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79 || As The Shoebox Opens

Far, far away in a land called Kazakhstan—oops, let me stop right there. Whew! That sounded like the makings of a fairy tale. In one incredible way this story is, but in another way it isn’t even close! This is not about a little boy born and loved by his birth parents, living in a great castle with a magnificent steed to ride upon. This story is filled with MORE happiness than any fairy tale.  But, as with most great stories, it also contains sadness.  As the happiness outweighs the sadness, we get to see a beautiful story unravel.  May I share Timur Nesbitt’s life story with you?

Timur’s life began where most of our lives begin — in a hospital. Timur entered this world; his birth parents left his world, immediately. They left him alone in the hospital…a little baby with no one to claim him and with no one to love him. When the hospital realized Timur’s parents abandoned him, they called the government. Promptly, the government came and took Timur away.  They dropped him off at a local orphanage where boys and girls go when they have been deserted by the very people who should love them most.

Timur lived in various orphanages in Kazakhstan for sixteen years. As can be expected, his stay at each orphanage was not necessarily a stay at the local Hilton. Instead, Timur and others like him experienced abuse from their teachers and care takers. At one point in his young life, he was transported from the first orphanage to a second one — an orphanage that was specifically for “bad- behaving” kids — sent there for retaliating against the teachers that hurt him and the others.

A Change Begins

While at the delinquent orphanage, Timur met a boy. He learned that this kid had been kicked out of his orphanage for sharing the Gospel of Jesus. Even though Kazakhstan claims to be a tolerant and religiously diverse country, the reality is that most of the Kazakhs are Muslim and it goes without saying that the unspoken order is for everyone to follow Islam or suffer persecution. In fact, Christians only make up a very minor two percent of the population. Therefore, once this Christian-converted boy began to tell others about Jesus, the Muslim teachers had him transported to the same orphanage as Timur. Remember, the one for bad- behaving orphans? Once he arrived at Timur’s orphanage, he began to share the gospel with all of the kids there. Timur recalls, “My response was not positive, very negative.” Timur and his friends began to make fun of the Christian boy, sometimes hitting him and calling him names. Ultimately, they persecuted him.

Yet, Timur noticed that something was different about the Christian than he and his friends; the boy did not curse or fight back. Instead, he told them he loved them. Loved? Really? Now, he really had Timur’s attention.  But, this astounding difference was not quite enough for Timur to listen to what the boy had to say about Jesus. One day, Timur said that he and his friends went to the Christian boy to convince him to go with them to steal some bread from the cafeteria. Remembering, he said the boy’s response was, “I can’t do that. I used to.” Then, he continued and quoted scripture to them: “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come” (2 Corinthians 5:17). Timur and his friends carried on with their mission but the boy did not go.

After that night, Timur went back to the Christian orphan. He wanted to find out more about Jesus. The boy explained who Jesus was, why Jesus came to Earth, and why Jesus died on the cross for our sins. Timur thought the Gospel was foolishness! In discussing this experience, he quoted 1 Corinthians 1:18, “For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing…” Timur thought that what the boy believed was indeed crazy — God does not die; yet, that is what he was being told.

New Heart, New Life

Finally, God opened thirteen-year old Timur’s heart and eyes to see that he was a sinner as well. He realized that all his “religious” acts that he had been pursuing through the Muslim faith to get him to heaven meant nothing to God. It became clear to him that God wants our hearts, not our acts. When speaking of this conversion moment, Timur says, “God broke me.” God helped him see why Jesus came. He was able to see his sinful nature before a holy God. “Jesus became sweeter; sin became bitter,” he continued. He repented of his sins, self-righteousness, and for following a false gospel through his Muslim religion.

When the local Christians heard that Timur had become a believer, they covertly gave him his first Bible in Russian. After receiving the Bible, Timur would wake up in the middle of the night to go into the bathroom and read. He did this because all the Muslims in the orphanage would not like it if they saw him reading the Bible. He fell in love with God’s Word.

Life drastically changed for Timur after his encounter with Christ. In fact, just a few years after becoming a believer, he even became involved in a Christian Russian rap band. Performing in the inner cities of Almaty, Kazakhstan, the group would use rap as a means to share the Gospel with the Kazakh people, especially the inner city kids. When writing the rap music they had to be extremely careful not to use “Jesus” in the songs. Following Jesus’ example using parables to share His ways and His Kingdom with all that would listen, Timur and his music group wrote their music in story format that shared the Gospel with their Muslim fans in indirect yet powerful ways.

Accepting a Gift

While still an orphan, in April of one year, a group of Americans visited their orphanage. The Americans started taking boxes in to the gymnasium. The orphans wondered what was in those boxes. The Americans were affiliated with Operation Christmas Child (OCC) and gave a gospel presentation. During the Americans’ talk to the kids, they were told that the orphans did not have to do anything to receive one of the Christmas boxes. All the orphans had to do was to accept the gift. Doesn’t that sound familiar? After the gospel was shared with the kids, they gave out the boxes. Timur and a friend of his began to talk among themselves about which type of box they would pick: a big one or a small one? Timur’s friend told him that he wanted a big box. Timur warned him that he might get something like a pillow. Timur’s friend went and picked out a big box and opened it. To his dismay, it WAS a pillow. Reminiscing, Timur chuckles about his friend and the “pillow in a box.”

Next, it was Timur’s turn. He chose a small box and opened it. The box contained many things. To his delight, his box had lots of pencils. In the orphanage they only received one pencil each semester. If they got other pencils, it was by stealing. Another gift in his box was a big tube of toothpaste. When he first looked at the toothpaste, he thought it said Christ, but it actually said Crest. He tasted it and because it had such a good taste, he ate it like candy. As far as the other gifts, he received a yo-yo, all kinds of toiletries, a washcloth, and socks. Timur especially enjoyed the gift of the socks. He loved the smell of those new socks from his Christmas box. He recounts how lovely the smell was, “The first time I came to America, I visited a Wal-Mart for first time. I walked in. I loved the smell. I love the smells of Wal-Mart, because they remind me of my first new pair of socks from my Christmas box.”

Sharing the Good News

As time marched on, the Lord continued in His provision and faithfulness for Timur. In ways that would take an entire article all by itself, Timur was blessed to be adopted by an American family who brought him home with them. Upon coming to America, he was able to attend college and while there, he visited a church in Iowa. It just so happened that during his visit, the church was promoting OCC. He told a friend of his at the church that he received those boxes when he was an orphan in Kazakhstan. Upon hearing this, he asked Timur if he would speak to the church about his experience receiving the Christmas boxes. He agreed and spoke to the congregation. The coordinator in Iowa for OCC heard about Timur and she told her regional coordinator. Good news spreads quickly and the news of a once Kazakh Orphan in Iowa made it all the way up to the corporate headquarters of OCC.  The headquarters contacted Timur about going to schools, churches, and organizations to share what OCC is about and his experience as an OCC child. Now, Timur travels all over the states speaking on behalf of OCC. the best gift ever Operation Christmas Child taught a young thirteen year old boy that every gift does not come with a price. OCC told the orphans that you don’t have to earn the shoebox, just accept it. Their shoeboxes are great examples of what salvation is — a free gift given by the one true Savior, the only one with the right to give the gift of eternity with Him. Jesus is calling each lost person, each person who feels abandoned to this chaotic and sinful world, to take His gift of salvation. Timur accepted the shoebox, but most importantly, he accepted the best gift ever — the gift of salvation that only comes through Jesus Christ the Son of God.

Although Timur’s beginning was not at all great or joyful, God has taken the abandonment he experienced as a child and used it to soften his heart to the Gospel truth that the Father never abandons us or forsakes us. Like all things, it came in God’s timing. After years of struggling within the confines of orphanages and the brutal reality of orphan life with it, God sent some very special Kingdom representatives in the form of OCC to teach a Kazakh teen about a gift that he could accept without having to do one single deed to earn it. The most beautiful gift ever – the gift of salvation offered sweetly by the loving hands of Jesus Christ. When Timur finally accepted the gift that Jesus offered him, God the Father also gave him something else — a new beginning and a new identity. Child of the One true King, he is orphan no more.

Timur’s story is more than a fairy tale with a beginning, middle, and glorious end.  It is a story of a never-ending new beginning… all because of faithful Christians willing to share the Gospel no matter what and a Christmas box full of little treasures.

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