment that I realized this was the ministry I received from and how I wanted to be involved in it.”
From the time she began teaching in 2004, her student’s packed 100 boxes, and when she left in 2014, her students packed 1852 boxes. During this time, she was able to inspire the kids to catch the vision. Today, she now notes, “This is how we constantly present this ministry. This is a ministry where anyone can be a missionary anywhere in the world right here in the comfort of their homes in the USA.
Married in 2006 and then starting a family of her own, McMillon got the amazing opportunity to give back what she received. Heading to Romania to distribute shoeboxes in 2010, she was able to inspire children to dream and believe sharing, “The biggest thing that really hit me on this trip was that now I get to be on the giving side of these shoeboxes, and I don’t have to be on the receiving end and what a blessing that it is. Jesus talks about how blessed it is, more blessed to give than receive (Acts 20:35), and that just came alive for me. Looking at the eyes of these children who had absolutely nothing, and recognizing myself in their eyes, was one of those moments. You just realize you’re so much more blessed now that you get to be on the giving end and you don’t have to be on the receiving end anymore. It’s my drive to teach my children and continue this ministry with my family and really translating that cause that we are blessed to be able to give.”
McMillon now serves with her family at Operation Christmas Child. Now on the staff full time since 2014 at Samaritan’s Purse as the Speaker’s Bureau Manger with Operation Christmas Child, she has the opportunity to speak worldwide and work with all the people who have received shoeboxes in the United States. She mentors them in becoming national speakers for the organization and walks with them through a road of healing due to their backgrounds.
Looking back, McMillon has traded in her disappointment and broken dreams during the holiday season for dreams that were bigger and better than her own. In this she encourages others to do the same – to dream again and to believe again. Now she is able to bless children with Operation Christmas Child shoeboxes – one of her greatest rewards.
“When we give back from the abundance that we were given, that’s when we really experience true blessing in our lives,” says McMillon. “Everyone loves to receive a gift. It is great to receive and it is great to get things especially with Christmastime, but for us, really the point of giving is that it brings so much joy.”
More than just giving back, McMillon finds delight in serving the same children she once was because she is able to share Jesus in each gift given to them. Each shoebox is a reminder of his deep love for them. The same love she received when she discovered her snow globe many years ago. The same love that sparked her faith and reminded her to believe.
Her closing thoughts, “I feel like I am exactly in the place that God was preparing for me for a very long time.”
To find out more about Operation Christmas Child visit http://www.samaritanspurse.org/what-we-do/operation-christmas-child/