There was a time in her life when Elizabeth Groff, born in Ukraine, felt completely absent of hope and love.
Living in an orphanage with no family at all, she felt forgotten and alone.
But a single yet significant act of giving at Christmastime — involving a shoebox full of toys, sent and distributed by people who didn’t even know her — sparked a light in the darkness of her young life.
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“There was nothing I had to prove to receive this shoebox gift, nothing I had to do to earn it,” she told Fox News Digital in an email about her life.
“Through this act of unconditional love, I was washed suddenly in a bright hope,” she said.
“God wasn’t going to abandon me,” she added, sharing her deep faith. “He was meeting me right there at rock bottom.”
Groff, 28 years old today and a 2017 graduate of Virginia Tech University, is reaching out to others in need during this holiday season and letting them know, too, that they are not alone — and that others care.
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As people all over the world prepare to make or buy presents for their loved ones this year, Samaritan’s Purse, the evangelical Christian humanitarian aid group, is anticipating a significant marker of giving and generosity toward other human beings.
It will collect and distribute its 200 millionth Operation Christmas Child shoebox gift in December 2022 — and Elizabeth Groff herself will be the one to hand it out to a child in need.
“I’m so grateful for Elizabeth’s adoptive parents, and every other father and mother who has welcomed a child into their family to love and care for them.” — Rev. Franklin Graham
Said Groff to Fox News Digital, “At 11 years old, God planted a seed of hope in my life through the ministry of Operation Christmas Child. [And] at 13 years old, God blessed me with a family who adopted me and continues to show me the unconditional love of Jesus Christ through how they love me,” she added.
“God used that shoebox to tell me, ‘You are not an orphan. You are my daughter.’ The shoebox gift opened my heart to God and he began to nurture my heart, gradually replacing my feelings of abandonment with hope and tenderness.”
Rev. Franklin Graham, CEO and president of the North Carolina-based Samaritan’s Purse, told Fox News Digital, “I’m so grateful for Elizabeth’s adoptive parents, and every other father and mother who has welcomed a child into their family to love and care for them.”
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He added, “With an adopted grandson, I know firsthand what an incredible blessing adoption can be, not only to the child, but to the parents and extended family.”
He said as well, “This kind of love is one of the greatest pictures that we have of what God has done for us. The Word of God tells us that when we put our faith and trust in God’s son Jesus Christ, we are adopted into his family!”
He added, “God created adoption — and all those who choose to welcome children into their homes and families like he welcomes us deserve our deepest gratitude.”
Said Groff of how a simple box of items changed her life so many years ago, “A shoebox gift opened my heart to God’s Word, a family around the world welcomed me home and a Christ-centered community rallied around me when devastation struck when the war broke out in Ukraine.”
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She said she now has “the chance to show the unconditional love that I have been given to my sister and nephew as well as children around the world through the ministry of Operation Christmas Child.”
Of the gift of adoption, she also said, “I could not have done any of this without my adoptive parents saying ‘yes’ to God’s call to adopt me. What a faithful God we serve!”
She shared more particulars of her adoption journey — and how she came to live in America and grow up with a family who loved her.
“Once I was placed into the orphanage [in Ukraine], I joined the orphanage choir. The choir had the opportunity to travel to the U.S. for two weeks. I was about 11 years old at this time,” she said.
She went on, “During my time in the U.S., I was hosted by a family in Williamsburg, Virginia. On my last few days with them, my host family was driving me back to their house from one of my choir events and we decided to stop for lunch.”
On the way to the lunch, however, she said she fell asleep in the backseat of the car.
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“My host father decided to stay in the car with me to let me sleep while the rest of the host family went to grab lunch,” she said. “As he was sitting in the front seat, he turned around to check on me and he heard God say to him, ‘She is your daughter.’”
Added Groff, “My host father could not believe that God was calling him back to Ukraine. At this time they had one biological daughter — and three years prior to hosting me, they adopted a little girl from Ukraine and the process was very difficult. They had no plans to return to Ukraine, but God had other plans.”
“I couldn’t believe that I was finally getting my own family.”
And so, “on my last day in the U.S.,” she said, “the entire host family sat me down and asked me if I wanted to be adopted — and of course my response was shouting ‘YES!’ I was so excited. I couldn’t believe that I was finally getting my own family.”
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After all these years, however, Groff has not forgotten the shiny yo-yo that she received as a child when she was living in an orphanage.
Someone had packed it for her inside the Christmas shoebox she received.
That simple toy — and the much larger gesture of giving and caring — changed her forever and is why she’s active in giving to others today, she said.
Recently, Groff has been traveling across the country to pack and prepare gift boxes for others; she’s been to Denver, Chicago, Nashville, and Charlotte, North Carolina.
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She’s preparing now to hand-deliver the 200 millionth shoebox to a Ukrainian child impacted by the Russia-Ukraine war.
To learn more, watch the video at the top of this article, or click here to see it.