Friday, September 11, 2020

2020 Peculiar Pandemic Packing...All This Abundance...


"All this abundance that we have provided for building...comes from your hand and is all your own." 1 Chronicles 29:16

I'm not sure 2020 will be known in most circles as a year of abundance but it certainly has been that for our Operation Christmas Child team here in Northwestern PA.

By God's grace He provided almost all the items we needed to pack 22,000 boxes before the pandemic hit. Had it not been for that it might have been easy to say we'd skip our large shoebox packing party for 2020--our 12th year. But with God's provision so evident we KNEW (and kept reminding one another) that He wanted these boxes to be packed.

It was that assurance that kept us going despite roadblocks along the way. We lost our storage space and had to move most of our items with just a few weeks' notice. On the day we met with the church pastor to confirm plans for our September packing party the governor of PA limited indoor gatherings to no more than 25 people. We knew then we'd have to shift gears to make this packing party happen.

But God went before us to open new doors and happen it did! Granted, we could only have fewer than 25 people practicing social distancing to pack. Only 5-10 people packed at a time at individual stations while others folded boxes, stocked items, or dealt with the mountains of cardboard. 

We packed one truck in August with a total of 5499 boxes in 3 days and today we finished filling 3 more trucks with another 17,198 boxes and it only took us 5 days this time!

As I look back over my journal at prayer requests through these past months I see how God answered us so clearly step by step. We prayed about items to purchase last October and November and God gave us direction. We prayed about a source for balls and whether to even purchase them and God answered (we bought all the wholesaler had so don't even ask me where we got them--lol.)

We prayed over deliveries and trucks and volunteers and God provided in every way at just the right times. 

We hated not being able to involve the whole community this year but we still prayed to make an impact in the lives of people on "this side of the box." And wouldn't you know it--on one night of packing a sweet woman wandered in looking for Celebrate Recovery. It's no longer held at the church but God provided another volunteer there who was packing (the only few hours she was there this week) who was able to offer support to this woman as they packed boxes and promised to take her to a meeting. I'm telling you--pandemic or not--God is ALWAYS up to something! 

Packing was easier and quicker than we imagined possible with so few people. And today, before noon, Donna folded the LAST box. 

After all these months, we filled the last box that was sent. I even found one extra at home from 2 years ago and we filled that one, too.

Since we cleaned each day as we went it was a breeze to get everything stored back in our container. We even had the time and energy for the core packing party team to debrief a bit and celebrate. Something that usually has to wait for a few weeks until we recover.

With this our 12th year of packing parties we just crossed the quarter million mark. This makes a total of 256,126 gospel opportunities packed in a dozen years. 

Our theme verse for this 2020 Peculiar Pandemic Packing Party was from Nehemiah 2:18 "Rise up and build!" It's no coincidence I'm sure that my morning Bible reading was in 1 Chronicles 29--David's prayer as he prepared for his son to build a temple to the Lord. Verse 16 reads "O Lord our God, all this abundance that we have provided for building you a house for your holy name comes from your hand and is all your own." 

I was able to read that with my team today as we thanked God for His provision for every step and for every box. Great is His faithfulness! 

Sunday, September 6, 2020

Not Feasible


I am so glad we don't serve a God of the feasible.

On Friday and Saturday we had our packing party core team doing setup for this week's packing of Operation Christmas Child shoeboxes. By God's grace we were able to complete setup in record time so we began packing boxes. Praise God we have 2,040 in the truck already!

In the midst of the day of packing I had a little conversation with a young man who is experiencing our packing for the first time. He's a family friend of one of our team members and drove 5.5 hours to come work with us. He asked me what our goal was for the number of shoeboxes to pack this week and when I told him it's 17,000 he answered, "That's not feasible!"

His words have been rolling around in my head so I looked up the definition of the word 'feasible' and it's "possible to do easily or conveniently."

Well, by that definition pretty much anything in our Operation Christmas Child world is not feasible because not much of it is easy or convenient.

This morning I'm thinking how glad I am we don't serve a God of the feasible. 

Is it feasible that God would provide almost all the items we needed to pack 22,000 boxes before the pandemic hit? 

Is it feasible that one casual contact by a team member would result in a donor going online to search out Operation Christmas Child and make contact with our regional office so he could donate a truckload of fillers? 

Is it feasible that a man I barely know would drive across the state with a truck full of clothing items to donate?

Is it feasible that one team member could singlehandedly find and purchase more than 13,000 Beanie Babies this year?

Is it feasible that one team member also could put together 22,000 plus school packs in her home?

Is it feasible that another team member completed 6000 jump ropes and sorted and stored countless bins of clothing?

Is it feasible that one team member secured and financed the storage of two truckloads full of items? 

Is it feasible that a small team of 18 members (only 10 or so able to be active year-round and most of them over the age of 60) would be able to orchestrate the packing of 22,000 shoeboxes in 6 days in one small area with only 20 people at a time in the midst of a global pandemic?

The answer is a resounding "NO". This young man saw the truth. None of this is feasible.

BUT our God is not a God of the feasible. Our God is a God of the impossible. And we stand on tiptoe to see Him do it again. 

ps--this cute bear is our mascot for this 2020 Pandemic Packing Party and he is reminding us to "Rise up and build!"

Tuesday, August 25, 2020

The Little Things


Sometimes we feel prayer should be reserved for really crucial things like world peace. But God tells us over and over again in His word to pray about everything and to "cast all your cares on Him because He cares for you." (1 Peter 5:7)

Honestly, most of my prayers are for pretty small specific things--things that may seem trivial--like a better price on balls for our Operation Christmas Child shoeboxes or for good weather and timing for deliveries or for just the right volunteers to come at just the right times to get our boxes packed.

For the last eight months or so this little miracle is one of the little things I've been praying for. I'm not sure I agree with the term 'pregnancy loss' because I know none of these little ones who go to heaven without drawing a breath on earth are lost in terms of eternity. They are experiencing life forever, yet their earthly parents are left with the loss of the joy of knowing them here. And so, by this definition, my daughter has experienced more loss over the past several years. Not one to dwell on her sorrow, though, she moved on beyond the miscarriages and we rejoiced last Christmas when she shared the joyous news that God had blessed them with yet another pregnancy.

The prayers moved from the generalized prayer for the blessing of a healthy baby to more specific prayers as the pregnancy advanced. Our daughter and son-in-law did not want to learn the gender of their baby before the birth. And though the health of this baby was her primary concern there were other wishes she had for this labor and delivery. She wanted less medical intervention if possible and a chance to move around more during labor. She chose a midwife as her health provider.

As her due date of August 11 came and went in this hot summer she kept her eyes on the goal. Rather than having her labor induced she chose to wait beyond week 40. And then beyond week 41. It was decided her labor would be induced on August 23rd if she did not begin labor before then.

Meanwhile we kept praying. I was praying specifically that this labor and delivery would be a memorial stone in her family's walk of fatih--a time when they would see God's goodness in new ways. 

Though I kept praying her contractions would begin, for some reason I felt sure her labor would not begin until the 23rd. And, truthfully, I felt a bit guilty for that. Did it mean I lacked faith God would work? 

On Saturday we traveled to our daughter's home to stay with our two-year-old grandson, Sam. Early Sunday morning we prayed together before Jen and Jeremy left for the hospital. In this COVID world we knew we wouldn't see them until they brought their baby home.

News was sparse through the day but we kept praying as the hours wore on. I got several messages and one said she was able to have intermittent monitoring for only 15 minutes per hour so she could move around. A definite answer to a specific prayer. 

Finally, at 10:30 that night Jen called to say her baby was safely here. A girl. Our first granddaughter. And they named her Mabel Irene after her great-grandmothers. I was excited to hear how God answered another specific little prayer. After rupturing her membranes in the morning, Jen's labor progressed naturally with no medication needed. 

Now I'll continue my daily specific prayers for this sweet miracle baby and for my three other grandchildren--that each will know how much God loves him or her and respond to that love by surrendering themselves to a lifelong relationship with Him. 

No prayer could be more crucial. 

Wednesday, August 12, 2020

Day 3--They're Off, You see!


Day 3--and by God's grace we were done at 10:30 am! After cleanup we prayed around the truck for the children who will receive these boxes.

Packing so many boxes with a group of only 15 or fewer people at individual tables is something we never would have considered doing if it were not for COVID. And I had no idea how it would work. But our team actually loved it. In general there was less stress and it was more efficient in terms of time than our usual assembly packing party.

I figured each person packed about 250 boxes in a seven hour day and I'm pretty sure that's way more than the average person packed in a day by walking a large circuit around the inside of the church.  And we know these boxes were well-packed, also. That's a relief for sure.

At the same time, we realize we are losing the sense of community and the chance to interact with so many people at our large packing party. We mourn that loss, but we're grateful God provided this way for us to continue to bless children around the world. 

Each person packed at a socially distanced station and packed only 6-8 boxes at a time with their supplies on the other side of the table so they didn't have to move much. This helped with efficiency.

We had a list on each station so the packers knew what to put into each of these pre-planned boxes. While this was going on, we had three team members combining miscellaneous items for boxes for boys and girls ages 2-4. These trusted team members had a good grasp of all that was available and could hand pick the items that worked best together to make the best use of resources. 

Another reason things worked so well is that team members were self-directed. Those who were not at packing stations quickly noticed tasked that needed to be done to make things run more efficiently. Ed, who I dubbed "the sock guy" quickly started opening the plastic bags containing two pairs of socks so the individual pairs would be ready for packing. This was something we couldn't do in advance because many items were 'buried' in storage and unaccessible. 

Other team members took on tasks like breaking down boxes or stocking tables with supplies. In our debrief at the end of this session we discussed ways to make those tasks official jobs for volunteers in September. 

Sadly, we could have put 6 more cartons on the truck. My math was wrong when I ordered boxes. For some reason I thought 5400 would fill the 350 cartons on the truck but it actually takes 5600 to fill 350 cartons with 16 boxes each. They sent me 5500 boxes, thankfully, but since one carton only had 49 boxes our total when every single box was packed was 5499.  And how did we know one carton only had 49 boxes you ask? Only ONE carton of boxes had the boxes counted. Just ONE--because a team member took them home, folded them, and arranged them in rows of 5 and came out with an odd stack of 4 at the end. And we were missing only ONE box. 

I wish I'd ordered more boxes...and if I'd known how fast it would go we could have ordered even MORE boxes and a second truck. 

Still...the truck was just pulled and there are now 5499 gospel opportunities on the way to Charlotte. And...we'll be back to pack more in a few weeks so stay tuned. 

Tuesday, August 11, 2020

Pressing On in Day 2


Pressing on to Day 2 of our 2020 packing. Yes, we had to compress the cardboard in the dumpster, and we were pressing on in other ways also.

The truck was moved first thing this morning. That was a relief! 

Once again we had 13-15 people working at any time throughout the day. There were usually 4-5 people folding boxes while 7-9 packed boxes. Since we want to pack another three trucks full of boxes in September and/or October we're trying to figure out if there's any way we can have more people working at any one time. We'd need more space to stay socially distanced and then we'd need at least 1 or 2 more people carbonizing boxes and stacking them in the truck. Maybe it's simpler to just stick with this number and pack over the space of more days? So many questions!

Several families who are used to coming to pack together are disappointed this has been an 'adults only' affair this year. It's another COVID casualty. 

We ended the day with 4,024 boxes on the truck. There are 810 packed boxes at my house waiting for transport to the truck. That means we have fewer than 700 boxes to pack tomorrow to get the truck filled.  

We'll keep pressing on! 

Monday, August 10, 2020

Packing At A Distance


2020--a year of forced change. So many things are different and our 12th annual Operation Christmas Child packing party is no exception. We had to cancel our large community-wide event in September since our governor declared we could have no indoor gatherings of more than 25 people.  But, because God blessed us with nearly all our items in advance of the pandemic we believe He wants us to get these boxes packed.

So we are in our first week of packing with the goal of filling our first truck this week. I made an error in calculations when I ordered our boxes. I thought 5400 boxes would fill a truck but it turns out a full truck of 350 cartons will accommodate 5600 boxes. We actually received 110 cartons of boxes which should give us 5500 total--we'll see how that works out.

We planned as well as we could and invited just a short list of people to come and pack. Today we had 15 at the most. We have 9 individual tables as stations for people to pack boxes and then have a few people folding boxes (socially distanced) in one corner and a cartonizing area in the opposite corner

My goal was to pack 1200 boxes per day but today, by God's grace, we completed over 1700. If we continue at this rate we could be done by Wednesday. We'll see.

The big glitch today came with the placement of the truck. We were there waiting for the truck but were in the gym at the back of the church. Apparently the driver came to the front office and they just had him place the truck in the front parking lot where we'd normally place it for our large packing party. The problem is we are working only out of the gym and need to take the cartons out the side door--quite a distance from where the truck is parked in the front. The guys improvised today by loading the cartons in a pick-up truck and driving it to the truck in the front. Not very efficient--especially on a day when the temperature reached 89 degrees.

We're praying the truck will get moved tomorrow so loading the cartons will be easier.   Meanwhile I'm praising God for so many answers to prayer...

Even at a distance. 

Thursday, July 16, 2020

This I Know

This picture is from one of our earliest packing parties--2009 or 2010. Life was different then in many ways. 2020 is not the same as 2010. This I know.

But God is the same in 2020 as He was in 2010. The God who provided miraculously for us then can do the same for us now. This I know.

In 2010 a whole community of hundreds of people came together to pack 12,670 boxes resulting in many blessings. In 2020 a whole community of hundreds of people cannot come together to pack our goal of 22,000 Operation Christmas Child boxes. This I know.

Our gracious God provided almost all the items we need to pack 22,000 shoeboxes before this pandemic hit. It was an 'unprecedented' (can I say I have grown to hate that word) gift from a God who loves children around the world and wants them to know He loves them. This I know.

I need to concentrate on what I know because there is so much I don't know right now. We have been praying for months about how to get these boxes packed this year. A few months ago we thought we had a contingency plan that would allow us to pack one truck of boxes in August, two trucks in September, and one in October--but we couldn't get permission to use the church facility for extra days.

Yesterday Pam and Patti from our team met with Pastor Scott to get guidelines for how our packing party could be executed this year, based on our county staying in the "green zone" which would allow a group of 250 socially distanced persons in the building with masks, gloves, and frequent sanitizing.

Not more than two hours after that meeting Governor Wolf announced the following:
Events and gatherings must adhere to these gathering limitations:
  • Indoor events and gatherings of more than 25 persons are prohibited.

So...we are back to working out a plan that involves no more than 25 people packing boxes at one time. We need to revisit the possibility of using just our team and a very few others to pack these boxes over several different weeks.

How will this work? I don't know.

We are going to pray about it and ask you to join us and we are going to expect God to answer in ways we can't begin to imagine.

Because our omniscient, omnipresent, omnipotent God is not surprised by any of this. He has a plan and will lead us step by step. Or, in my case, may be dragging me by the scruff of my neck as I, his stupid sheep, prefer to sit baaaaaing in the mud. Despite everything He loves me. And this I know.