Saturday, July 4, 2015

The Path To Freedom


Happy Fourth of July!  It's a day to celebrate freedom, and I'm across the country celebrating a family wedding.  You'd think I'd be posting a picture of an American flag to celebrate the day.  After all, what do a bunch of little plush bears have to do with freedom?

Well, actually, everything.

These little bears and thousands more like them will be filling Operation Christmas Child shoeboxes to give thousands of children a "gospel opportunity."  And, really, freedom can't be found outside of the truth of Jesus.  

In John 8:31,32  we read "31So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed him, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples,32and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”

Operation Christmas Child is about making disciples and letting children know the truth and setting them free.  So stuffed animals are a perfect picture to celebrate freedom.

And...by God's grace those little toys just keep COMING.  I'm missing yet another safari weekend, but in the past two days God blessed me through the generosity of several people.

On Wednesday I came home from my soap-hauling adventure to find a pile of shoeboxes and stuffed toys by my back door.

On Thursday morning a good friend showed up with this haul his wife collected from local yard sales...

And the picture at the top of this blog shows the surprise that arrived in Thursday's mail all the way from California!  A sweet teen who reads this blog sent these 36 bears and three gorgeous scarves to put into our packing party boxes.  Thanks, C., for making my day and helping to bring real freedom to children around the world.

Enjoy this day with your family and friends and rightfully celebrate the freedom we still have in this country.

And thank God for the Truth that sets us free.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Bubbling Blessings


I've been waiting for my five pallets of soap (26,880 bars) to arrive, and I thought yesterday would be the day.  I prayed for a clear day, and even though it started out gray and dreary, the sun shone through.  Alas, though, no delivery came.

Yesterday afternoon the trucking company called and scheduled the delivery for "late morning or early afternoon."  I had a volunteer commitment to sort shoes at our Erie City Mission this morning and was concerned about not being available for the delivery.

And, once again, I woke to a wet and dreary day.  I prayed for good weather and good timing for the delivery, but I couldn't shake the possibility of a downpour so I packed up rain ponchos.  Was that a lack of faith?

The shoe sorting went great and yielded a crop of 50 shoeboxes for me to load into my car.  I drove home and just made it into the house when the truck driver called to tell me he was twenty minutes away.  Perfect timing.  Thank You, Lord.  I jumped back into the car and headed out again.  As I drove I called Pam and Terri, two other team members, to head over to help unload the soap.

When I arrived at the church the truck was just pulling in.  I made another quick call to Rose, another team member, to see if she wanted the empty shoeboxes I'd snagged that morning, and she agreed to come pick them up.

The truck driver jumped out of his truck, looked me in the eye, and said, "Do you have help?  This load is 5000 pounds."  I assured him I had reinforcements on the way and told him we'd done this before.  He looked skeptical as he manned the lift gate and dropped the first pallet.

It wasn't a good start (see picture above) as boxes tumbled off the first damaged pallet.  But I started hauling while the driver dropped the second pallet, and soon Terri arrived to lend her muscle.  The driver took pity on us and began to haul some boxes, too.  Rose showed up, and I ran to get the shoeboxes into her car, then ran back to haul soap again.

Somewhere between the second and third pallet, Pam drove in to join the brigade.  The rows in the storage container rose in straight lines.  First we stacked the cartons ten high, but as we realized we were running out of space we went even higher.  Please, Lord--don't let them fall.

The driver had all the pallets dropped and said, reluctantly, "I'm really sorry, but I have to leave."  I thanked him, told him what a blessing he was, and promised we'd pray for safe travels for him.  I signed the delivery paper work, and as he looked at my signature, he said, "Jim Schriefer?"  And I replied, "That's my husband.  Do you know him?"  Well, it turns out the driver and my husband were childhood neighbors.  Small world, eh?   He drove off with a wave and a beep, and we went back to work.

Just then another car drove up.  It was 'Jack'  He'd called while I was at the mission and asked if he could meet me with three bags of new Beanie Babies to donate.  We first met two years ago when he brought me his wife's stuffed animal collection shortly after she died from cancer.  You can read my blog post about our meeting by clicking here.

Near the first anniversary of his wife's death I'd happened to find the memorial card he'd given me, and I sent him a card to tell him I was thinking of him and praying for him.  I was excited to see him again today and told him he'd been in my prayers from time to time.  "Well," he said, "they must be working, because..."  he pulled a paper from his pocket and his face was wreathed in smiles as he showed me a picture of his new fiancee.  I called Pam and Terri over so we could celebrate and hear his whole story together.  What a joy it was to see how our "God of all comfort" has worked in his life.  I told him God has good plans for his life, and I hope someday he'll really accept God's greatest gift.

Soon the last box of soap was stacked and the empty pallets tucked beside the container.  We're hoping a "pallet fairy" will come in the night and take them away.


This container is SO full of blessings.  Now we just have to get 25,000 of these bars put into individual bags.  Help!

We closed the doors and attached the padlock.  Then Terri offered to treat us at Starbuck's.  We sat over sandwiches and talked about how beautifully God orchestrated this day.  It was cooler than yesterday and stayed dry--great weather for lifting and hauling.  Terri was working yesterday, so it was great to have her available today.  Having an accommodating truck driver with delivery timed after my morning commitments was amazing and having us all there to hear 'Jack' tell his story was a bonus.

I'm getting used to these blessings.




Monday, June 29, 2015

Showers of Blessings


Not gonna lie--I've struggled a lot over the years to build my team since I became area coordinator for Operation Christmas Child here in northwestern PA in 2007.

But right now, in this week, I feel God has opened a window of heaven to pour out blessings on us.

I wrote last Friday about how the sun shone through for our truck delivery on Friday.  That was a true blessing because on Saturday it was back to rain all day.  I was able to go to a few yard sales on Saturday morning and got 55 stuffed animals before I had to head out of town for a baby shower (appropriate weather for a shower, eh?)

On my way back home I stopped at a Children's Place outlet and scored 13 pairs of adorable flip-flops on sale for .99 each--


and I stopped to pick up my Fed Ex packages also and got a shipment of 240 boxes of cute princess bandages for shoeboxes.


Saturday's best blessing, though, came that evening.  A friend who is also on our OCC area team hosted an open house for visiting missionaries.  While there, I was talking with a staff member from our church about my need for more storage for our shoebox items.  I've been praying about this for some time now.  Well...he and his wife own a rental property that has a garage, and they offered to let us store our overflow there.  What a wonderful answer to prayer!

On Sunday the weather was--rainy--again.  But I was excited at church to find bags of stuffed animals had been left at the welcome center.  I found the donor.  She was beaming with smiles as she told of visiting yard sales on Saturday (the ones I'd missed by leaving town) and getting a haul of animals.  Some people already had their animals set aside and were just waiting for someone to come by and pick them up for Operation Christmas Child.  What a blessing it was for Donna to obey the Lord and go to garage sales in the rain.

Today was a sunny Monday and the blessings just kept coming.  The picture at the top of this blog shows the dear group of women who are part of the Women's Connection ministry at our Erie City Mission.  We had an Operation Christmas Child packing party today and they completed 101 boxes to bless children around the world.  I know God will use those special boxes in a mighty way for His purpose.

The afternoon was filled with sorting leftover packing party items as well as enjoying a great phone call with my OCC regional director Leigh Fisher.

The fun wasn't over yet as I had dinner with my two new co-Network Coordinators and spent some time doing training with them.  We've been praying for God to fill this position for years so it's almost surreal to see all those prayers answered.

Then I got a call from Jane Dennington, former missionary to Haiti and a member of our church relations team.  Jane is the missionary speaker this week at a Bible camp.  Today she spoke to 200 children and parents about OCC and was able to send home materials to five new prospective churches.  She also connected with camp counselors who are college students and want to pursue involvement with OCC and one adult who's interested in volunteering on our area team.

I can hardly wait to wake up and see what God does tomorrow.

Friday, June 26, 2015

Bountiful Blessings


This was a day of bountiful blessings.  I started the day at an early morning church rummage sale where I found not only 67 nice stuffed animals but also 6 brand new indoor/outdoor chair cushions that I hope will bless my daughter who needs them for her recycled patio furniture.

Then I met my Operation Christmas Child team media coordinator, Pam, for a free breakfast at Chick-fil-A (thank you Chick-fil-A Erie for having your Facebook Friday freebie be my favorite bagel sandwich.)

While there, we got a call from my church that a delivery truck had arrived with the two pallets of pens we ordered.  I'd been praying about this delivery because the weather's been crazy and I really didn't want the shipment to be rain-sogged.

We headed to the church and the weather stayed sunny and breezy while we unloaded and stored our loot.  I was especially blessed by Pam who not only donated pens but was also willing to stash them in her little vehicle and take them home to store in her basement.

Will they fit, we wondered?

Well, yes (80% of them anyway)

With a little more finagling, we got the boxes of items I brought from home stowed in the container also.  There is one little hitch, though.


We are just about out of room.  And we have five pallets with 240 cases of soap arriving in a few days.  So we need to move at least half of these cartons of jump rope handles to new homes.


I'm hatching a new plan to put a plea on Facebook for local families to 'adopt' a few boxes of these jump rope handles and at least store them.  Even better, they could put rope into the handles to make the actual jump ropes and then store them for our packing party in September.

Sometimes the blessings are so bountiful you just don't know what to do with them all...



Wednesday, June 24, 2015

One Thousand By One Thousand


Yes, I know what you're thinking.  How many pictures of stuffed animals can she put on this blog?  It's probably not normal for a grown woman to spend so much time obsessing about plush toys, but I never claimed to be normal.

Last week I rejoiced to receive a donation of 350 brand new Beanie Babies. Then after a few weeks of hiatus I was finally able to hit the weekend safari trail again and was blessed with 288 stuffed animals.  Now I'm back in the sorting and storing saddle.

I did a quick tally a few days ago and was excited to realize that I have about the same number of stuffed animals as I had at this time last year--just under 5,000.  I know that seems a long way from the goal of 25,000 by September 18th.  God's at work, though.

Today I was frantically organizing shoebox items in my efforts to clean the house for our Operation Christmas Child area team meeting tonight.  Those efforts were happily interrupted when I got the call to pick up a donation of more of those lovely Beanie Babies.  Off I went and returned with another 300 brand new animals.  So...in the past week God has provided almost 1,000.

Interruptions aside, I did get the house presentable for tonight's meeting.  Best of all, cleaning was my only preparation.  My prayer coordinator led the meeting and did a fantastic presentation on fruitfulness and multiplication.  It's amazing to think how fast our team could grow if everyone caught the vision of multiplication.

And if I could get these animals to multiply...we'd be all set.





Sunday, June 21, 2015

Marching In The Shadows


Most of the time this blog is all about packing shoebox gifts for children around the world through Operation Christmas Child.  Today, though, I want to talk about a meaningful opportunity I had today to participate in the All Lives Matter March.

I grew up in Wesleyville--a small suburb of Erie, PA--in the 1950s.  I attended Wesleyville School where students in grades K-12 were all together in one building with about 50 in each grade.  We had no school buses because everyone in our small community walked to school and there was no cafeteria because we all went home for lunch.

As I recall, there were two African-American families in Wesleyville, so there were only a handful of  kids "of color" in our school and I was in high school before one of those families came to attend our church.

I'm still trying to overcome those 'white' beginnings.  I know racial reconciliation is important but I find I'm still too often segregated in my daily life.

Last week I volunteered for the fourth year at a week-long camp hosted by our Erie City Mission for middle schoolers.  The camp was held in an inner-city public school and in our week together I worked with six students and five adult volunteers to produce a newspaper.  

Yesterday I was mulling over the week's experience and wondered what effect it had.  No kids prayed with me and I can't even say their writing improved over the week.  What did happen, though, is that 11 people from different countries of birth, from different areas of our city, with different skin colors, and with ages spanning from 11-62 came together to create an artistic production.  We became a team, and maybe that was the effect.   Maybe the most important thing was just being together.

Today, my husband and I joined a few hundred others on this Father's Day in a silent march to affirm that all lives matter--a march to bridge racial barriers and unite to end violence in our community.

We formed a long line on the city sidewalk and trudged along--walking quietly and prayerfully through some declining neighborhoods and over a major highway toward Shiloh Baptist Church.  As our shadows stretched ahead of us I thought of how we were walking in a very small way in the shadows of marches that took place a half century ago.  How much progress has been made in those fifty years?  

When we arrived at the church we filed in and crammed the pews, then the worship experience began.  It wasn't my first time to worship in an African-American church but it was one of only a handful.  Looking at the mixed crowd, the pastor leading the service said, "Wouldn't it be great if every Sunday was like this?" and he was answered with rousing applause.

Various members of the community--victims of violence, business leaders affected by violence, politicians, the district attorney, and a captain from the police department--came one by one to offer remarks and each was followed by a clergyman or layman offering Scripture and prayer.

Two hours later we were nearing the end.  The pastor called us to the altar--no, insisted we all come to the altar--to join in prayer for our community.  It was really moving to join hands with African-American brothers and agree in prayer, begging God to do what only He can do among us.

I won't be here fifty years from now, but if God tarries that long I hope there won't be any need for marches against violence in our city.  I hope there won't be racial division that necessitates calls for unity.  I hope we'll make progress.

At least tonight we made a start.



Thursday, June 11, 2015

Slumps


I guess I've been in a blogging slump.  This is the longest I've gone without updating this blog in quite some time.

I'm also in a safari slump.  My normal Saturday stuffed animal safaris have been interrupted by other worthy plans on quite a few Saturdays already this year--travel to Colombia, family vacation, Operation Christmas Child training, and family commitments have kept me off the yard sale route week after week.

God keeps providing, regardless.  I've made monthly trips to a thrift store, getting over 100 animals on each trip, and bags of donations keep arriving.

Still, I'm lacking 20,000 stuffed animals and our packing party is just over three months away.

Yesterday had me sending an e-mail to a nearby company that sells the kind of stuffed animals you find as prizes at amusement parks.  They aren't the greatest quality but I could buy some smaller ones for .30 - .55 each.  Then I'd need to add in the shipping.  I'll keep praying and investigating.

I also called another company yesterday to inquire about pricing for 165,000 feet of rope to make jump ropes.  It's kind of astounding how quickly the totals add up.  Next I need to work on ordering a ton (or more, literally) of soap.

Our team has a motto, "We never do the same thing twice."  It seems God is always coming up with new ways to bring us the items we need to fill the boxes.  True to form, He's opened doors and led us to some new suppliers already this year.

I've been working hard at one thing after another--filling Easter eggs with rings and bracelets for fillers, untangling nice jewelry I bought in clumps at a local store...well, there are lots of stories to tell that I just haven't been telling during this blogging slump.

But...it's time to get out of the slump.  It's also time to organize a meeting for the core team who will organize the upcoming packing party.

Because time waits for no slump.