Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Packing Party Praises

I'm praising God that HE gave us an amazing time at our Operation Christmas Child packing party on Saturday, September 25th. I'm calling it the Mid-Atlantic Family Packing Party because I truly believe it was a joint effort among all of us. Sure, it took place here in Erie but the glory goes to God and the resulting gospel opportunities are shared by all who prayed and supported this effort over the last months.

God moved in so many ways over the packing party on Saturday. Last year when we had our first large packing party I was so blown away by God's provision. This year I worried that I wouldn't have that same sense of wonder. I thought I knew what to expect and that I wouldn't have that same awe and surprise. Well, I was wrong.

The week of preparation was full of miracles. Last Tuesday Jim & Joline Urban's team from an hour away down in New Wilmington came together to get more than 6000 boxes onto our vehicles. It was a miracle. On Thursday the prayed-for crayons from Wal-Mart came in. Another miracle that was helped along by Pam Hatchell's call to Wal-Mart's corporate office and the prayers of many.

Last Monday I ordered 3" packing tape dispensers to be sent by UPS from the Staples store in Meadville--a city about an hour's drive from Erie. They stil hadn't arrived by the time I returned home from school on Friday so I called the Staples store to check on them and found they had never been sent. The only way to get them would be to drive a two-hour round trip to Meadville. I tried to think of someone I knew from that area who could pick them up and then I realized that Leigh Fisher, my Regional Director for Operation Christmas Child, was driving up from Baltimore to come for the packing party. I called her cell phone but didn't reach her and left a voice mail. About 5 minutes later my phone rang and Leigh said, "Kathy, I'm in Meadville. I got a late start because I had problems with my rental car this morning." I asked her if she'd received my voice mail and she hadm't. But she was just 2 miles from the Staples store and went to pick up the tape dispensers with no problem. It was a God thing that she was delayed in the morning and thus was in just the right spot at the right time to pick them up.

The prayed-for paper finally arrived on Friday but it turned out to be just three small cartons. Now I know why God allowed us to get all those free coloring books (because of a tip from Sherry McFaden--OCC Area Coord. in Lynchburg, VA.) We had some notebooks and filler paper but not enough for all the boxes.
On Monday, Wednesday and Friday nights we worked on set-up. At times I thought it would never come together but by 11:00 pm on Friday night we were set up and ready. Leigh and her mom were here and God knew I needed that support so much. I also felt the prayers of everyone all week long. I didn't know what to expect on Saturday but I knew God had to be the one in control since I knew I wasn't.

We started at 9:00 with an opening in the gym with maybe 50-75 volunteers. What I didn't know was that there were more volunteers backing up into the hall. And they kept coming. My two favorite volunteers were Bob and Annette Poff who SURPRISED me by coming on the way back from their vacation to Indiana. What a joy to have them there for support. I also knew there were many more of you who would have absolutely been here if you could have been and though you weren't here physically you were definitely here in spirit and supporting us in prayer.

The volunteers kept coming and in the end there were 500 of them throughout the day from 25 different churches and organizations. There were over 100 Girl Scouts alone as well as JROTC members from a local high school and other students, senior adults, and families. The bad thing is that we weren't prepared for so many volunteers and it got a bit congested and people had to wait in line. The good thing is that I believe many of them weren't 'church folks' and it was a great outreach.

By about 9:30 we started cranking out the boxes and by 10:19 we'd reached 2000! For a while we were doing about 1000 every 20 minutes. I couldn't believe it. We were at 9000 at just before 1:00 when we took a lunch break. Our goal was 10,000 boxes and we hit that at 1:49 but the items were still holding out so we kept packing and packing. We ran out of all the Crest Spinbrush boxes and then the white Roy Grove boxes. It was a blessing that Jim Urban's team gave us so many extra boxes because God knew we needed them all. Then we started using plain shoeboxes that people had donated. The funny thing is that I had wanted to break down those boxes before we started because they were in the way and I thought we'd never need them. How wrong I was.

We ran out of toothpaste and then pens but kept packing until finally we couldn't do adequate boxes and knew we had to stop. We did 12,381 at the party and I'd packed 289 prior to the party for a total of 12,670. By 3:30 pm we were done and the volunteers circled around the truck and laid hands on it to pray for the boxes. Clean up was over by 5:00 pm and I was ready to head out to speak about OCC at a missions conference.

I'm just praising God for your partnership to bring together these 12,670 gospel opportunities.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

The Last Leg

There are only two days left until the Giant Operation Christmas Child 10,000 shoebox packing party. It's really the last leg now. As a veteran of 5 marathons (years ago!) I realize that many runners divide the marathon into two halves. The first half is the first 20 miles and the second half is the last 6.2 miles. Now it would seem that after you've run the first 20 miles the last 6.2 would be easier. Not so.

There's a physiological reaction when your glycogen stores are depleted that runners call "hitting the wall" and it often happens at about 20 miles into the race. Your energy is gone, your body protests, and you can't imagine making it for another 6.2 miles. If you're like me in this Shoebox Race, you might feel like you're "hitting the wall".

What do you do when you come to that point in the race? One thing that always helped me was to take the rest of the race step by step. When I couldn't imagine running even one more mile, let alone 6.2 miles, I would concentrate on putting one foot in front of the other. I would refuse to let myself walk. I would take one step at a time, and hold on to the next tenth of a mile. Then I'd do it again for the next tenth.

I need to do that step-by-step thing now. There are so many details to come together in just 2 days. Still don't know if the 3000 crayons will come in. We still don't know if or when we'll be getting any paper donated. I still have carloads of stuff to move from my old church. But if I can keep taking one step at a time there's a hope of making it.

The other thing that helped enormously is the encouragement of others. When someone comes up beside you and runs with you it makes a huge difference. When the crowd lining the course is cheering for you, there's a burst of energy that bubbles up and gives you renewed strength. We can cheer for each other and run alongside one another and, together, we'll get to the finish line.

On Tuesday night my husband and I drove to New Wilmington to pick up boxes from my fellow Operation Christmas Child Area Coordinators, Jim and Joline Urban. When we got there, eight members of Jim and Joline's team were there to help us load those boxes into our truck and minivan and with their sweat and ingenuity we were able to do a miracle and get 6000 boxes into our vehicles. I never thought it would happen! Their servant hearts and willing work are unrivaled.

I am so grateful for the prayers and encouragement I'm receiving this week. When God brings the victory at this packing party on Saturday it will be because all of you in places all around the country joined together with us here in Erie to make it happen.

Let's run the last leg together.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Moving On

Today starts the big pre-packing-party-prep for our Operation Christmas Child 10,000 shoebox packing event on September 25th. A bunch of youth and adult volunteers unloaded the 40 ft. storage container next to the church today and moved all the boxes and bags inside. There's lots of organizing to be done this week but at least the first stage is completed.

Friday and Saturday proved interesting. On Friday morning I call Wal-Mart to check (again) on the 3000 crayons I ordered on August 31st. I was told they wouldn't be arriving since the store is moving to a new location and isn't receiving any shipments. They suggested I call and order them through another Wal-Mart, which I did. The second store, however, said they couldn't guarantee the crayons would come in by Saturday for the packing party.

Amazingly, I didn't freak out. I had a peace that God had a plan but I posted the problem on facebook. Pam Hatchell, my dear fellow-OCC-Area Coordinator from northern Virginia, suggested I call Wal-Mart's corporate headquarters. I wrote back that I never would have thought of that and didn't have the courage to do it. So Pam, bless her heart, called them for me. The Regional Manager, Mindy, is making some calls and doesn't see any reason we won't have 3,000 boxes by the 25th. I'm still praying.

Then on Saturday (yesterday) I got a message that the 10,000 pads of paper that had been promised as a donation can't be delivered until September 28th--3 days after the packing party. Again, God kept me calm and peaceful. Maybe this is why we got 8,000 free coloring books this year? We're investigating options and maybe God will provide the promised paper on time after all. Won't you please pray for this situation?

Last night I went to hear Lejla Allison speak. Lejla received an Operation Christmas Child shoebox in Bosnia in 1993, the first year boxes were sent from the United States. Listening to hear speak about her desperation as an 11-year-old girl in a war-torn country and hearing how God used that simple box which contained a pair of shoes she needed so badly to bring her to faith in Jesus, reminded me again that these are GOD'S boxes.

He knows which child will receive each one and whether they need paper or not. He can and will provide for every need for each of them. So I'm continuing to pray and waiting to see how the rest of the week unfolds.

God is on the move and, because of His grace, I'm tagging along.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Single Digit Details

Only 9 more days until our giant Operation Christmas Child packing party. We're praying God will send us close to 200 volunteers to make this project happen, but there will be many more volunteers around the country who won't be there in person on that day and will still be a huge part of it nonetheless. Over the past year I've received packages in the mail from Colorado and Iowa with donations of items.

In the past few days I've sensed God's peace in new ways and I know this comes as a result of prayer from my extended OCC family. My fellow volunteers in the Mid-Atlantic region have sent reassuring messages that they're praying for us.

One of the wisest pieces of advice came from Pam Hatchell, my sister in the Lord and Operation Christmas Child Area Coordinator in Northern VA / Wash. DC. Pam's facebook message said, "How can God handle the details if you won't let go of them?" So I'm trying to let go.

Last night we had our Northwestern PA OCC Area Team meeting. There were only 5 of us there but I was able to share some of the burden of decisions and also recruited some volunteers to bag soap over the next 9 days.

I've said this before, but a few years ago when I headed an OCC team only at my church it was so much easier. We all saw each other at church each week and I felt like I had lots of people to help with decisions and the work load. Now it's harder to get help with the day-to-day tasks and decision making. The packing party isn't really an Area Team event totally and it isn't a Grace Church event totally. I often feel like I'm stuck in the middle by myself.

But yesterday God blessed me with a wonderful meeting with Mike Watson, a pastor at Grace Church, who assured me everything will work out fine in 9 days (yes, 9 days). And I know it will because our God of the Details has His "to do list" all set. He knows the soap that has to be bagged and the 3,000 boxes of crayons that need to come in at Wal-Mart and the 10,000 pads of paper that need to be delivered and the 5,000 boxes that need to be hauled from Jim Urban's area (an hour's drive away). He knows and He cares.

God's care for the details was evident yesterday. A week ago I ordered OCC Prayer Bracelets and wanted them to arrive in time for the packing party. The shipping date, however, was September 27th. I've been praying they'd arrive by the 25th and yesterday afternoon as I sat at my computer typing that out as a prayer request on my meeting agenda there was a knock at the door. It was a delivery and in the package were the prayer bracelets.

He knows about the details and He is on the move.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

T Minus 16 Days

In just 16 days we'll be nearing the end of our 10,000 box shoebox packing party for Operation Christmas Child. But right now I'm wallowing in details and I'm praying that God will show me which ones need to be addressed and which will work themselves out that day.

I think about things like tape discpensers and rolls of Scotch tape and signage and rubber bands. I think about moving hundreds of thousands of items out of our 40 foot storage container and into the church.

I think about all the items still stored and my old church and wonder if they should all be moved or whether we'll just have to cart them back across town unused. I try to add all the items I've purchased and those donated and get some idea of whether we'll run short on certain things.

I think about whether we'll have enough volunteers or too many. How will we accomplish our goal of using this event as a springboard to get more churches involved. Can we schedule a meeting that day to talk with prospective project leaders? When? How?

How can we efficiently stage the event so that we can get items onto the tables quickly as they run low? You'd think I would have figured this out after doing a packing party last year but we're doubling the numbers this year so we have twice the amount of items to manage.

I checked the shipping of cartons and the truck arrangements with the folks in Boone and everything seems set on their end.

So, God of all details, who created everything to minute specifications, will you take over these details that threaten to overwhelm me. Impress upon me those that need to be considered and removed from my mind the ones that You've already worked out.

And in 16 days I'll know that, once again, it was Only You who could have made it happen.