“It’s like opening up a dream, like getting everything you ever wished for,” Nataliya remembers as a smile creeps across her face. “It would do more than make our day – it would make our year.”
Since 1993, millions of children have been blessed by a project called Operation Christmas Child.
Samaritan’s Purse - OCC's founding organization - seeks to not only provide for physical needs, but also bring the good news of Jesus Christ to families across the world. To contribute to this program, local churches put together boxes every year bursting with toys, school supplies, and hygiene items that are then sent to boys and girls who may not get anything else for Christmas.
Nataliya Chayka was one such child as she grew up in Kiev, Ukraine.
“I couldn’t have asked for a better childhood, but my family was poor, just like most of the other families in our church.”
Since it was difficult to provide gifts for their family of eight at Christmas, the boxes from Operation Christmas Child were often all that Nataliya and her siblings would receive. But they did so gratefully.
“We knew there was someone out there in this world that cared about us enough to send us presents, and we waited for them the entire year. The boxes were filled with everything you could have ever dreamt of as a kid. It didn’t matter what was inside; it was like a dream coming true, as if butterflies were coming out of the box like in a cartoon.”
Her family moved from Ukraine to Spokane, Washington when Nataliya was about to turn eleven years old. Even then, they experienced abundant blessings through the transition.
“Our church helped us so much getting started in America. They paid our first month’s rent and gathered furniture and clothes for the house we lived in. We had a home right away and things got better for us financially after we moved to Washington.”
Seeing the way that God has taken care of her throughout her childhood caused Nataliya to think more deeply about her faith, especially as she moved away from her family and began college.
“I grew up in a Christian community – all of my cousins and grandparents believed in Jesus – but it always seemed like my parents were believing for me. It was normal for me because I wanted to honor them.”
Coming to school in Pullman, however, compelled Nataliya to make personal decisions for her life.
“The day before I left to come to WSU, I made the decision to choose to follow Jesus on my own. I knew I was starting to build my life and that what I based it on would make a big difference. I was standing in church that day and I heard Him knocking.”
Even after coming to college, Nataliya has felt God leading her, taking care of her, and pushing her into community.
“The first or second Sunday I was here, I went to the Resonate service on campus because I had been handed a flyer. That’s where I saw the table about Villages. I wasn’t thinking about going at all, but when I told my sister about it, she made me promise to go. I made friends right away.”
God’s provision was obvious to Nataliya, as every worry she had had about college – from making friends to what her roommate would be like, to getting financial aid – was taken care of.
When she heard that Resonate Church was going to be participating in Operation Christmas Child, Nataliya knew this was her chance to give back.
“As a kid, I always imagined, ‘What if at some point I get to make these boxes for someone else?’ I was so excited to be sitting in Village and hear the announcement that we could be a part of it. I couldn’t believe it.”
Getting to bless little girls across the world was just another dream come true.
“I was just like them and I know how they’re feeling. And now I get to be the one who sends these boxes to them. I know what they’re wishing for because I remember what was special to me.”
Nataliya remembers being taught as a child to always be thankful for what she had, and for God’s provision in her life.
“My parents told me to say ‘thank you’ for everything we had. Looking back I can see God’s love through every single step of my life. Getting those presents as a child set me up to look at life differently. I can view everything as a blessing because I know God’s will is always for the best.”