Saturday, May 2, 2015

Two More Distributions

After a wonderful time of worship and devotions this morning we headed out for two more Operation Christmas Child shoe box distributions.  I was feeling anxious today because I had the responsibility of delivering two shoe boxes packed with items donated by my area team.  I knew they were counting on me to get pictures for them of the children who received their gifts.  I'm not the greatest photographer and I'm not great under pressure--a bad combination at shoe box distributions where things move fast.

Our first stop was at El Pacto Evangelico in the community of El Rizal Manrique Oriental.  Church leader Zulay Echeverry Balbin is a pastor and a teacher who has a huge heart for the children in the community.  She is also active on the OCC Regional Team.  Zulu arranged for 350 children to attend this distribution.

The neat thing about this one is that many of the parents of the children attended and were able to hear the gospel message along with their children.  Our hosts were so welcoming and served us all plastic cups of wonderful strawberry juice.

I was able to give my first box to Laula, the little girl pictured above, and I got a bit of video of her excitement at opening her box.  Unfortunately, I accidentally deleted most of the pictures I took at this site but am hoping to get some from my team to post later so you can see the site.

Things got a little crazy when we ran out of boys' boxes and had to give some of the boys boxes that were packed for girls.  This upset some of the parents and we ended up making a quick exit to the bus in order to defuse the situation.

After another great lunch at a restaurant next door to the site, we got back into the bus for another death-defying ride.

Our afternoon distribution was such a joy.  It was sponsored by Power of Heaven Wesleyan Church led by pastor Santiago Salazar Gil and his wife of three months.  The distribution was held at the public school from which Santiago graduated.  This growing church has 400 people involved in area small groups with multiple corporate weekend services.

The gospel presentation at this distribution was amazing and was led almost entirely by the competent youth of the church.  They had wonderful crowd control and the children really got a chance to hear a strong gospel message presented in several different ways.  It was fun to hear them sing two songs with the children that dated back to my own youth.

One of the youth helping is named Majerlly and she told us she received a shoe box when she was eight years old and another at age twelve.  As a twelve-year-old she got a harmonica in her box and it made her cry with joy.  She says she was excited to help with the distribution today because it helped her relive that joy she had when she received her own box.

What a blessing it was to give the second box packed with items from our team to a sweet girl named Sara.

There was a lot of squealing and excitement when those boxes were opened...

I managed to accidentally delete quite a few pictures from my camera today and the internet here in the hotel is pretty slow, so posting more pictures will have to wait.

Tonight we were blessed by a program featuring Colombian folk dances and bits of local culture.  They ended by praising the Lord "in the Colombian way"--including a Conga line that called for group participation, but I declined.

My lack of Conga ability was one of the reasons I was hesitant to come on another distribution trip.  And I thought I was getting out of dancing when we didn't have to perform any choreography this time...

Well, off to rest up for tomorrow's graduation from the Operation Christmas Child discipleship program.  Let's just hope it doesn't involve dancing--lol

Friday, May 1, 2015

A Tale of Two Distributions

Our Operation Christmas Child shoe box distribution this morning was in a storefront church named Iglesia Cuadrangular San Pablo (a Foursquare church.)  Pastor Geraldo and his wife Deanna have this sweet little girl (pictured above) named Hadie and I had a blast hanging out with her and blowing bubbles. She loved the TWO stuffed animals she got in her box.

The gospel presentation was done by some of the teens from the church and it was simply excellent--well-practiced and well-acted.  Most of the 80 children at the distribution don't regularly attend church services so it was a good opportunity to share the gospel.

Another special cutie was this little guy named Matteo who is almost three years old and stole our hearts.

Matteo's mother is in prison and he lives with her there.  Some members of the church went to do ministry at the prison when Matteo was only four months old, and since that time one woman has sort of adopted Matteo.  She takes him to church and takes him out of the prison on outings.  She said he loves to lift his arms and praise the Lord in church.  Please pray that this little guy will become a mighty man of God.

We had a marvelous lunch at La Gran Casa, the local restaurant right next to the church.  There is never any shortage of great food at any Operation Christmas Child event.  The flat corn bread is called arepa but was kind of tasteless and not worth the investment of carbs.

We climbed back into the van and headed up (always UP) the windy roads to our next distribution where Pastors Eliseo and Marta Coronado (who also pastor at the church we were at in the morning) had arranged a distribution in a local public school yard.  A total of 309 mostly unchurched children from the community came to hear the gospel.

The children were neat and well-dressed, with their hair neatly fixed, but the homes their homes in the surrounding area were pretty crude.

Of course it was wonderful to distribute the boxes and watch the joy they always bring.  I spent some time with the littlest children who seemed a bit overwhelmed and not all that excited about their boxes.  They did, however, enjoy blowing bubbles.  One little sweetie was so tired she could barely stay upright, let alone open her box.

I was most touched to be given the opportunity to pray for the team after the distribution was over.  When I asked if they had prayer requests they asked for nothing for themselves--only prayer for the children of the community.  After I prayed and gave Marta the bag of children's ministry tools we'd brought as a gift, we hugged.  We hugged a long time, and Marta sobbed--the kind of tears you cry when you're tired and just need a shoulder.  That hug was honestly the highlight of my day.

On our bus ride home (our driver is adventurous to say the least with a close call about every ten seconds) our team leader Phil Barks remarked how these national churches just see the need in their communities and work to meet those needs.  They don't have budget meetings or make long-range plans, they just trust God and step out in faith to do what He is calling them to do.

They really are on a grand adventure.

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Distribution Eve

It's been a blessed travel day and we sit on the eve of our first Operation Christmas Child shoe box distributions tomorrow.  Medellin (pronounced Mega-gene by the locals) looks beautiful and this hotel is astounding.  

We just came from our introductory meeting.  What a joy it was to meet ten members from the Regional Leadership Team in the area as they all shared greetings and comments with us through an interpreter.  Some of them are pictured here.

One said, "Sometimes we feel alone but these trips (when OCC volunteers come) help us feel we are not alone."

A young girl on the team shared, "I know that God is going to multiply in a wonderful way what you have given in this life and in your family and generation."

Another noted, "For many years you've been making boxes but now you can be a witness.  This weekend you can share in that."

And one shared, "This is a time God has given us to see the Kingdom of God come to Colombia."

Time to set my alarm and prayerfully ease into sleep, because tomorrow it begins.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Colombia Cash-In

Back in March, 2008 I got this letter from a girl named Laura Juanita Triana from Bogata, Colombia who had received one of the Operation Christmas Child shoeboxes we packed in 2007.  We packed 4,665 boxes that year and at the time we received a lot of letters at our church from shoebox recipients.

So...I am sorry to say, I never responded to this letter which is written in Spanish.  As you can see, she even sent me some Colombian currency.

I tucked the letter away in one of the binders I keep for these special treasures, and when I was invited to go to Colombia this year to help distribute Operation Christmas Child boxes I remembered it and searched it out.

Tomorrow I will fly into Medellin, Colombia for this distribution trip, and I'm taking the letter with me.  This letter was from Bogata--quite a distance from where I'll be--but, hey, you never know.

I'm taking this Colombian cash with me, too, and praying I will find a special purpose for it on this trip.

I don't know why God has me flying out to Colombia.  I didn't ask to go.  I really don't want to go.  But after praying about this for a long time, I know God wants me to go.

I'm praying He will help me to see what He wants me to see and do whatever He wants me to do.  I am already regretting I didn't spend more time memorizing those Spanish phrases from the little book they sent me.  

Will you pray with me that I won't miss God's investment on this trip?

Monday, April 27, 2015

Boxes and Bountiful Blessings

The Operation Christmas Child blessings just keep pouring in lately.  Yesterday five members from our area team drove 1.5 hours to neighboring Warren county to enjoy a "celebration meeting".  We were blessed with twenty folks from the area who are passionate about packing shoe boxes and blessing children.

We were blessed to get two new prayer partners and shared lots of ideas for how to pack more boxes and prayerfully reach for our goal of 45,000 boxes in 2015.

And, for even more blessings, rewind back to last Wednesday.  I got an unexpected text message from our church administrator that afternoon telling me a truck was there with a delivery for me.  I'd placed an order for these visors the previous Friday, but I'd had no confirmation they were even shipped.

So...I jumped in the car and drove to the church, arriving in record time.  This is what greeted me...

a TON of visors (well, 2,380 pounds to be exact)--57 cases weighing almost 42 pounds each.  Ironically, the day before we had four people to unload 700 pounds of pencils and a day later I was on my own.  But I got to work--thankful for the cartons that had those great straps on them--and had half of them stored in the container before my husband arrived to give me a hand.

We got them all safely stacked, but I am a bit chagrined to see how full that storage container is now.  At this time last year our container was still nearly empty; that was a problem.   Now we have a new problem.  Famine to feast, it's always interesting to see how God works it out every year.

This morning brought even more bountiful blessings.  My media coordinator, Pam Niedhammer, and I made the rounds to three local Kmart stores and scored 266 stuffed bunnies and chicks at 90% off--only .39 each.

And...this afternoon Leigh Fisher, my regional director, called to get confirmation on ordering our truck and supplies for the packing party on September 18 & 19.  "Why does this scare me?"  I asked her.  Every year for the past six years we've seen God provide in amazing ways, and I know this seventh year will be no different.

I get a bit of a lump in my throat, though, when I think about the work it will take to get those boxes packed and loaded on the truck.

But God is filling those boxes even now...with visors and bunnies and pencils...and boxes and boxes of bountiful blessings.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

When God Says "Yes!"

It might not look like it, but these cardboard cartons are full of answered prayers.  I know there are children around the world who will be praying for pencils, and these boxes are full of them (116,640 of them, to be exact.)  We prayed for a good deal on pencils for our Operation Christmas Child boxes and these are some of God's "yes" answers.  They showed up at our storage container today and God even kept the rain away until they were safely unloaded.

Actually, we've been seeing a lot of those "yes" answers lately.  Our OCC area team here in Northwestern PA has been praying for more than three years for a network coordinator to oversee our shoe box drop-off sites (relay centers and collection centers) and for years God has been saying "not yet" and/or "wait". of this past weekend we now have two men who are willing to share this job.  God's amazing "yes" times two!

Items have been coming in for our upcoming shoe box party--almost 1,000 stuffed animals just in the past week--and a chance came to order a huge load of nice cloth visors.

And these answered prayers have made me think about the faithful prayers of a group of adults at the church where I grew up.  Those adults prayed for a spiritual revival in the youth of our church and, wow, did God answer them with a resounding "yes"!

Their prayers were answered when a group of about a dozen of us high schoolers began meeting early every Sunday morning (I think it was 7:30, but I'm not positive) for passionate prayer in our pastor's study.  We crowded that room and we cried out to God and He gave us a ton of "yes" answers that catapulted all of us into lives of Christian service.

More than four decades later I think about so many of us who once prayed in that room--now scattered around the country and still serving the Lord.  We are blessed by marriages that have survived 40 years or more, with some working in full-time Christian ministry roles that have lasted nearly that long.   Others never became vocational ministers but are blessed to serve as choir directors, Sunday school teachers, and missions supporters.

I think of how many blessings have come to our lives and to the lives of those we have all been able to serve because of the prayers of those adults who committed to pray for revival.  What an investment they made!

I'm challenged to pray like that for the young people in my life and in my church.  Someday in heaven I want to share in the ministry of those who will come after me...because I prayed and waited for God to say, "yes!"

Monday, April 13, 2015

Egg-cellent Shopping

It has been a crazy and productive week of post-Easter shopping.  I scouted the leftover Easter merchandise last Monday morning, but 50% off just isn't enough of a discount to send me into buying mode.  

This year was a surprise, though, when Target reduced their Easter items to 70% off starting on Tuesday in some cities and on Wednesday here.  I immediately fell in love with some adorable stuffed lambs with a regular price of $4.99.  I almost caved and bought some at the 70% off price of $1.50, but I decided I really needed to wait.  l left the store with nothing but prayers and high hopes that some of those cuties would be left when they went to 90% off.

Meanwhile, over at Walmart I was keeping my eye on a huge display of stuffed animals that were regularly priced at only $2.99 and would be a great deal at 75% off.  

On Thursday morning I hit Walmart before 7:30 am.  The signs were still posted at 50% off, but I grabbed one of those stuffed animals and sprinted to the price checking machine.  Elated when it rang up at 75% off, I headed for the display where I filled two carts with what turned out to be 234 stuffed animals.  

 I had a very competent cashier and was out of there in 20 minutes with my treasures.  I hadn't checked the other Walmarts in my area, and I couldn't stand the thought of missing any more of these adorable toys.  So...I hopped on the interstate and headed 20 minutes east but had no luck at all there.

Back in the car and another 15 minutes west to the next Walmart.  Again--nothing.

I debated whether I should try another store--especially since I was supposed to be at a Bible study at 9:30.  I prayed and finally decided to head out to Edinboro--another 25 minutes west.  I was disappointed again.  Should have quit after the first store.

On Friday morning I hoped Target would be at 90% off, but they weren't.  I counted those lambs (all 15 of them) and I confess I even tried to hide some of them behind larger stuffed animals.

Saturday morning dawned bring and sunny, but we were supposed to leave for the two-hour drive to visit our daughter.   My husband didn't want to wait for Target to open.  So we headed out, stopped to get him coffee, and THEN he surprised me by heading to Target.  We waited about ten minutes in the parking lot before the doors opened, and I was first inside.

I raced to the Easter aisle and was so sad to find that even though they'd gone to 90% there were no lambs left.  I did end up with six cute fluffy animals and a few dolls for .49 each to bless another half dozen children.

 One thing Target did have was bags and bags of Easter eggs.  I started thinking it would be fun to buy them and fill them with little plastic rings or trinkets to bless the children with another brightly colored filler toy.

 So...before church on Sunday morning I headed back to Target and scored over 10,000 plastic eggs.  Each pack of 12 was only .08, making the eggs less than 3/4 cent each.  Each package had to be individually scanned so I was at the register for 40 minutes.  The register stopped half way through, and we ended up with two transactions.  I started to worry that my minivan wouldn't hold them all, but I ended up having plenty of room.  I took them right to church with me and was able to stash them in the storage container.

Around noon today I read that some Walmarts had gone to 90% off.  There was one Walmart store I hadn't visited yet in this sale season.  The weather was gorgeous here in Erie, PA today--up to nearly 80 degrees--a true miracle after our long, cold winter.  I just had to jump in the car and take a ride with the windows down to that Walmart.

I'm so glad I did.  I found these sweet little water bottles for just .09 each, and though it was after noon there were still 50 of them left.  I couldn't believe it!

I also found some cute lollipops in Easter eggs and a few little felt purses for .09 each, too.  Also made a stop at K-Mart where they had lots of darling stuffed animals but only at 65% off.  Who came up with the idea of 65%?  I'll be checking back there later.

Sun, heat, and bargains all in the same day.  What could be more egg-cellent?